Hunters say ‘treeing’ bears most humane way to reduce bear population

A black bear family. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

by Aubrey Weaver, for the Community News Service

With bear season starting Sept. 1, and rising reports of bear encounters in Vermont’s more urban areas like South Burlington, the state is faced with new discussions on how best to manage its bear population, if at all.

Somewhere around 5,000 black bears live in Vermont, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and approximately 20% of the population is hunted every year. David Sausville, the department’s wildlife management program manager, said the population “has actually grown over the last 50 years,” with state estimates bottoming out around 2,000 bears in the early 1970s.

Despite the population statistics, animal rights groups worry how humane some of the bear-hunting practices are. “I mean, they are just treated pretty horribly in Vermont,” said Brenna Angelillo-Galdenzi, president and co-founder of the group Protect our Wildlife Vermont. To Angelillo-Galdenzi, taking a fifth of the bear population each year is “not a sustainable hunt.”

Her organization is seeking changes in bear-hunting laws in Vermont, “specific to the hunting of bears with hounds, (the) really long bear-hunting season and the fact that hunters can kill mother bears with cubs,” she said.

One Vermont trail camera caught a hunter shooting a bear sow with cubs last fall, prompting a petition back in April to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board, a rule-setting body. However, the board moved to table the petition until this fall, and hunting a sow with her cubs remains legal in Vermont. 

Douglass Devos, president of the Vermont Bearhound Association, said nobody he knows would hunt a sow with cubs. “What you are looking for is a mature male,” Devos said, though he said he’s sure hunters sometimes kill mothers with their young. “There’s bad eggs in every group that can make the other guys look bad, ” he said.

About the renewed discussion this fall, Angelillo-Galdenzi said, “We are not hopeful that they’re going to vote yes on the petition.” She believes board members are too sympathetic to hunting to work with. In a call to action emailed to members July 28, the group’s leadership wrote that “it is clearer than ever that the VT Fish and Wildlife Board must be dismantled.” 

One particularly thorny point of debate between the activists, hunters and policymakers has been the practice of bearhounding — setting dogs after bears during hunts.

“They’re chased through the woods in the cornfields until the hounds either, you know, corner them on the ground or lead it up a tree,” Angelillo-Galdenzi said, referring to bears. “And that’s when the hunter tracks his dogs on his GPS device and shows up and literally shoots the bear out of the tree.”

But it’s a little different than shooting fish in a barrel, said Devos, the houndsman. If a hunter didn’t come up to the tree, they wouldn’t be able to tell the bear’s sex and weight and whether to shoot. Across a field, “you might think that’s a big bear and you shoot it and it’s an 80-pound female,” he said. “So ethically, it’s probably the most humane way.” 

During the last legislative session, Vermont issued a temporary moratorium on hunters’ ability to use hounds to hunt coyotes. Deploying dogs for bear hunting, though, remains legal in Vermont. Rep. Larry Satcowitz, D-Randolph, introduced H.323 last session, which, if passed, would have prohibited the hunting of bears and coyotes with dogs across the board. But the bill didn’t leave committee.

Vermont’s long history of hunting, something once core to the state’s identity, means proposed rule changes can draw strong reactions. 

“I don’t see how you can think of (bear-hounding) as something that should be stopped. It’s something we’ve been able to do forever,” said Devos, who added that houndsmen like himself “take only a very small percentage” of the bears hunted each year in the state. 

A sense of tradition guides many hunters. Sausville, the state wildlife management head, told Community News Service he treks out to hunt bears every year, something his family has done for decades.

“I have family members who do it, and we’ve been hunting in the same region for over 100 years,” he said. “It’s a good activity to have people get out on the land and be connected in a different way.”

Said Devos: “I’ve been doing it myself for 25 years, and I was taught from some old guys I used to hang out with. They’re gone now. My stepsons come hunting with us all the time. It is comparable to any other tradition any family would have.”

Angelillo-Galdenzi acknowledged the historic tradition of hunting in Vermont and described the difficulty groups like hers face in trying to restrict what hunters can do. “If any organization comes out threatening hunting in general, it’s a very polarizing discussion,” she said. 

She stressed that her organization’s aim isn’t to ban hunting in general. The group supports “science-based hunting regulations,” she said, and opposes practices like hounding and leg-trapping that they view as inhumane.

