It was mentioned in my last blog that I had started the bear baiting process. It is a process that involves several weeks prior to the commencement of the bear hunting season. The motivation, of course, is the same as that of sport fisherman (or particular kinds of commercial fishing) who use lures to attract fish so they can be caught by the hook embedded in the bait or lure.
I’ve read commentary in both some outdoor magazines and Internet forums where the authors spoke negatively of using baits to lure bears as though somehow that was not “sporting”, or, in the case of those who would shut down bear hunts completely, they agree with the sportsmen who feel that leaves a bear without a “fighting chance”. And some Provinces and other jurisdictions don’t permit baiting for bear for similar philosophical thinking. British Columbia doesn’t permit baiting for bear because there’s no need for that style as on Vancouver Island a bear hunter needs only walk a few logging roads and if he doesn’t see several bears per day, that’s considered a poor season! I can guarantee that if I could spend the full bear season (3 months) walking trails each day and saw 9 bears in 90 days I’d declare that Ontario was crawling with bears. What is the difference? Ontario is the second largest Province, next to Quebec the largest. Newfoundland – Labrador isn’t far behind Ontario in land mass but with less than a million population. Yet the Northwest Territories is slightly larger than Ontario but with a very small human presence. It isn’t technically a “Province”, but a regional area or “territory”. All of these jurisdictions have excellent bear numbers, including all of the Western Provinces from Manitoba to British Columbia.
Yet the bear numbers for Ontario is estimated between 100,000 to 150,000, which probably exceeds that of any other Province or region of Canada, but nobody really knows because most of the Province is uninhabited, and some parts uninhabitable. I’ve spent at least 300 – 400 days in bear hunts, mostly over baits or scouting. As well, I’ve done deer, moose and small game hunts. The only bear that I’ve ever seen outside of a baiting situation was in making a moose call — I called in a bear, and it was a good one but I never shot it.
A few bear are shot each year by deer and moose hunters. Aside from that, most bear hunting operations in Ontario employs baiting. And that goes for resident bear hunters as well.
As the saying goes: It’s not like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s not a given. Three decades ago when I hunted a few seasons with an outfitter, out of eight tries I shot three bears. I started baiting on my own in 1997 and have baited every year since. If I’m a serious bear hunter, which I am, I must bait them. There is really no other option except running them with dogs, and I don’t do that. As mentioned, calling is a third option, and with our heavy bush and forests, that becomes somewhat of a specialized hunt, and can be quite dangerous because a bear could appear “out of nowhere”, coming in your direction at full steam from less than 20 yards!
Much more could be said in justification of hunting bear over baits, but I’ll only add that “spot-and-stalk” doesn’t work in Ontario, at least in our area, because of very heavy under-brush and thick woodlots and forests.
Any time I’m in bear habitat I’ll carry a means of self-defence or protection. That has become more complicated in recent times because of changes in legislation in our Province regarding both bears and wolves. Most knowledgeable Ontario hunters are aware that the Spring bear hunt was cancelled in 1999. That caused a great deal of harm and grief to outfitters that largely depended on the Spring hunt for the full execution of their business plan. Nonetheless, our provincial legislators didn’t care the least about that. Their main concern, including the Premier, was the fear of a threat by a powerful lobby to unseat them if they didn’t cancel the Spring hunt. The lie that was promulgated by the lobby and with media support, was that mother bears and their cubs were being shot in the Spring by uncaring sport hunters! Of course, it was a lie but political parties and their politics feed on lies and a gullible public that ingests such poisonous rhetoric! And “The Cause” is fuelled by “influential people” who know little to nothing about real wildlife! Disney World is the main source of their education in that regard!
So, the 2000+ Americans who made the trek to Ontario each Spring to harvest a bear were not invited to the: “Reopening of the Spring Bear Hunt” in the northern regions of our fair Province. It really didn’t make any difference as it was a political ploy to garner votes for the Liberal Party. And the Premier who cancelled our Spring bear hunt in 1999 was a Conservative. I don’t really trust any politician to do what’s best for the citizen. The citizen they will do “the best for”, is themselves!
The two pieces of legislation to appease gullible voters, that affected my personal hunts were (1) The closure of the Spring hunt, and (2) The subsequent closure of my WMU to coyote/wolf hunting from April 1st through September 14. And that was due to lobbyists putting pressure on politicians who caved in to the theory that it was to protect wolves in areas surrounding Algonquin Park. Then, to add insult to injury, they claimed hunters couldn’t distinguish coyote from wolf, so coyote and brush wolf were added to that list!
