Hounds or Bait
Where Should you stand on this issue?

By Dave Samuel (Field Editor)

Bear Hunting Magazine September/October  2006

As the bear fed through the oak ridge he walked along the edge of the old logging trail. He stopped occasionally to nibble on a few of the mushrooms. Shuffling along he dimly remembered that last year somewhere in the area he had found a hole filled with sweets and other foods he liked. As he skirted the edge of the swamp he was drawn towards the thicket on the east side of the wet area.

He dug through the pile of branches and logs covering the food pile and started to lick at the snacks buried beneath. During the course of the summer months he became accustomed to the strange human scent that seemed to be lingering in the area each time the food supply was filled up. It made him nervous but temptation of the food kept him coming in almost every day for the treats. At times when he arrived at the bait station, the scent would be stronger than normal and he would wait until after dark to get his treats. Twice when approaching the food source, the human scent was so strong he refused to go closer. Two other times while visiting the site he heard a clicking sound from a tree above him and became extremely nervous. Something was not right but his eyes could never quite tell him what was making the sound. The scent had been stronger both times, but he was unable to locate the source of the camera noise as the observer snapped photos.

Feeding that fall was extremely easy because he had located a number of these bait stations in his area. Some days he would go from bait to bait and fill himself up to the point he could eat no more. Then he would lay up for a couple of days before resuming his visits to the food sites.

As he approached the bait site he could faintly smell the human scent but it was not as strong as some of the other times. He cautiously circled the bait and crept forward. Something seemed different this time and he was not sure what it was. He was accustomed to the faint smell but this time it seemed more diluted and mixed with more of a fox smell. As he slowly edged forward he heard a limb creak above him and he stopped for a full five minutes and stared in the direction of the sound. There was no movement and he could not make anything out in the tree where the sound came from. The tree did appear different than he remembered. It seemed to have more leaves or something. As he moved forward, his ears detected the smallest metal click sound, but only once. It made him nervous but his desire to get to the food outweighed the thoughts of caution. Fall was here and he needed to put on his winter supply of fat to help sustain him during the cold.

The hunter’s heart was racing as the nice boar came into sight. All summer long he had faithfully brought pastries and such to the bait site and fed the bear in the area. A few times he had put on his camouflage clothing and actually sat in this stand and photographed the bears coming to his bait. His heart raced each time he had a bear come in. He enjoyed taking the pictures but looked forward to the time when he could actually take a shot. It was not so much the killing of a bear but the chance to spend time in the woods doing the baiting and planning for his hunt. Each time he baited it was like a mini-hunt for him. Once he was sure he had caught a glimpse of the bear as he was baiting and his heart had just about burst through his chest. He was not scared, but was thinking what to do if the bear decided it was no longer afraid of him.

The hunter raised his gun and took careful aim. Just as he was about to pull the trigger he heard a sound off in the distance. The bear heard it at the same time and bolted from the food source. He ran about 50 yards and stopped behind a large oak tree to listen. It was the baying of the hounds. The bear became nervous and started to head for the nearby swamp for cover.

As the truck had eased along the logging trail, the rig dogs were straining to get a whiff of the scent they loved so they could get loose and run. The hunter had stopped and checked a number of his bait sites and refilled them. He knew there was decent bear in the area but according to the tracks in the dirt, the one’s at the baits checked so far were most likely yearlings or small bear. He had baited his baits every weekend faithfully for the summer.

During the course of the summer he had run his hounds on numerous bear in the area. He knew his dogs were in condition to run after the long off season. The running on weekends had hardened the muscles of the old dogs. The pair of one-year-old dogs were not yet as developed muscularly as the older dogs, but they had a lot of heart and their owner was extremely proud of them. Training those young dogs was what it was all about for him. It was not killing the bear but working with the dogs. They had made it to several trees this year and had developed well during the course of the summer. Twice they had caught a bear on the ground with some of the older dogs and both times they had stayed and faced the challenge.

