What is bear hounding?
Bear hounding is the practice of using packs of radio-collared dogs to pursue a bear until the exhausted, frightened animal climbs a tree, where they are shot, or turn to fight the hounds. Dogs are often injured or even killed.
What is bear baiting?
Trophy hunters and hunting guides dump food in the woods to lure black bears in for an easy kill, in an unsporting and unethical practice called “baiting.” Bait piles are typically composed of foods unhealthy to bears, including fatty pastries rich in processed sugars, grease, or even toxins from Theobromines such as caffeine found in chocolate. Both New Hampshire and Michigan have banned chocolate and other toxins for use in bear bait. Spoiled baits are also noxious, and toxic baits are fatal to bears, pets and other wildlife. Baiting bears with human foods increases bears’ aging at the cellular level, and leads to tooth decay. Bait sites lead to mortalities to smaller bears, because it concentrates bears who compete for bait. Also bait sites concentrate several species which can lead to the spread of diseases like rabies and mange, or mortalities to small-bodied prey animals.
What is springtime bear hunting?
Some states allow black bear trophy hunts during the spring, after bears emerge from hibernation. Bears are easy targets for trophy hunters because they’re lethargic from months of sleep. Bears are in poor body condition after spending the whole winter without food – especially mother bears, who by spring have given birth and nursed their cubs relying solely upon their fat reserves. Black bear cubs, usually born between December and February, emerge from hibernation with their mothers in April and May—emergence is entirely weather dependent. Mother bears care for and protect their cubs until they are 17 to 24 months old. Black bear families break up typically between May and July of the cubs’ second year.
Spring hunts can kill mother bears, leaving orphaned cubs to fend for themselves. Some cubs are only a few months old and still nursing or are yearlings who are still dependent for another few months. Most orphaned cubs suffer from starvation, predation or exposure.
What does the public say about these methods?
Ethical hunting allows animals the chance to get away. Even most hunters condemn bear hounding and baiting as unsportsmanlike and unethical. These practices violate the widely accepted doctrine of “fair chase,” because the hunter has all the advantages. It also puts hikers and others in danger if bait piles are near trails or trail heads because some bears guard their food. The National Park Service (2023) writes that bear baiting increases the “potential for significant human injury or even death” to other recreationists in areas near bait sites. And in states where wolves are present, wolves guard these bait piles resulting in conflicts between hunting hounds and wolves.
Surveys demonstrate an overwhelming lack of public support for these unsporting methods. The American public despises them, but wildlife managers have historically refused to listen and instead heed only bear hunting lobby groups. But times are changing. Several wildlife managers suggest the public will tolerate bear hunting only if “credible” management programs are in place. This requires setting appropriate seasons, restricting licenses and the number of bears killed and limiting methods of pursuing an animal, such as hounding.
Why are these methods inhumane and unsporting?
Shooting a bear gorging on a pile of donuts, using packs of hounds (fitted with radio collars) to chase down and tree bears, or killing bears who are still lethargic after months of hibernation is not “fair chase” hunting. It’s simply unsporting and unethical.
In some pursuits, hounds confront bears while they are on the ground, and hounds readily kill cubs. During the melee, hounds can suffer broken bones, punctured lungs or other serious injuries. Hounds may chase bears into roadways, where oncoming vehicles can strike both animals. Animal care professionals report that hounds are frequently dumped at local animal shelters after the hunt, if they have not performed well.
Especially during hot weather, pursuit stresses both hounds and bears. Bears who have been chased for a prolonged period can experience severe physical stress due to their thick fur and fat layer, which they build to survive during hibernation. Overheated bears can die and pregnant bears can even lose their embryos.
Hounding, baiting, and springtime bear hunting can orphan bear cubs, and those under a year old will likely die from slow starvation and predation. Hunters frequently fail to check for the presence of dependent young in a nearby tree, which could alert them that they are pursuing a mother bear. Biologists have also found that hound hunters, specifically, misidentify the gender of approximately one-third of treed bears.
How do hounding and baiting disrupt bear populations?
In many regions of the U.S., black bears feed intensively for three to four months in the late summer and fall just before they go into hibernation. This frenzied feeding period (called hyperphagia) coincides with most states’ bear-hunting seasons. In years in which food production is poor, hounding forces bears to expend energy evading the dogs that they should be using to obtain food to survive over the winter. Hounds disrupt the feeding behavior of both the bears who are chased and nearby bears. Bears shift their sleeping patterns and become nocturnal to avoid dogs and hunters.
Black bear trophy hunting also harms their social organization. Hunters typically target larger bears. When a territorial male is killed, subordinate male bears vie for his place. The new males will often kill the cubs sired by the old male so they can breed with his females.
Baited bears can also become food conditioned, and grow accustomed to human smells and food at bait sites. This undermines wildlife managers’ apparent goals of reducing human-bear conflicts, as most negative human-bear encounters occur over food.
Outfitters and trophy hunting guides place bait piles in the environment during bears’ “hyperphagia,” and thanks to human supplemental foods, females start producing cubs at an earlier age and give birth to more cubs and at more frequent intervals (i.e., every two, instead of every three years).