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Montana Hound Hunting Bears: Good or Bad?

The 2021 Montana legislature passed HB 468 to allow the hunting of black bears with hounds during the state’s spring bear season outside of occupied grizzly habitat. 

This decision has come with challenges and questions from both hunters and state wildlife biologists and managers. Is hunting bears with hounds “fair chase”? Will this new practice have too much impact on black bear populations? Can spot and stalk and hound hunters “get along”? These questions and more are facing Montana bear hunters as we move closer to the spring black bear seasons. 

Please bear with me while I set up my soap box…

I’d first like to address the question of fair chase. Anyone who has ever pursued anything with dogs, be they hounds, bird dogs or retrievers, will and should openly scoff at the notion that hunting game with dogs is not fair chase. We are not talking about the red days of running stags into water with a pack of 50 dogs and letting them brutally savage the exhausted game as it dies an agonizing death. Those times and practices are thankfully and rightfully behind us. Today’s houndsmen in particular, are vital participants in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and whose dedication to their pursuit should be greatly respected. 

If you are of a mind to question hound hunting as being fair chase then you need to tag along with some houndsmen, especially on a bear hunt. Of all the legal methods of taking black bears, doing so with hounds is one of the most rewarding and surest ways of taking only mature boars thanks to the up close and personal nature of the end of a pursuit. When houndsmen approach a bayed bear they can determine sex and maturity very quickly and make a decision to harvest or not. 

Hunters are quite often our own worst enemies and in-fighting can be rampant amongst our ranks. If houndsmen and spot and stalk hunters allow competition for a shared resource to divide them then the gap will be filled by anti-hunters waiting in the wings to take advantage of any weakness they perceive and the future of ALL bear hunting will be tenuous at best. 

As for the impact on bear populations… Montana has specific bear quotas in place to ensure sustainable harvest of both sows and boars and when those quotas are met the hunt ends regardless of the method of take. 

I applaud the state of Montana for expanding bear hunting opportunities. I also recommend that if you’ve never experienced a black bear hunt with hounds that you consider doing so. A final thought, hunting with dogs in wolf country can be disastrous as wolves quickly sniff out and terminate dogs with extreme prejudice. I personally know a slew of houndsmen in Michigan who no longer hunt bears in the U.P. due to losing entire strings of dogs to wolves. I hope this can be avoided in Montana.  

I don’t see reason for concern regarding these changes but I’d love to hear your opinion if you don’t agree. 

For more details, and a good bit of spin…

https://missoulacurrent.com/outdoors/2022/02/hound-hunting-season/

About Todd Helms

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6 comments

  1. Having hunted birds and cougars with dogs I know for a fact it’s not as easy as some would try to lead you to believe.

    The aspect of being able to get a closer look at the animal and determine if it is a legal animal or a sow with cubs is a huge benefit to the animals and the hunter. I turned down a number of cougars thanks to the time of being able to get a closer look. Besides seeing the animal up close and personal is most of the fun. The only reason I like hunting bears over bait. Living in grizzly county it would help with those who made a mistake and shot the wrong species. Of course the feed bear problem becomes a issue along with a few others.

    Wolves have taken out hounds in Montana as well. A whole different can of worms.

    Bottom line, I like the law and hope we can get along and if a problem arises work it out properly.

  2. Dogs for bear hunting in California was ended some time ago. Now the state never reaches the quota and the bear population in many areas is over capacity. The latest attempt by the anti-hunters is trying to stop bear hunting, since not as many bears are being taken, they claim the population must have fallen. As you stated, give them an inch and they will lie it into a mile.

  3. I was on the fence when bear hunting with hounds was first proposed here in Montana. I quickly became opposed when FWP revealed that most of the black bear habitat in the state would be closed to bear hunting with hounds due to proximity to grizzly bears. This only leaves a few areas where houndsmen can chase bears. You pointed out that Montana has quotas in place to ensure sustainable harvest of bears. Unfortunately, one of the main areas open to hound hunting (region 4) does not have a quota. Some of the biologists I talked to said there is a very real concern with over harvest in these areas.

  4. Seems a easy fix for unit or region 4 would be to determine a proper quota for that region. It seems to me that the biologists could come up with a quota for each allowable type of taking a bear after fine tuning over two or three years of harvesting. It wouldn’t be much more work as they do population counts for each area or region anyway and could easily determine the quotas based on the harvest by each method of harvest over a couple of years.

  5. We used to hunt bears with hounds here in California. Unfortunately, they’ve banned the use of hounds. To anybody who told me that it was too easy and not fair, i invited them on a hunt as a spectator. The three that actually took us up on it said it nearly killed them, and why couldn’t we just use roads? Ha! Ask the bears!

  6. I believe hound hunting for bear has its place in Montana; however, it appears that it could be on a slippery slope due to limited areas. Those areas open to hound hunting would need managed differently than they are now and possibly set up a quota for hound hunters versus non hound hunters. That way everyone has an opportunity. One positive thing about using hounds for any game is that the hunter can get close to the game animal to determine if it is one they would take or pass on versus shooting at something hundreds of yards away.

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