One of the bear they had caught, about a 200 pound boar, had charged the dogs numerous times when the dogs had caught up it. Zeke, one of the young dogs, tried to slip in and bite the bear in the back leg and the bear had spun around and bit the dog before he could get out of the way. He had punctured the skin in four places with his canines, but no damage to the flesh or bones. The other young dog, Gabby, had done the same thing but the bear had charged him at the same time with his paws extended and swinging and caught the dog and pulled him under him. That caused the other dogs to bay louder and closer and try to slip in and nip at the bear. They could not really hurt him but they were distracting. As he spun to slap another dog that was nipping his flank, Gabby scratched his way out and got away. The dog had not been as lucky as Zeke and had a cut that required 16 stitches to close.

The dogs continued to bother him like mosquitoes bother a human. As always, the dogs could not hurt him but they were annoying. Constantly buzzing him and biting, they were a tremendous annoyance even though their teeth could not penetrate his thick hide. After a couple of hours of the dogs baying him, he climbed a tree just to get away from the annoyance and barking. The last hour or so, as he shuffled forward trying to evade the dogs in the thick brush and swamps, he had been aware of two humans trying to stay with him and the dogs. Each time he would break for a short run, the humans would disappear but when he stopped a few hundred yards away due to the annoying dogs, the humans would catch up and try catch some of the dogs.

One of the hunters had gotten closer to him than he liked, especially when he was in a bad mood because of the constant baying and nipping of the dogs. As the human reached for a dog to leash it up, the bear made a bluff charge in the direction of the human and sent him stumbling backwards.

Just a few minutes after he climbed the tree, humans came to the tree and started tying up the dogs away from the base of the tree. When they looked up at him they were pointing and making a small metallic clicking sound every once in a while. Very similar to the sound he had heard at the bait site.

After a short time the humans led the dogs away and the bear just sat in the tree and waited. Slowly the sound drifted away and he could no longer hear or smell the dogs or the humans. He slid down the tree and wandered to the east to a food source to replenish his spent energy. The had heard the baying of the dogs numerous times but they only chased him that one time.

The dogs had smelled the track and struck, where the bear had crossed the main road heading towards the swamp. As the dogs followed the trail, they had followed the scent right along the edge of the old logging road and towards the swamp. As they neared the swamp the bear turned and headed up a worn path.

Now, the baying of the dogs was getting closer and he started to run. For an hour he dodged and twisted through the swamps and thickets trying to leave the sound behind him but it was constantly there. As he ran to the edge of the popple thicket, the first dog caught up to him. As the second dog arrived he remember these dogs were the ones from before.  This time he would not let the dogs get as close as before. The other dogs arrived within minutes of the first two and they were baying and nipping constantly at him. As he waded through the swamp, the dogs continued to stay with him. Some time elapsed before the two humans arrived and again they just kept walking with the dogs the same as they had during the summer. The difference this time was that one human had something in his arms that he kept raising and pointing at him. Most of the time the dogs were right along side him, and the human would just move to another location trying to get closer to him. He was determined he would not climb a tree but would challenge the dogs on the ground. They were quick and he was getting tired from the constant stress of worrying which way to turn to evade the annoyance.

Over the years I have listened to numerous opinions on hound hunting versus bait hunting. Which is better and what is more ethical? One side says it is not fair to chase the bear with a dog or pack of dogs because it gives the hunter an unfair advantage. Those opposed to bait hunting as a method claim it is like shooting a bear in a dump and cannot understand why anyone would want to do anything like that. Both sides say the other is unethical. Who is right and who is wrong?

I would like to make sure that everyone understands I do not consider myself an expert on bear hunting using one method or another. I use hounds for bear hunting and I have also sat with clients at baits for hunting. What you read is simply my personal opinion on the subject.

