I went steelheading with a former hunting guide on March 21, 1983. I noted in my diary that we released a couple of bright steelhead. I’d forgotten about that detail, but I hadn’t forgotten the conversation we had as we ate sandwiches and drank coffee on a stream side log. The man was in some pain as a result of an injury he’d sustained while falling. I asked why he’d given up guiding.
He told me that, among other creatures, he’d guided bears. On one of those hunts his client wounded a black bear that lumbered off into the woods. It was late in the day. By nightfall they hadn’t located the wounded animal.
Frustrated they returned to camp.
The bear must have circled around, the former guide said. We knew this because we had to lie awake all night and listen to it moan as it slowly died. That was it, he said with finality. I never guided again.
When I related this adventure to Doug, a skilled hunter with a strong conservation ethic, he shook his head sadly, and told of watching a TV show that featured bow hunters shooting black bears.
These guys bragged about shooting bears and listening to what they called their death moan, he told me in disgust.
Ethical hunters, like Doug, never go out intending to watch creatures die in agony. They abhor such barbarity. They aim for a quick, clean kill.
Another anathema to ethical hunters is baiting. I recall talking to a tall amiable fellow and ardent hunter whom I used to encounter from time to time in the local tackle stores. During the course of one of our short conversations he told me he’d recently come back from a safari to Africa, something he’d wanted to do all his life. Sadly, the trip turned out to be a bust. The game was located on large ranches. He and the other hunters were instructed to wait in blinds near watering holes where they waited to shoot animals that came down to drink. To this man this was just as bad as baiting as the prey animals had no choice but to come down and drink and unwittingly expose themselves to slaughter.
He was correct. This kind of conduct, like leaving meat in the bush to lure predators where they can be easily shot and loaded into a nearby truck or ATV is contrary to the notion of fair chase.
I, like nine out of ten of my fellow citizens of this province, think trophy hunting is reprehensible. As I have written before, grizzly bear hunting is on par with hunting gorillas and elephants. It is an inhumane, cruel, and barbaric act that ought to have been banned a century ago. Polls demonstrate that a large majority of the populace agrees with this. Yet even hunters who think killing the most intelligent wild animal on this continent is OK because doing so is still legal, think baiting is bad.
Grizzlies are not hard to find. I fish the same rivers they do every Fall. I see their tracks. I hear them making their way through the brush behind me, and I see them from time to time. I give them as wide a berth as possible. On many occasions I later find out it is they who have given way to me. I could stop writing this, hop in my truck and in under an hour drive to a dozen places where great bears are nearby. It’s an easy task because bears, like thirsty animals on the Serengeti, have to be near water. In the case of the grizzly its because they have to fatten up on salmon before winter. They have no choice.
Salmon are bear magnets. They are bear bait. When a hunting guide drives out to the Lakelse River and helps a hunter he has charged thousands of dollars kill a grizzly, he is, in effect, baiting by taking advantage of the bait placed there by Mother Nature.
Maybe you, like many people I’ve talked to lately, didn’t know that grizzlies were being killed commercially some twenty minutes from your home. I know of two bears that have been slaughtered this year already. Last year I encountered a guide who told me he and his camo-clad clients were floating to the middle reaches where they hoped to kill a big male bear. I’m pretty sure they did. Late last fall I heard a rumour that a female bear who had been fishing the upper river for the last two seasons had been killed along with her two cubs. I prowled that part of the river hoping to find her alive. I didn’t. Today, I heard that another angler came across her corpse.
The last NDP government placed a moratorium on grizzly hunting. Gordon Campbell’s government lifted that ban in response to the lobby by guide outfitters, contrary to the wishes of the majority of the electorate.
Next week I will examine the plight of the Lakelse Grizzlies and why bear hunting must be banned once and for all.