Devos views regulation and limitation as one and the same. “Anytime somebody wants to adjust something, they typically take something away from you,” said Devos. “Your hobby, even if I don’t agree with it, it’s not my right to try and change it.”

For the future of bear-hounding, Devos thinks “anything can happen.” 

“I’ve been doing it my entire life. It’s a huge part of my life. It’s not a hobby for me. It’s part of my life along with many, many other houndsmen in the state,” said Devos. 

If the state bans hounding, he believes regulations will creep into “whatever else is next on their list.”

Categories: Outdoors

25 replies »

  1. The group supports “science-based hunting regulations…”

    I’m not a hunter, but WTF is “science-based hunting?” The progtards sure like to jump from First Nations two-spirit drum-circle rain dances to something called “science-based” at the drop of a drag queen hissy fit.

  2. Black bear is very good eating, prepared correctly. When dressing, and skinning out, be careful not to nick the scent glands, very good roasted whole, like a hog, and save the fat, best leather dressing on the planet, and the old Vermont farm ladies swore ,back in the day, bear grease in a pie pan, makes the best pie crust ,and the hide cured, make a good bed for your pets. Back when I was falling timber, on steep mountain sides, rough ground, eating bear gave me a lot of power, compared to beef and hog. Good clean meat.

  3. So, somewhere around 5,000 black bears live in Vermont, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and approximately 20% of the population is hunted every year. Hunters harvested 841 black bears in Vermont during the combined 2021 seasons resulting in an estimated 252,300 meals of local wild game meat. The harvest represents a decrease of 84 bears from the 2020 harvest of 925 bears and was 149 bears above the 10-year average harvest (692 bears). Given this last fact, in 2020 a record setting year, less than (925<10 % of 5000) 20% of the population was harvested, and the population is still growing !
    It seems to me that "hounding" could be useful in relocating bears to more rural areas, as is done in the West with cougars (catamounts), but without trying it, we'll never know.
    Angelillo-Galdenzi acknowledged the historic tradition of hunting in Vermont and described the difficulty groups like hers face in trying to restrict what hunters can do. “If any organization comes out threatening hunting in general, it's a very polarizing discussion,” she said". As a recent immigrant to Vermont, I would think she would also question her own Vermont experience. By this I mean should someone as a newcomer, expect the native people to bend, or adopt their viewpoints, and practices, or should they consider adopting or at least not expecting the natives to conform to their beliefs, and not intentionally "poke the bear"?
    She (Ms. Galdenzi) stressed that her organization’s aim isn’t to ban hunting in general. The group supports “science-based hunting regulations,” In spite of this statement she, and her group, opposes, and vilifies our Fish and Wildlife Department and it's biologists at every turn, even questioning the makeup of the board in an effort for her animal rights group to gain control of wildlife management in the State of Vermont.
    One of the reasons given for not allowing hounding is in direct conflict to their objective of not shooting sows, as the best way to ascertain the gender of a bear is the close observation that a treed bear allows. So what is more important, not shooting sows, or not allowing hounding ? The answer, not allowing bear hunting, or coyote, or moose, ……..

  4. So to understand population control, here are the facts. According to Vermont we have 5,000 black bears. Let’s assume 1/2 are male and the other 1/2 are female. Black bears usually breed every two years. Average litter is 2 or 3. So if we have 2,500 females breeding 2.5 bears, the bear population growth would be 6,250 every two years (or 3,125 every year){this is assuming the population stays the same} We hunt 20% of the current 5,000 bears, for a removal of 1,000 from the population. But 20% is not enough to keep the population from growing. I realize there are a few assumptions to design the figures above. However, with more people coming into Vermont, size of towns expanding to build homes; this makes the habitat for Bears (and the food they eat) shrink in size as well. Now we have bears in neighborhoods looking for food. Many people keep their garbage outside, and bears can smell 3/4 to 1 mile away; if the wind is right. The ones who would want to eliminate bear hunting, if the got their way would be a tragedy to Vermont in 4 or 5 years.

  5. “She stressed that her organization’s aim isn’t to ban hunting in general.”
    Absolute manure.
    “I think we should just take our clothes off, cuddle, and make out. No one is trying to have sex here!”

