All’s Well In Love & War but not necessarily with Michigan Bear Hunting

Wild Game DynastyBucks n Bears, Friends of ELO

By:  John Buczek.

For the past few years, I’ve volunteered as a cook with an outfitter based out of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.  This outfitter conducts deer, bear and turkey hunts in both the Lower and Upper Peninsulas. Throughout my time helping this outfitter, I’ve witnessed an issue that I believe affects bear hunting in the state of Michigan.  What I’ve both seen and experienced doesn’t just feel like an isolated or local problem, but perhaps something more widespread that needs to be addressed.

              …The following is something I experienced that may shed light on this problem…   While the crux of the issue stems from an incident that happened during the third hunt of the 2019 bear season, the story actually begins a couple years ago.  In sharing my story with several bear hunters, I have noticed (or, as least what appears to be) a commonality with many bear hunters running hounds as their method…. a disdain for ‘those of us downstate”…. so much so that hound hunters have jumped several of our baits.  In fact, on more than one occasion, we have come across a hound hunter parked alongside the road near one of our baits…days before the hounds are allowed to participate. The hunter’s dogs were hanging out of their kennels, barking and baying. My assumption may not be that of everyone else’s but I felt I knew his intentions.

In 2018 one of our guides was taking a hunter into one of the baits and encountered this same local hound hunting guide.  He was walking out of the path that led to the blind and bait. When our guide confronted the local guide, he claimed, ‘just be taking a walk as he had a right to do’.  Our client, upset that the local guide had gone into the bait, had words with him, to say the least. Our guide settled things down but it was obvious from the discussion that the local guide knew where several of our baits were located.  We had no way of knowing what, if anything, was done to the bait.  As I have mentioned, this type of behavior was nothing new.

On the first day of the third hunt during the 2019 bear season, I was hunting one of two baits located over a mile from the paved road.  The two baits were about a mile apart and had been hit every day for the past five days. We had trail cams with photos of several bears coming to each bait.  The bait hunted was located on a path that ended at my blind and bait. The first evening, I had a nice bear come to the bait just before dark. He was very cautious and never presented a good shot, so I passed on taking an iffy shot, figuring I would get another chance if I didn’t scare him away.

The next afternoon I headed to the blind a bit earlier than normal, hoping to get another chance at the bear.  I drove and neared the path that went to my blind and saw two vehicles with hounds and saw two people, one of whom had a couple dogs on a leash and was leading them from their vehicle.  They entered the woods on the path that went to my blind. I drove up to the truck and stopped. A man walked from the edge of the woods to my truck. I asked him if they were running dogs on the path and he said yes, stating that they had let the dogs out a mile and a half from the site.  I told him it was funny that he said they let the dogs out a mile and a half away, since I saw them take the dogs on a leash into the woods. I informed him that the path went to my blind and bait that I’d been hunting. His reply? “So what.” I let him know it was rude of him to jump my bait.  He laughed in response.

Even though I was pretty upset, I figured there was no sense in getting into an argument.  As I turned around to leave, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the hunter take a picture of my truck.  I stopped and backed up. “If you wanted a picture, you should’ve asked first,” I told him. I then got out of my truck and told him I was going to take a picture of his vehicles, which I promptly did. He was upset and approached me as I got back in my truck.

“We’re local.  Don’t think we’re not local.  And we’ve got eight tags and we’re going to shoot every bear on your bait.”  I told him he….wasn’t a nice guy. As I drove away, he stepped into the road and challenged me to a fight.  When I stepped on the brake, he went back to his truck and I left.

“There has been some contrast in the Michigan bear hunting community over the years, subtle to some… but those entrenched in bear hunting, know it’s dark reality….A spring bear hunt (for hunting over bait) would alleviate the conflict”  Gerry Maciok,  President and Founder of Black Bear Bow Hunters Society

When I met up with my guides, I told them what happened.  After relocating me to another bait, they returned to my original bait to retrieve the blind.  They saw a vehicle and two individuals adjacent to the path. When our guides confronted the hound hunter about jumping the bait, he said he couldn’t control where the dogs went, a claim which he repeated several times.  He also said that it was state land and he could hunt wherever he wanted. When he was corrected and told that it was actually federal land, he had no response. He stated that he was from Indian River and that they had four bear tags.  I’d also like to add that at no time was there anyone in the group that appeared to be a hunter.

“I would support a split season …maybe each hunting group getting two weeks to themselves with alternating starts”, says John Hubbard, Grand Marais, MI  (member: U.P. Bear Houndsmen Assoc).

The next day, one of the local individuals stopped by our camp.  He knew the local guide/hound hunter and was aware of the confrontation we had had with other hound hunters.  He told us that these individuals were staying with a local guide. This local guide knows the location of many of our baits and hunting spots. It certainly seems like no coincidence that the individuals I encountered ended up on the path that led to my bait and blind.  If they were just retrieving their dogs, they passed on many opportunities which would not have created such conflict. They told me they had eight tags and told our guide they had four tags. Not completely sure of their need for deception but rarely bodes well with the hunting community that can always use a dose of “positive image”.

“I’d love to see like a 20 day period for those that hunt over bait, Sept 1-20. Then give houndsmen a month to hunt. The current 5 day system they have isn’t fair and never has been.”  Derek VanBuren, Marquette, MI.  professional hunting guide.

I’m writing about this issue because something needs to be done about this point of contention between bait hunters and hound hunters before one of these confrontations escalates into a dangerous situation, or we find ourselves wasting a bait barrel full of money fighting another Proposal F. Hunters take their craft seriously and may be blinded by their own passion for the sport. It is my opinion that these two methods of bear hunting need separation of seasons to maintain the quality of the hunt and protect the respectful hunters from the ‘bush league’.   For the average Michigan bear hunter experiencing 7 to 8 years before successfully drawing a permit…a single day to succeed before experiencing the aforementioned is insane. It sure meets the definition! Not sure why consideration for complete separation of seasons is not considered?. Michigan surely needs to address this issue and come up with a plan that is fair to both the bait and hound hunters.


Note from Author:

I did not write this article to bad mouth hound hunters, I did it because there is a problem that exists that needs to be addressed. I believe that the vast majority of hound hunters are good sportsmen and good hunters, but I have had experiences with several that behave in an unethical, very unsportsmanlike like way that casts a bad view of hound hunting.

Hound hunters have a definite advantage over bait hunters. Bait hunters are a singular hunter sitting over a single bait waiting for a bear to come to the bait. He or she has to deal with scent and other problems while trying to outsmart a bear. Hound hunters usually travel in numbers of four to six individuals in several vehicles. They use up to eight GPS collared dogs to chase bears. I have seen them drag roads for bear tracks, release their dogs near known bait hunter locations and generally have a total disrespect for bait hunters. While this type of behavior does not describe the majority of hound hunters, I have seen an increase in this unethical behavior in the past several years as the competition between these two groups increases.   

We need to have an open, fair dialog and find a solution to this problem before it escalates.

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