Where do you fit into the debate? Who is the ethical hunter? I think it is more important to ask some other questions. Who is setting the standards of ethics? When you were growing up, what methods of hunting were you exposed to? Did you ever sit in a tree and have a bear feed not less than 15 yards from you? In some states you can legally shoot any dog you see chasing a deer and in other states you can legally hunt deer with dogs.

Over the years I have been asked to testify in front of the legislatures in two states and make presentations about hunting to numerous groups. I have had the enjoyable opportunity to debate the rights of hunting with several who opposed all forms of hunting and want all hunting banned. Some others I have talked with just wanted hound hunting stopped. Some thought it was okay to hunt bear by stalking them but neither method of baiting or use of dogs should be allowed.

As a hunter, some of the most upsetting times I have ever had was to debate the rights of hunting with fellow hunters. What always upset and concerned me the most is why would one in our own rank and file be willing to oppose another’s choice of how they enjoy our outdoors? Due to my personal dedication to hunting, I absolutely refuse to lower myself to bad mouth someone else’s chosen method of hunting. I refuse to become an anti-hunter against another hunting sport. If more of these hunters would stop and think about what they are really doing, supporting the anti’s hunting campaign, they may not be so willing to speak publicly. They are helping the anti-hunters take away part of our heritage.

A perfect example is that I do not trap but I will forever stand up for the rights of those that choose to do so. We have numerous groups trying to take away our rights, and yet we quarrel among ourselves instead of supporting each other.

In Minnesota and some other states there has been a movement over the last few years to establish a big game season with hounds. In Minnesota, particularly, the current methods employed do not harvest enough bear to reach quota and there have been numerous bear/human conflicts. The last time the attempt was made to establish a hound season in Minnesota it missed being passed by one vote. I believe, in the upcoming years, you will again see an attempt to establish a hound season there. Hopefully, some of those who testified against a hound season will have realized that no matter what their personal reason for doing so, they were supporting the anti-hunter movement and it will eventually be their own demise if they continue on the same path.

In the above article, who had the right to harvest the bear? Did one of the hunters intrude on the other hunter’s rights? Both were on public hunting grounds using a method of hunting they enjoyed. Both had worked all summer at accomplishing a goal and enjoying the hunting season. Game animals are publicly owned by all of us until harvested, so neither hunter had any legal claim to the bear.

How educated we are on a subject tends to have an effect on our views. I was totally amazed at some comments I heard over the last few months regarding the youth mentoring bills that were being brought forward in numerous states. The premise of the bills was to give the parents the right to decide when their child could hunt with adult supervision. The bills did not allow eight-year-olds to go hunting with a gun by themselves. The child had to be accompanied by an adult mentor and they had to be within arms length at any time the child had the gun. Yet, time and time again, I heard hunters say it would not be safe in the woods if they allowed eight-year-olds to have a gun. My view is that it must not be safe now because the same person who is the mentor has every legal right to carry that same gun right now. The hunters were not educating themselves on the true facts of the law and were voicing opinions based on limited knowledge.

A few years back there was a movement by the anti-hunting segment of our population to ban all baiting of bear in the United States. I saw financial and personal support, including testimony in favor of maintaining the right to bait bear from a variety groups. Some of the groups supporting this right, financially and vocally, were hound hunters. To the best of my knowledge, not one hound hunter testified in opposition.

I totally understand that each of us has a right to believe as we wish. I also acknowledge that the majority of the two groups support each other, always have and always will. There are only a few small boisterous individuals or groups that oppose forms of hunting they personally do not participate in. My hope in writing this article is to help awaken the minority of those who do not support all forms of hunting.

Hopefully, a few of those that read this article will sit back and think about the two hunts and realize that each hunter was enjoying what they looked forward to. Both had a choice on how they wished to hunt. Even if we do not agree with our fellow sportsman’s method of hunting, my personal opinion is that we should not be voicing those disagreements and giving added strength to the anti-hunters. Support each other in the sports and united we can continue to gain more rights and hunting privileges. As the saying goes, united we stand, divided we fall.