Hounding and Trapping Threaten to End Maine’s Bear Hunt

bear in a trap BDN photoFew Mainers hunt bears with hounds and even fewer trap bears. But the decision by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and other sportsmen’s groups to reject an offer that would have avoided this year’s difficult referendum on bear hunting and trapping gambled our one and only effective means of keeping bear populations in check: hunting over bait.

The Humane Society of the United States made the offer last spring during the legislative session, telling the leaders of Maine’s sportsmen’s groups that they would not take bear hunting to referendum if their proposal to ban bear hounding and trapping was enacted. SAM and the other groups quickly rejected the offer, calling it extortion.

That rejection was a real gamble. Without question, if this referendum was just about baiting, our campaign would be a lot easier. In fact, there probably wouldn’t have been a referendum at all.

If you don’t believe that hounding and trapping are causing us real problems with voters, read this very thoughtful letter that I received today, from a landowner in the Bangor area.

Emailed Message

As election day creeps closer, my husband and I are really pondering about Question One:  bear baiting, dogs, and snaring.  As you know, we own over 1000 acres and we do allow access for most types of hunting including bear hunting using dogs and bait.  But we are really struggling with Question One and here is why…

While I understand the need for bait, the dogs really bother me a lot.  If I allow dogs, then every time I go out to my forest, I hear the dogs baying:  a lot.  All over my property. During bear season and during rabbit season.   And, to make it harder for me to swallow, I have several local Maine Guides who like to take pot shots at one another.  So if I run into them, I hear things like:  “Oh yeah… that guy let’s his dogs go after bears too early.  He often loses a dog to a big bear every year.”

Last week, a friend and I were driving along Morrison Ridge Road in our area.  We came across a hunting dog with three collars (two with radio signal devices on them.)  There were four different phone numbers to call.  The dog had over 100 porcupine quills on it and no humans nearby.  I put the dog in the truck and attempted to find a spot with cell signal.  Several of the phone numbers didn’t work.  It took several hours to locate the owner and return the dog to him. He informed us he would remove the quills himself. 

Along the way, I met another crew with many dogs and several trucks bear hunting.  They got upset with me because I stopped to ask if the dog was theirs.   Apparently, there was a bear nearby.  But there were at least three trucks, 6 dogs and 7 guys running around on Studmill Road.  When I asked if they might know the dog owner, they kind of indicated that he and his guide weren’t the most ethical.  But they were clearly upset that I wouldn’t move on.   Really?  I suspect a logging truck would make more noise than I did.

Finally, on our remote sensing cameras on our property, we got video of dogs startling a moose.  It is difficult to tell how close they were, but they are clearly coming down the same trail as the moose.  We asked the Maine Guide that we allow on the property if he thought those were his dogs and he said “no”.  I understand that a moose could attack those dogs and kill them.

Like I’ve said before, my husband and I are all about supporting people who want to get out in the woods:  hunters, hikers, birders, etc. but once again I am reminded that they don’t make it easy. 

So my question about the referendum is this…

I would easily vote to continue baiting but I am really torn about the dog part. Why did they put all three of those options (baiting, snaring, and dogs) together in the referendum?

My Answer

Rather than reply by email, I called this lady and had a long conversation about the issues. The easy answer to her question is that HSUS put all three on the ballot because they know that hounding and trapping give them a better chance to ban all three practices. In fact, if they’d just put hounding and trapping on the ballot, they would most likely have won easily. I think they’re still smarting from their 2004 loss here, and are determined to reverse that loss on the same issues this year.

I told the lady of the time that some nonresidents were leaving their bear hounds in the Maine woods after hunting with them here, which led to the law that requires nonresidents who wish to hunt bear with hounds to do so with a Maine guide. The four tags on the dogs she referenced in her letter included New York tags.

In the past we’ve had debates about trespass, focused on the difficult decision when hounds enter posted property. This has led to very contentious confrontations between hound hunters and landowners. And that issue is still very much in play.

I did everything I could to move the conversation with the lady away from our vulnerabilities, hounding and trapping, to focus on the critical importance of baiting to both bear population control and the bear hunting industry. And I believe I succeeded in convincing the woman to vote No.

I can only hope that the campaign to defend bear hunting is able to move the electorate off hounding and trapping and onto the critical issue of baiting and bear population control. We can win on that issue.

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, georgesmithmaine.com, 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.