Sportsmen are vulnerable on bear hounding and trapping

bear in a trap BDN photoSportsmen are vulnerable on bear hounding and trapping, making the defeat of the referendum that would ban bear trapping and bear hunting with bait and dogs more difficult. The Humane Society of the United States will focus its fall campaign on hounding and trapping – emphasizing that “Maine is the only state that allows all three practices.” That’s true only because we’re the only state that allows bear trapping.

It’s much easier to defend baiting. The majority of states that have bear hunts allow baiting. Some states even allow hunters to bait deer. But the fact that Maine allows bears to be baited but not deer (or even turkeys) invites nonhunters to question the fairness of baiting.

In fact, at the legislature this year, HSUS offered to drop their plan for a ballot measure if the legislature enacted the group’s bill to ban hounding and trapping of bears. Sportsmen’s groups reacted angrily to that proposal and killed the HSUS bill quickly. I guess they felt they could not make a deal with the devil, but they also gambled the entire bear hunting industry on their decision.

So, you will see HSUS TV ads about hounding and trapping, while the sportsmen’s ads will focus on baiting and “scary bears.” No one wants a bear in his or her back yard. DIF&W will make the case that we’re not harvesting enough bears now to keep the population in check, and bears will be a major problem if they can’t be taken with bait. Indeed bears are already a growing problem throughout the state.

Even HSUS seems to understand this, because its initiative allows the use of traps, hounds, and bait to deal with problem bears. Apparently those practices are only unethical until the bear appears in your backyard!


Many think this issue is all about ethics. And we have to acknowledge that sportsmen themselves are divided on their hunting techniques and practices. In 2013 the largest sportsmen’s group in Montana worked successfully to defeat legislation that would have allowed bear hunting with hounds.

But without question, over the centuries we’ve been hunting in Maine, sportsmen have been the leaders in changing their hunting practices and supporting conservation of wildlife and habitat in our state.

Consider this bear hunting story from Steve Pinkham’s book, Old Tales of the Maine Woods.




bear in denWe found their trail and followed it to another den, which they had found among a pile of huge boulders. It was a hard place, and we were not certain that they had stopped there till we had cut the ice away sufficiently to get down and look into a cave about twenty feet under the flat side of a large rock. I got a long pole and punched in till I saw their eyes glisten, then I knew they were there; but we couldn’t drive them out, so we cut the ice away and I got down flat on my belly and crept in about half my length so as to let the light shine in over my head, and with my pole I punched her till I could see her eyes shine, then I took as good aim as I could and fired.

I backed out pretty soon. I fired twice before I hit her. The second time I put a large bullet in just to the left of her right eye. Then the cub curled down behind his mother so snug that I could only just see his eyes and ears, and when I stopped punching him he would be entirely out of sight. I fired three times before I killed him.

Here’s another old bear tale in Steve’s book, from a trapper.

Four years ago, I made $120 in ten days’ time trapping bears. I got four old bears and two cubs. One of the cubs was alive. On this trip I got a bear every other time I looked my traps over.

This same trapper failed to kill a bear in a trap with his gun, ran out of bullets, and clubbed the bear to death with chunk of rock maple. He also kept some cubs, raised them for a while, then sold them.

Some of the tales are brutal in the reading, for sure. And they also help us understand how far our hunting ethics and commitment to conservation have come.

And here’s one more old tale of baiting and trapping a bear. There, standing on his haunches and wildly beating the air with his fore paws, was a huge black bear, with the molasses keg hauled down over his head and securely held there with long, sharp-pointed nails slanting in from the outside. Hiram had conceived the idea of filling the keg with nails and baiting it with a quantity of molasses, of which bears are so fond. The bait has proved too tempting for bruin, and crowding his head into the keg, he did not feel the sharp nails until he attempted to withdraw it, when he discovered his mistake. In this condition, he was easily dispatched.

I don’t doubt it!

How about this Moosehead Lake story, from Pinkham’s second book, More Old Tales of the Maine Woods. A great hunting excursion took place on November 12, 1848 on Sugar Island, the party consisting of over one hundred hunters. They formed a line and made a clean sweep of the island. To prevent the bears, deer, moose and smaller animals from escaping into the water, they had a string of boats ready, resulting in great slaughter.

The U.S. Humane Society would not approve! Nor would Maine sportsmen. And that’s just the point I am making here. Sportsmen are fully capable of making their own advances on ethics and conservation, without the help of a national anti-hunting organization.

Of course, Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society of the United States, tried to reassure Maine sportsmen during his August visit here, saying, “I really want to assure hunters in Maine that we are not going to be seeking additional restrictions on hunting – not on bear hunting or other forms of hunting. We recognize and accept Maine’s tradition of deer hunting and moose hunting.”

Sure you do Wayne.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.