by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Forest Press, December 18, 2013)
A big congratulations to all the hunters
who harvested a black bear this
Why is bear hunting controversial? I suppose people began to
question bear hunting back in 1902 when President Teddy Roosevelt was summoned
to shoot a bear that had been tied up—just so Mississippians could guarantee
him a successful hunt. He refused, rightly, to shoot it.
Soon after that, plush stuffed toys were named “Teddy bears,”
after the hunter-President.
In frontier days (and still today in movies and TV news
reports) bears were seen as formidable threats. So it’s surprising that they
evoke such sympathy. But they do.
People today rant against the evils of bear hunting while hiding
behind online anonymity on Facebook, Twitter, and newspaper websites. They talk
as though bears are in decline, when bear populations are soaring. Bear hunters
who are by-the-book legal and ethical are suffering the attacks of people who
don’t know lesson one about what bear hunting is and what it does for bears.
Yes, I said what bear hunting does for
bears. I’ll get to that in a minute.
But first, while some people who are opposed to hunting try
to make intelligent arguments, many are truly know-nothings.
A case in point. During the recent Pennsylvania bear season,
a giant 772-pound black bear was killed—“harvested” is a more useful word here—
by a hunter in Lackawanna County. That’s grizzly bear size. It’s big enough not
only to make everyone say, “Wow!” but perhaps to be a possible contender for
the world record (which will be judged later by skull size, not weight).
So the know-nothings protest, broadcasting their ignorance
with questions like, “Why kill such a big, majestic creature!” That’s a
question I can answer. It doesn’t matter how big or majestic (or cute or cuddly,
to address the arguments of other self-appointed critics). It was killed
because a certain number of bears need to be killed every year.
Yes a certain number of bears NEED to be killed. Bears—some
are the largest land predators in the western hemisphere—need to be kept in
balance with their habitat and with other species—including humans. And if
hunters don’t do it, animal lovers won’t be able to appreciate bears.
Here’s another criticism, “Any bear that has reached that
enormous size should be allowed to live.” That’s a purely subjective opinion
which has no place in a legal, ethical, or game management discussion of bear
hunting. Bears are notoriously difficult to judge in size, and even the most
experienced experts make mistakes. Few hunters would be able to tell under
common hunting conditions in Pennsylvania just how big the bear they’re seeing
Suppose a hunter kills a 120-pound bear. Many self-appointed
critics will rush to criticize him for not letting that bear grow up, when in reality
that bear might never grow larger. Should the hunter listen to the person who
wants big bears spared? Or to the person who insists hunters should pass up
small bears? The hunter can’t please either one, so the hunter can’t win.
Few bear hunters just walk out into the woods and get lucky.
You get torn clothing and cuts on your face as you pitch yourself into the
nastiest brush you can find to push bears out to someone else. You come home
dog-tired from wading swamps, trampling through clearcuts, and climbing hills.
And when you get your shot, it may be the one shot you ever get at a live
So, here’s my conclusion—a big congratulations to all the
Pennsylvania hunters who harvested a black bear this season. I’m impressed. In
most cases, it’s not an easy feat. And harvesting the bear isn’t just a matter
of finding a bear and pulling the trigger.
Once that’s accomplished, how do you get an animal that
might be twice your size out of the woods? The hero factor (if that was ever
part of it) is over. And if your bear is the size of an NFL offensive lineman,
does any anti-hunter even understand what the next step is? I doubt it.
Finally, I promised to tell you what hunting bears does for
bears. If bear hunting is ever ended, populations would grow to a level where
conflict with humans would be commonplace. So hunting keeps them from becoming
a threat to people who have no defense against them. It keeps them from
becoming a nuisance. It keeps people safe. It keeps the bear population at a
level that’s tolerable and sustainable. And it actually enables people who are
against killing them to continue to believe they’re lovable and cute creatures
that shouldn’t be killed.
In fact, people who have that unrealistic and romantic view
of bears today can only have it because of bear hunters.