Organized opposition to hunting has been dramatically increasing in recent years. The global network of high-speed internet has created a network of people opposed to hunting and large increases in their fundraising abilities. The majority of people in the United States support the idea of people hunting animals for food which makes it unlikely we’ll see an end to deer hunting anytime soon. However, there is one North American big game animal that seems to draw opposition more than any other: the bear. Just in the past several years, we have seen a bill to ban bear hunting in California, the end of grizzly bear hunting in British Columbia, and the end of public land bear hunting in New Jersey. No other type of hunting on the continent is so regularly vilified. The anti-hunting groups have latched onto bear hunting as a target that can be easily manipulated to sway public perception.
For starters, the general public no longer views bear meat as edible. Bear hunting is routinely classified as trophy hunting because it is assumed that no one would eat a bear. As hunters, we know this could not be further from the truth. Bear meat can be just as good as venison if prepared right (and cooked to 160 degrees). Historically, in the US, people killed deer for the hides and bear for food. It was widely eaten on the American frontier and by Native Americans. Also, the fat from a bear can be rendered down to make bear grease which is great for cooking. The fact is, most bear hunters are eating the meat from the bears they kill.
Bears also are easy victims of our habit to anthropomorphize wild animals. Popular depictions of bears in cartoons, commercials, and even teddy bears have created the association that bears are cute and share many human attributes. This image we have created of bears is utilized by anti-hunting groups to try and demonize hunters. If you believe bears are cute and cuddly creatures of the forest, then it’s easy to see a bear hunter as an inhuman monster. The reality of the situation is that as hunters, we believe bears are beautiful and majestic creatures, but also know that they can be killing machines. Mature male bears (boars) are known to kill and eat bear cubs in order to get a female bear (sow) to go back into heat quicker than she would if she was tending to her cubs. Removing the older males from a bear population can actually help increase bear numbers by reducing the predators who prey on cubs. Bears are the ultimate symbols of wilderness. They can be cute, terrifying, curious, dangerous, and many other things. They are not pets and should not be treated as if they were. As apex predators, their population must be managed to ensure healthy numbers and to avoid human-bear conflicts. Hunting bears to manage them is a way we can ensure their survival as a species in North America.