  6. Regardless, killing a sow with cubs is heartless and sickening. Of course, human males think it’s just fine & dandy – they possess no maternal instincts & despite what fruit-loop “progressives” believe, males will never, ever know what it feels like to carry life and “bear” young, so to speak.

    Knowing that humans are omnivores and enjoying bear meat myself – ruthlessly slaughtering sows and cubs or using inhumane practices to do so (yes, such as trapping IMO…take a look at photos readily available online) is disgraceful. There are alternatives very obviously, and the attitude of “anything goes” in love and hunting is exactly what happened to the North American Bison, the Wooly Mammoth, the Australian Thylacine, and many other species.

    Needing or preferring or enjoying eating wild game is part of nature and the food chain, but you don’t have to be a raging jackazz at the same time.

    • Please refrain from sexist generalizations. Just as “not every woman wants children” there are men who abhor hunting in all its forms. Generalizations such as yours deny my uniqueness. Be better!

      • I stated that no man will ever know what it is like to carry and bear a child, and no man ever shall. That’s just basic high school biology, science, and reality – no sexism involved whatsoever. Alas, I cannot do any “better”.

      • “ human males think it’s just fine & dandy – they possess no maternal instincts”
        You generalized when you said human males think it’s “fine and dandy”
        You don’t know all men. You are being sexist and disparaging towards men. Be better.

        Oh btw. Up to a third of young bears are killed by adult male bears in order to bring the mother into season. And the sow gets over it and mates with him. Seems like bears generally think it’s “fine and dandy” to kill cubs too.

        It’s a cheap trick to pretend the emotional life of an animal is the same as a human.

    • I actually agree with you 1000% but I think I’ll pass on the fine-dining part. Waldbaum’s didn’t carry bear meat.

      • Ha, funny…..you need to have friends or family that hunt or go to one of Vermont’s wild game suppers that are held in various little towns all around the state shortly after the seasons close.

    • “ human males think it’s just fine & dandy – they possess no maternal instincts”
      You generalized when you said human males think it’s “fine and dandy”
      You don’t know all men. You are being sexist and disparaging towards men. Be better.

      Oh btw. Up to a third of young bears are killed by male bears in order to bring the mother into season. And the sow gets over it and mates with him. Seems like bears bears generally think it’s fine and dandy to kill cubs too.

      It’s always a mistake to use cheap sentiment and portray the emotional life of an animal as if it were human.

      • First off, generalizations are used by the majority of the populous because they are ‘generally” accurate or reliable. Collin’s Dictionary defines maternal instinct as a noun: the natural tendency that a MOTHER has to act or behave around her child or children…”Nat Geo states that all mammalian FEMALES have maternal responses or instincts…” And as stated beforehand, based upon a long-established biological determination that ONLY females can be mothers – ONLY mothers, i.e.: females possess maternal instincts. If you are a dude, i.e.: possessing male gonads, you may like, appreciate, interact with, and father offspring until the cows come home (which may end up being NEVER if political/social extremists have their way) but you do NOT possess maternal hormones or “instinct”, nor do any of your male friends/family/associates. Therefore, perhaps you ought to do “better”….which is actually following the “science” you purport to follow.

        As far as wild male animals killing or “culling” offspring so that the mother will return to estrus in order to be able to mate once again, such are the often-cruel realities of life that are viewed within this natural world – but it doesn’t follow that human beings possess the righteous indignation to take a firearm into the woods behind their house and murder every sow and bear cub that they can locate because if THEY don’t do it – a male bear might! Further, there are times when human mothers (again, that’s the one gender out of the two extant possessing maternal instinct) lose their offspring through natural causes or even murder and still go on to again become pregnant and bear future children. Once again, however, although nature provides its creatures with a means to survive & to continue to perpetuate our species, that doesn’t give anyone some “right” to end another’s life except soldiers during wartime, in self-defense when one’s life is threatened, or for sustenance as in the case of meat eating.

        Lastly, if you had kept up with the research executed over the past couple of decades regarding animal cognition performed both nationally and internationally at dozens of academic institutions such as Harvard, Yale, American Psychological Association, UCLA, etc. you would have known that it is now a widely accepted scientific conclusion that animals indeed possess emotions such as sadness, suffering, grief, joy, etc. and that therefore accusing someone of anthropomorphism today might be a quite a very difficult if not impossible task to establish. You will almost certainly have to do “better”…… better than all the hundreds of doctors, scientists, and graduate students who have spent their very lives intimately studying the intelligence and emotional capabilities of both wild and domestic animals.

