As of January 1st in the state of California, it will no longer be legal to hunt bobcats and bears with dogs.
Gary Ramey and his grown daughter traveled to hunt California bears in November to participate in the traditional bear hunt. The father and daughter hunters traveled 2,500 miles enjoy this tradition.
"When you think about it, hunting with dogs is probably the oldest hunting in history. I’m sorry to see it end," stated Gary Ramey of Gainesville, Ga.
Other supporters of the sport noted that there was an increase in the interest during the last few months that the practice will be allowed. Critics of the hunt state it is unsportsmanlike and cruel.
"This may be the last opportunity for them to use hounds to go bear hunting," explained Josh Brones, president of California Houndsmen for Conservation, which was against the new law.
Houndsmen use their dogs to track a bear and then chase it up a tree. Then the hungers can get an easy shot at the bear that is steady in the tree. For some houndsmen, the chase is the fun part and often allows the bear to go free instead of shooting.
Democratic state Senator Ted Lieu of Torrance, whose bill, SB1221, banned the hunting practice, equated killing a bear in a tree to shooting a bear in a zoo. The bears are often hunted to sheer exhaustion, packs of dogs can tear bobcats apart, and bears can injure or even kill the dogs that are chasing them.
At this time, 17 states in the US still allow the use of dog to hunt bears but 15 other states have banned the practice. The other 18 states in the United States do not permit bear hunting as reported by the Humane Society of the United States, which pushed for the law in California.
On the other hand, California and a few other states allow the use of dogs to hunt other animals, which includes various animals from birds to feral pigs. A judge in Wisconsin has for the time being banned using dogs to hunt wolves before the ban will be permanent next year.
Nevada game officials are also considering a petition to ban hunting bears with hounds.
Bear season in California closed 2 ½ weeks early this year when hunters had reached the limit of 1,700 bears. Just a little under half of the bears were tracked with dogs as noted by the figures, which is about the same as seen in previous years. California has an estimated 70,000 bobcats. They issued around 4,500 permits to hunt bobcats in 2011. Around 11% of the bobcats were killed with the use of hound dogs.
State wildlife officials believe that California’s black bear population is around 26,000, which is an increase of about 10,000 in the 1980s. Some critics question the accuracy of that figure. Brones believes lawmakers will reconsider the ban if there is an increase in troublesome bears as the population increases.
Lieu and Jennifer Fearing, the Humane Society’s California state director, stated they are not surprised by the late increase in interest in the practice.
"We’re just relieved and heartened that this is the last bear season where this cruel and unethical practice can be utilized," Fearing stated.
Ramey bid at a charity auction 18 month ago prior to the ban being enacted. He stated, "It just sounded intriguing." He also explained he had never before seen a bear outside a zoo.
Holly Heyser, a journalism teacher at California State University, Sacramento that also blogs about hunting, signed up 2 weeks ago to experience a hunt while she could. She explained that even hunters speak about lazy hunters that make the dogs do all the work for them.
She and Ramey said their hunts overturned those stereotypes as they followed the baying dogs.
"It was up and down ravines, cliffs, you name it to get there," stated Ramey. "It was physically exhausting."
He and his daughter, Grace, 20, each killed a bear, but only after letting three others go free. It seemed unsporting to shoot a bear that was cornered in a culvert, he said, and they did not feel right about shooting a mother and young bear that were in trapped in a tree.
Heyser and Ramsey both explained that using dogs to track the bears allowed them to be selective about what to shoot and it seemed more sportsmanlike than using bear bait which is also banned in California. Both stated that shooting the bears in the tree gave them clear clean kills and both use dogs to flush out pheasants.
"The difference is no one feels sorry for pheasants," Heyser stated. "They’re really pretty, but they’re chickens."
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