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Montana Hound Hunting Bears: Good or Bad?
The 2021 Montana legislature passed HB 468 to allow the hunting of black bears with hounds during the state’s spring bear season outside of occupied grizzly habitat.
This decision has come with challenges and questions from both hunters and state wildlife biologists and managers. Is hunting bears with hounds “fair chase”? Will this new practice have too much impact on black bear populations? Can spot and stalk and hound hunters “get along”? These questions and more are facing Montana bear hunters as we move closer to the spring black bear seasons.
Please bear with me while I set up my soap box…
I’d first like to address the question of fair chase. Anyone who has ever pursued anything with dogs, be they hounds, bird dogs or retrievers, will and should openly scoff at the notion that hunting game with dogs is not fair chase. We are not talking about the red days of running stags into water with a pack of 50 dogs and letting them brutally savage the exhausted game as it dies an agonizing death. Those times and practices are thankfully and rightfully behind us. Today’s houndsmen in particular, are vital participants in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and whose dedication to their pursuit should be greatly respected.
If you are of a mind to question hound hunting as being fair chase then you need to tag along with some houndsmen, especially on a bear hunt. Of all the legal methods of taking black bears, doing so with hounds is one of the most rewarding and surest ways of taking only mature boars thanks to the up close and personal nature of the end of a pursuit. When houndsmen approach a bayed bear they can determine sex and maturity very quickly and make a decision to harvest or not.
Hunters are quite often our own worst enemies and in-fighting can be rampant amongst our ranks. If houndsmen and spot and stalk hunters allow competition for a shared resource to divide them then the gap will be filled by anti-hunters waiting in the wings to take advantage of any weakness they perceive and the future of ALL bear hunting will be tenuous at best.
As for the impact on bear populations… Montana has specific bear quotas in place to ensure sustainable harvest of both sows and boars and when those quotas are met the hunt ends regardless of the method of take.
I applaud the state of Montana for expanding bear hunting opportunities. I also recommend that if you’ve never experienced a black bear hunt with hounds that you consider doing so. A final thought, hunting with dogs in wolf country can be disastrous as wolves quickly sniff out and terminate dogs with extreme prejudice. I personally know a slew of houndsmen in Michigan who no longer hunt bears in the U.P. due to losing entire strings of dogs to wolves. I hope this can be avoided in Montana.
I don’t see reason for concern regarding these changes but I’d love to hear your opinion if you don’t agree.
For more details, and a good bit of spin…