      • I agree that generalizations serve a useful purpose, however that usefulness goes in both directions. If I had implied that all women want children I would have been called a sexist. You actually implied that ALL men think it is “fine and dandy” to kill a mother bear because NO man can have empathy for a mother since men don’t have babies. That is not true and if you look through the art of the western world you will find that many many men -every one of whom was borne by a mother – have a deep emotional connection both to their mother and to motherhood in general.

        You say “but it doesn’t follow that human beings possess the righteous indignation to take a firearm into the woods behind their house and murder every sow and bear cub that they can locate because if THEY don’t do it – a male bear might! “

        Who has suggested that hunters should be allowed to “murder every sow and bear cub that they can locate? I certainly didn’t and Vermont’s well regulated hunting and fishing system does not allow that either. You mention a “scientific approach” as if I am advocating against one. I am not. In fact , Vermont Fish and wildlife already follows a scientific approach. They have a very well thought out system that encourages a combination of habitat preservation and responsible hunting to ensure healthy populations of a whole range of wild animals from the largest moose to even small reptiles. They DO NOT emote about the loss of one bear or one salamander because doing so would be the end of all hunting in Vermont eventually. And when the hunting is over the habitats will disappear too.

        I specifically said that pretending that wild animals are emotionally (and by implication intellectually) the same as humans is a cheap debating trick. It turns an otherwise rational conversation into an emotionally charged pile-on. Animals behavior is not the same as human. That is a fact. Your appeal to authority in Harvard and Yale (oooooh I’m impressed) does not change that FACT. Yes they may have emotions, yes they may feel pain, but that does not make them human. And because they aren’t human, they do not deserve the same empathy and normal HUMAN would afford another human.

        It seems to me a scientific approach to hunting is to leave healthy populations of wild animals ALONE but work to make sure that, through well regulated hunting and habitat management, those populations can remain healthy. In other words, I fully agree with the SCIENTIFIC approach that Vermont Fish and Wildlife already adopts.

        You are a sexist, madam. You seem to think you can talk down to men, generalize the failings of one to all and demean them because you are not a man. And that last part is true. You are not a man. You never will be. That does not mean you are superior to men because of your sex. You are not.

  7. Needless to state, I never implied anything to the effect that all women want to be mothers as you arbitrarily accuse me of. I yet, once again, stated that ONLY women can be mothers (like it or not) and that therefore, ONLY women can possess maternal instincts as per the sources I cite including an English Dictionary definition of the term. Further, I never made any mention of any “scientific approach” to hunting, though I believe the author of this article may have insinuated such, and very apparently you have confused my replies with the content within the original article as published above. Should you wish to contradict any of her inferences or opinions, I’d recommend that you contact her directly so that you can rebuke her directly.

    And further (yet again) I never implied or inferred or suggested that animals are humans – though, of course, all humans are indeed animals. And I’m happy that you are so duly impressed by the academic credentials and achievements of the institutions of higher education that I mentioned as well you ought to be, since two of the aforementioned universities wherein such research on animal intelligence & cognition was studied – Harvard and Yale – both rank within the top three colleges/universities as per US News & World Report for this year. This, as opposed to the credentials you personally cite in evaluating animal acumen – which is none, as I don’t recall you referencing any studies to hold up your assertion that when male bears kill young cubs the sow simply “gets over it” and mates with said male. Should I be mistaken though that you do possess studied data that supports your assertion that sows apparently feel no trauma or sense of loss after witnessing their offspring being brutally killed, please do provide this information. Though we’re back on the same topic again – interestingly as you must know – bears share a common, though rather ancient ancestor with our domestic dogs, and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a diagnosis frequently arrived at by veterinarians when examining canines that exhibit many of the same clinical symptoms that humans do after exposure to traumatic experiences. Might bears as well? As far as I am aware, there are no scientific studies known that either support or deny the possibility of such.

    Lastly, it appears that you are not only potentially in need of some form of remedial reading comprehension as you both chronically and consistently make outlandish claims about my statements which I support through a number of different sources, but you appear altogether quite threatened by the fact that women, such as myself and the generator of the original article have the audacity to hold and express disparate views on the subject of hunting than you and most males who comment on this topic on VDC do. Thereby it seems to me that you are the flagrant “sexist” as you appear unable to tolerate a woman who openly defies or opposes your personal point of view and you repeatedly misquote and manipulate my statements with abandon.

