A Defense Of Hound Hunting

Virginia Bear Hunters Association, Bear Hunting Magazine

In light of the continuing "bad press" Virginia's bear hunters have received in various state newspapers, the Virginia Bear Hunters' Association would like to clear up some misconceptions about the sport.

Great harm has been done to the public's image of bear hunting by a few rogue hunters and by misinformed individuals who have never participated in our sport. As in all sports, there are some who deserve the public's disdain, but the public generally does not condemn baseball, football, biking, deer and turkey hunting, or any other sport in its entirety when they read about the use of steroids, poor sportsmanship or illegal tactics among a few participants.

The Virginia Bear Hunters' Association is an organization of approximately 1,000 people throughout Virginia whose purpose is to ensure and preserve the privilege to hunt bear with hounds. We have a code of ethics that our members live by, and we distance ourselves from those who abuse our sport.

Bear hunting is a wonderful family activity. Many a young boy or girl has had their first hunting experience following along on a bear hunt. The children love the dogs; they get to walk through and explore the forests; and they do not have to be quiet. Many bear hunting parties have three generations of bear hunting enthusiasts including men, women and children.

As with other dog owners, bear hunters love their dogs. There is no aspect of any sport that is more challenging than to raise and train a good bear dog. These dogs (Blueticks, Black-and-tans, Redbones, Plotts, Walkers) are born with the instinct to track and tree bear and they live for the opportunity to do so as evidenced by their unbridled enthusiasm day after day during season and their impatience during the off-season. Those who train dogs of other breeds know, however, that natural instinct requires many hours of training to develop, and even then, only a few rise to the "hall of fame." Many bear dogs never hone the ability to follow a cold track, many become "me too" dogs who follow the leaders of the pack, and many, after finding that their prey fights back and/or chases them, decide that some other game is more appealing.

Regardless of their skill level, we still love our dogs. We feed and care for them year-round for the opportunity to take them out during the few weeks of bear season. Therefore, we utilize modern technology--tracking collars-- as our "long leash" once the dogs are released. These collars allow us to know the approximate location of our dogs and to retrieve them if they are entangled, hurt, stolen, or if they have wandered onto private property. And yes, the collars allow us to locate the dogs when a bear has been treed. When we are lucky, we still have the energy to get there before the rested bear leaves the tree to run again.

Bear hunters today also use radios to communicate with one another, and there are usually some hunters who stay in trucks along roadways. Running through the woods with dogs is definitely a young man's sport, but older and/or disabled bear hunters can still participate by helping keep track of the dogs. These tactics don't give us an unfair advantage to cornering the game, but do allow us to catch dogs before they enter private property or worse yet, before they enter a busy highway. Non-hound hunters also use modern technology such as GPS units and radios which are viewed as safety devices for them. Tracking collars and radios used by bear hunters are also safety devices--for the hunters and for the dogs.

We currently have the right to enter private land in Virginia for the purpose of retrieving our dogs. This right is being challenged in the Virginia General Assembly, and has recently been referred to as the right to "trespass." Ethical houndsmen are careful not to abuse this right, and most landowners appreciate the retrieval of our hounds from their property. With housing approaching our National Forest acreage and large tracts of private land being developed, Virginians have not only encroached upon the wilderness preferred by bear, but have increased the probability that dogs pursuing bear will enter private property. Dog owners want to retrieve them with as little intrusion to the landowner as possible. We have made many new friends and have even recruited new bear hunters while searching for our dogs.

This sport has been around since the beginning of our great nation, and some of our greatest folk heroes were bear hunters who used dogs, i.e., Davy Crockett. Bear hunters today still have that "mountain man" mentality. Today's typical non-hound hunters also love being "in the woods." They put in hours of scouting to find the spot that will most likely yield success. When their season arrives, most of them, wearing the right clothing and carrying the right gear, walk to their selected spot, perhaps climb into a tree stand or blind, and wait for the game to pass within range. The typical western Virginia bear hunter loads his dogs and drives to the most remote, unpopulated area he can find, and then takes his dogs into the mountains for miles and miles of searching rough terrain for a fresh bear track. Many mountains, hollows, and ridges are searched, and many days produce no prospect for a chase. Some days fresh bear sign is found, sometimes by the hunter's eyes, but usually by the dog's nose. The chase is on, but that is only the beginning of what sometimes becomes hours of the dogs trying to follow the track, "jump" the bear, and tree him.

Bear hunters hold their game in the utmost regard. We respect their elusiveness and their wily ways of avoiding man and dog. We are perhaps the biggest conservationists of the species. We love bears. Many non-hound hunters see few, if any, bears even after years of hunting. Any bear that is sighted appears larger than it actually is, and an attempt is usually made to harvest the animal. Hound hunters, on the other hand, have likely seen many bears and practice selective killing of the game. We recognize which bears need to be harvested and which bears need to be left for another day. Even on those hunts when the dogs keep the animal treed until the hunter arrives, many end with the dogs being praised but leashed and taken away from the tree with the bear left unharmed. We practice selective catch-and-release to ensure there is a healthy population of bear in Virginia's forests because of our admiration for the species and our passion for our sport.

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