Maine Decides Whether to Shoot Bear Like Ducks in a Barrel

On this election day, I long to be back in Maine, so that I could vote on the initiative to ban bear barrels. It’s a practice unfamiliar to me. I grew up in a family of hunters, which killed for sport and food. They tracked the animals, not lured them with sweet throwaways.

I only learned about the referendum this morning, from a news story in my RSS feeds. National Geographic violates Betteridge’s Law of Headlines by asking question: “Should We Bait Black Bears With Doughnuts?” I am embarrassed for being so out of touch with important issues and politics in the Pine Tree State—they matter to family there, and to me. I may be long-time removed, but Maine will always be home. I identity myself as a Mainer, more than by any other measure. 

Bear are enticed with “barrels overflowing with old doughnuts, pastries, molasses, and leftover deep-fryer oil”, according to National Geo. They’re easy prey when hunting season opens weeks later. Bear gather to eat, and hunters shoot them.

The issues are complex, should stopping the practice change natural dynamics as they are today:

For decades, Maine hunters have employed baiting to bag a bruin. But that could change on Tuesday, when Maine voters will decide whether or not to keep the practice. Proponents of a ballot initiative to outlaw the practice say it’s just plain cruel, while the tactic’s defenders say it’s a vital tool for controlling the state’s bear population.

Some people will rightly say that it’s easy for me, living in Southern California, to pass judgement on hunting practices in the most Northeastern state. That’s true. But I don’t see any sport in shooting bear like ducks in a barrel, also knowing that bear meat isn’t that tasty to eat.

While black bear can be dangerous—you never want to be between a sow and her cubs—they aren’t naturally aggressive like, say, grizzlies. They are more menace, which should be consideration in keeping or banning barreling.

The danger, and I think reasonable argument for baiting bear, isn’t the animals’ risk to humans but humans to one another. The more hunters in the woods, particularly out-of-state would-be sportsmen, the greater likelihood that another human is shot instead. Too many hunters too close to family backyards—something you can expect in large areas of Central and Northern Maine—is a larger problem. Then there are tourist dollars that these outsiders bring that could be lost. The current practice doesn’t just draw bear to barrels but keep inexperienced hunters out of the woods.

For these reasons and Mainers’ sense of independence, while I oppose bear barrels, my hope is that voters go against the ban. Because every incursion into personal liberties makes Maine more like regulatory crazy California, and on that topic I am qualified to opine, being a resident for 7 years.

The good thing: Voters will decide, not legislators. Choose wisely.

Photo Credit: Bob Travis