    In conclusion, I will simply repeat my initial position, backed by the sources already quoted, that males cannot possess maternal instincts per se, that men cannot carry or bear offspring, and that animals can and indeed do suffer from trauma, grief, and sadness in much of the same ways as humans do. And as a conservative, I am more than aware that I am not a man and can never be a man, but more importantly, I am particularly delighted by that biological reality as thankfully the vast majority of persons are more than content & happy in living their lives in the manner that nature or God intended. Yet as far as what any of these extraneous and vitriolic statements you made particularly in that last paragraph have to do with hunting bears, I cannot affirmatively say, but I presume that you will likely attempt to draw additional unconnected associations. Once more, I simply reiterate that one can choose to hunt and consume wild game as humans have since the eve of our evolution, but one need not be a raging jack – azz simultaneously.

    • Claiming moral superiority over motherhood is the most overrated thing ever. Hillary Clinton pooped out a human being and she wants to start ww3.

    • Maybe your bigoted attitude has affected your reading comprehension. YOU said all men think it’s “ fine and dandy” to kill a mother bear because they can’t experience maternal instinct. That is what YOU said. Because you are a bigot.

      You said generalizations are useful and I agreed. I did postulate (that means threw out there for your consideration) that if a man said ALL women want babies you would call that man sexist. You are sexist.

      Tell me, does your “scientific approach” to hunting and your motherly empathy extend to all mammals? Should we check whether a mouse has a litter before hunting or trapping it? How about rabbits? Raccoons? Squirrels? Or is it just bears? Or should we ask Harvard to give us the list?

  8. And I believe that you know very little of animal cognition, care very little about animal welfare if at all, are incredulously (that means not willing to admit what is obviously true) condescending, and apparently don’t believe that women, in particular, ought to be able to speak their minds through their inherent (that means inseparably attached or connected) right of freedom of speech. My opinion backed by the sources I cited still stands and I shall repeat them all day every day should you continue to blather (that means to speak nonsensically) and misrepresent statements I made.

    Your feeble “postulations” don’t correlate in any manner to the statements, opinions, or research references that I proffered within any of my above-written statements which is precisely why your “postulations” don’t reflect my opinions whatsoever though they do reflect either your inability to properly comprehend clear, concisely written statements or your intentional mischaracterization of my written statements.

    And for the third time (try to pay close attention now…) I didn’t coin the verbiage you refer to as a “scientific approach” to hunting, but the author of the article appeared to – so I yet again recommend that you take up that issue that obviously so infuriates you – with her. What is your hesitation?

    Lastly, if you’re involved in trapping mice in the traditional sense that these articles have addressed with regard to hunting, I’d suggest you speak to someone; preferably not someone at VT Fish & Wildlife as they are likely not equipped to handle your particular troubles. And if you genuinely believe you can take on Harvard University scholars, I say go for it! Just don’t expect to emerge victorious, only because you shan’t.

    In the end, trapping remains cruel and inhumane and kills non-targeted species by the thousands; sources cited in previous articles.

    • “Regardless, killing a sow with cubs is heartless and sickening. Of course, human males think it’s just fine & dandy “

      This is what you said. This is what I objected to. This comment is bigoted. The deflection, appeals to authority and name calling don’t change this bigoted statement.

      You also failed to answer my question. If all mammals have the same desires, and feelings and all female mammals have maternal instinct, which ones deserve special consideration when it comes to hunting and trapping?

  9. bears do thousands in damage in corn fields . but no one cares because its only farmers . ( save the bears )

    • Yes. Save the bears. It is our responsibility to treat animals with respect and utilize humane means to minimize their capability to impact farming. Hunting and wiping out entire species of animals to the point of near extinction or extinction has been done before as referenced in previous comments and it’s incredibly sad that this is still somehow suggested as a means to make life more convenient for humans who, in North America particularly, arrived late in the game to this continent.

      Humans do millions in damage to this earth annually. Yet it’s only fairly recently that billionaire moguls such as George Soros and Klaus Schwab began to suggest culling the human population in order to limit damage caused by us to the natural environment. How’s that for fair play?

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