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A Look at Bear Hunting

Most U.S. states and Canadian provinces and territories classify the black bear as a game animal; four U.S. states confer no legal status, and thus no legal protections for black bears. Black bears can be legally hunted in 27 U.S. states. Many of these states allow hunting practices deemed cruel and “unsporting,” including spring hunts, baiting, hounding, and the selling and trade of bear parts. It is estimated that between 40,000 to 50,000 bears are legally hunted in the U.S. each year; an unknown number are also illegally poached.

In some states, wildlife advocates have successfully banned or restricted these practices through the public ballot initiative process or through the state administrative rulemaking process. During the rulemaking process, most states publish proposed regulation changes and hold public hearings where any citizen can testify about particular proposals and/or submit written comments.

Spring Bear Hunting:

When bears emerge from hibernation in the spring, they are groggy and malnourished and, therefore, especially vulnerable targets. Many female bears have just given birth. Although state regulations often prohibit the killing of nursing female bears, it is very difficult to determine the gender of black bears in the wild. Spring hunts orphan many cubs each year, leaving them to starve to death or to be preyed upon by other animals. Although most states have banned spring hunts, a few states still allow them.

Bear Baiting:

In baiting, bears are lured to specific sites with food or other attractants. Hunters wait in blinds near the site for a shot at point-blank range. Not only is baiting inconsistent with the idea of fair chase, but it creates “nuisance” bears by encouraging unnatural habits and a taste for human foods. Baiting may also contribute to the orphaning of bear cubs because female bears often do not bring their cubs with them to bait sites.


Hounding involves using dogs to chase and tree bears to provide hunters with easy targets. The hounds are often equipped with radio collars that alert hunters to the location of the treed bear. In their frantic retreat from the dogs, bears can endure a tremendous amount of stress. Even if bears escape the dogs or the hunter’s bullet, the resulting stress can lead to death by starvation in the spring or hyperthermia (overheating) in the fall. Hounding often separates mothers from their cubs, leaving the young orphaned or even caught and devoured by the dogs. Hounding remains legal in a majority of bear-hunting states. Laws vary regarding the number of dogs that can be used and the time of year when hounding is permitted.

Bear-Parts Trade:

Asian markets place a high value on the medicinal properties of bear gallbladder and the taste of bear paw. Since many Asian bear species are imperiled, the market now depends on Russian, Canadian, and American bears. The high price paid for gallbladders and bear paws provides incentive for hunters to kill more bears. Since the gallbladder does not increase in size with age, cubs are worth as much as adult bears. There is no method for distinguishing the extracted bear body part of a poached bear from one killed with a permit. Many bears are poached as a result. The bear-parts trade poses a serious threat to bear populations worldwide.

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Get The Facts