Question 2 is All about Compassion
The Bangor Daily News, October 27, 2004
Maine voters are hearing a lot these days from bear baiters,
"houndsmen" and various other characters we rarely see in public
debates. They're all worked up about Question 2, the anti-cruelty
measure on the state ballot next week. Much like the baits these
people use to lure bears, Question 2 has drawn them all out for a
clear view of the things they do and the standard of "sportsmanship"
Their obvious anger and resentment at having to explain
themselves in public is understandable. If you or I were in the
business of baiting or trapping bears for close-range shooting, or
setting packs of frenzied dogs upon bears for the delight of trophy
hunters, we wouldn't want people asking too many questions
Challenged, we would also search for some lofty sounding
justification, as Maine's recreational bear baiters, trappers and
houndsmen have done by invoking "tradition." Never mind that of the
50 states, only Maine still permits all three practices, and itself
prohibited commercial baiting until the 1970s. This whole approach
to hunting, we are assured, has been with us for ages, and to
prohibit it now would spell the end of a time-honored way of
The claim is best answered by bear baiters themselves, when they
are addressing one another and not putting on airs for the benefit
of the uninitiated. Listen, for example, to this ad from Smoldering
Lake Outfitters, a baiting operation in Bridgewater, describing the
"Baiting bears is much like training your dog. Since animals
learn by repetition, we are conditioning them to the sound of our
trucks, human scent, the noise we make while placing the bait. The
bears soon associate this routine with the arrival of food; much
like Pavlov's dog and the ringing of the bell."
Other outfitters advertise motion-sensors and infrared cameras at
the "bait stations." To make the shooting even easier, the bear's
daily fare of assorted garbage, pastries and meat scraps is usually
placed in a barrel. It remains only for the intrepid sportsman to
wait in the assigned tree stand or behind a blind, and when the
bear's head is deep in the barrel fire away with a telescopic rifle
or compound bow.
Sometimes the wounded bear actually escapes, and that's when the
hounds come in. An ad for Sunrise Ridge Guide Services of Bingham,
Maine, captures this part of the adventure:
"We will track the blood trail with our hounds to make recovery
all but assured. ... Each dog is equipped with a radio collar which
emits a unique signal, allowing us to monitor the direction and
activity of the dogs. Using four-wheel drive trucks, we attempt to
head the bear off, positioning ourselves as close as possible to the
chase. While the dogs keep the bear treed, we drive as close as
possible, then walk to the tree."
If ease and efficiency are what you're looking for in a trophy
hunt, this is certainly the way to go. All that's missing from the
picture are skill, discipline, fairness, manhood, and the least
sense of honor.
Such practices have been with us for a while, all right -- for as
long as a certain type of man has sought moral shortcuts from the
rigors of fair-minded hunting. The crassness of it all, to say
nothing of the cowardice and sloth, is beyond belief, and rightly
regarded with contempt by most hunters themselves.
When appeals to "tradition" fail, the baiters, hounders and
trappers then hasten to mention all the revenues their tawdry little
industry (about 3,500 ambushed bears annually) supposedly brings to
Maine's hunting economy. The argument is false on its own terms –
for all the out-of-state slob hunters legal baiting draws into
Maine, it keeps many more self-respecting hunters away. Worse,
though, the economic argument assumes that voters in Maine are as
unscrupulous as the bear-baiters are, willing to sanction any
cruelty just so long as it turns a profit.
As for the inconveniences that baiters and hounders will face in
changing their businesses, frankly that is their responsibility and
no one else's. People who stage cock fights or dog fights, people
who make and sell films of sadistic acts on animals, and for that
matter people who once made a fine living producing obscenity could
all tell you their sob stories of financial loss when the law
stepped in to stop what they were doing.
Baiters, trappers and hounders are not the first to discover that
there is money in cruelty and vice. And if Question 2 should pass
into law, they will not be the first to rediscover the hardships of
earning an honest living.
A fair and judicious response to all the arguments voters are now
hearing from trophy hunters and their PR firms would be to show them
exactly as much empathy as they themselves have displayed. Here,
lest we forget, is the sort of person who now asks for your sympathy
- a trophy hunter named Steve Chorney recounting his own heroics in
a piece in Blackpowder Guns & Hunting Magazine from 2002. We
pick up the narrative where he has just come across a bear he had
left wounded two weeks earlier:
"To our surprise, the ... bear was sporting massive head trauma.
In fact, he actually had a small portion of brain exposed. Upon
closer inspection, the gapping wound proved to be a laceration
caused from my 100-grain Wasp Hi-Tech S.S.T. broadhead. This
explained the deflection of my bolt nearly two weeks prior.
Amazingly, the blackie had survived and was still coming to the
grain to fill his belly with nourishment. Nevertheless, it also
spelled out why he was so aggressive. Moreover, it proved just how
tough black bears are. ..."
Thanks for sharing, Steve. But I'm afraid the story tells us a
lot more about the bear hunter than it does about the bear – this
creature that walked around for two weeks "sporting" massive head
The story also leaves a good image to keep in mind when you vote
on Question 2. In all its simplicity, this referendum is about
creatures who need our compassion, and about people who are in no
position to ask for our pity.
Matthew Scully served until recently as special assistant and
deputy director of speechwriting to President Bush. He is a former
literary editor for National Review, and the author of "Dominion:
The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to