All of that negatively affects when I can legally carry a rifle or shotgun in those areas! Before those pieces of negative legislation I could legally be in possession of a rifle (or shotgun) IF I had a current small game license in my possession, which I always do have! Well, I can still hunt fox, skunk and crows year round! “Officer, I’m carrying my .47-70 in case I’m attacked by a skunk!”
You understand the dilemma, I’m sure.
About bear defence: What is provocative and frustrating to hunters is that while making preparations for a bear hunt over bait, you must begin that activity several weeks prior in both scouting and finding the best bear activity to determine where to place bait and stand. Without proper self-protection we run the risk of an unfriendly bear encounter! And it happens. There is no way of knowing before the fact what the bear may do or how it might react!
All bears are predators, individualistic, crafty and opportunistic. Acting within State and Provincial laws, I’m not about to tell you how to behave if confronted by an officer who has his/her own views, intentions and biases of how the legislation should be applied. Some will assume that if you are carrying a firearm, you are hunting. You don’t have a right to protect yourself with a firearm, especially if you’ve placed yourself in a situation where you might need to use it. Of course, the potential inconsistency of that interpretation and application is that during moose and/or deer season, you must be in possession of a license for the game you are pursuing. But what if you are not a bear hunter, or not hunting bear during a big game season for deer, moose or elk, can you defend yourself against a bear that is an obvious threat to your safety and well-being using the big-game rifle intended for big game? You have obviously placed yourself in harms way of a potential threat from a bear!
(This is a familiar area where I’ve hunted deer, wolf and moose. What if….? An aggressive bear with ill intentions could show up while deer hunting. Could I legally protect myself if I didn’t have a bear tag, or it had been filled in a previous hunt?)
The problem is sixfold:
First: the need to scout and bait at least a few weeks prior to opening day.
Second: the real risk of a bear encounter.
Third: relying on hope that the bear will run the other way.
Fourth: or relying on bear spray that has little or no comparison to actual experience with your personal use of a firearm. That, again, is ONLY a theoretical defence wherein your trust is in the word of those who say “It will work”.
In my view, that’s a risk I’m unwilling to take! And no officer that I know of has that experience either. Even if they did, that wouldn’t help me in a stress-filled situation! I know of HUNTERS who have been seriously mauled and others who have been killed by bears! They were hunting other species: birds, deer, elk, etc.
Fifth: do I put my trust in an officer who may be keeping score? Another notch in his/her belt perhaps? I’ve had at least one such encounter with the type. The possibility of abuse of authority when in possession of a badge and uniform is a strong temptation if the authority figure has something to prove. It’s a very human tendency even for those who may wear “religious collars”, and feel they have rights and privileges above other mere mortals. Humility is not a natural trait; pride is!
If The MNR gives tacit approval for baiting prior to open season on bears, but deny tacit approval for adequate protection while scouting and baiting then they must share responsibility for any mishaps involving hunters and bears, or guides and bears, that creates serious injury or even death. Of course, because of the protection of Big Government, they will deny any culpability as they always do, hiding behind their high-priced legal advisers. And another “Of course”, in their Disney World minds, bear spray is adequate. “What about a sharp axe or 5 lb mall, Mr. Minister?”
Sixth: Then, and perhaps worst of all for the hunter, is the fact of a climate of change against hunting. That climate has become a culture in our halls of higher education from which our legislators and media type personalities have emerged.
For myself, therefore, since hunting has been a part of my heritage for over 60 years, and since I’ve never knowingly or wilfully broken any hunting laws, and never having shot at or purposefully killed any game animal out of season, I will continue to hunt bear in season and use the best means of personal protection in the process.
While I don’t profess to know firearm laws for every country, I know that in Canada we must have an ownership permit (license). For hunting purposes in Ontario, firearms must be encased from 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sunrise. I still believe the best bear defence is a legal firearm, whatever that may be. In the U.S.A., that may be a sidearm, but those matters will be discussed in much more detail in future articles. (Photo credit: Norma)
“A 9.3 X 62 Mauser for elephant?” Don Heath (AKA “Ganyana”) thinks so! Should work well enough on bear, n’est-ce-pas?
More to come…