Maine Bear Hunting Referendum: Thoughts from an out-of-stater

I met Pat Rayta online in a group devoted to saving Maine’s proven hunting methods. It’s a big group, more than 1,300 men and women who love the outdoors, understand or are learning about hunting as a means of conversation, and who are passionate about keeping Maine’s bear population healthy. It didn’t take long to realize that Pat is the founder of the group.

The more I got to know Pat the more intrigued I became. Why is someone from Vermont so passionate about Maine’s bears?

Meet Pat Rayta.

Pat Rayta and his Maine black bear taken in 2005.

Pat Rayta and his Maine black bear taken in 2005.

I got my first hunting license back around 1980. I have a huge extended family, and we used to all hunt together on the family farm. I can remember being left at my Grandmother’s while everyone else it seemed, even my Mother, would go deer hunting. I would get so excited and jealous at the same time when someone would bring back a deer to hang in the barn. I knew I had to be a part of hunting too, before I was even ten.

Why do I hunt bear…that’s a good question. After all, they aren’t the easiest animal to take. I hunted years before I ever saw my first bear, and that was a small boar an uncle of mine got while deer hunting. I think it was that bear that set me off towards trying for bear. It was years again before I saw another bear, despite my best efforts.

Why bear…maybe because just seeing one is an accomplishment here in Vermont, where the use of bait, and even scent is prohibited, and to actually harvest one is a heck of an accomplishment. People like to talk about how hard this or that species is to take; try matching wits with the black ghost. I guarantee they will be the most difficult animal one will take in New England.

I still find the terms “guide” and “guiding” odd when used in reference to me, I guess I just consider it more to be taking family and new friends out to do what I love to do. When I went to college back in the late 80’s, I made some friends from out of state who liked to hunt. I was the local, so I got to take my buddies hunting to all my favorite places.

In ’94, one of these friends and I leased 38 acres and a really run down trailer that abutted state land here in Vermont. It was so run down in that trailer, it would rain inside almost as hard as it did outside; I still remember seeing the back half of a snake crawling back into the wall in a bedroom one summer, and the half I saw was huge. I really, really hate snakes. We had bear on the property, and we kept trying to take one. I came close, but a branch jumped in the way of my arrow.

In 2001, I started taking people for turkey here, some guys from Maine. In 2011, I went official, opening up Ammonoosuc River Outfitters, a business to do what I love to do, take people after their dreams. I guide for turkey, bear and moose in Vermont now, and after passing the test, I became a registered guide for the same in New Hampshire.

I first hunted for bear in Maine over bait back in 2001. I traded a turkey hunt in Vermont with a complete stranger and his son from Maine. I was hooked on Maine from the first day that I hunted there. I have been back a few times since to hunt with this now close friend.

The work that goes into setting up successful bear sites is immense, I don’t think most realize this. Hunting over bait for bear isn’t a slam dunk; in fact, most of the time bears don’t come in until after dark. The thrill one gets though, when a bear does come in during legal shooting hours, because of something that you did to attract these elusive animals in just can’t be matched by pursing any other game.

I have bear hunted in three states now: Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, using different methods. I know how difficult it is to hunt bear without the use of scents, or baits, or snares. In Vermont, we can’t use any of those methods. We now have a population of bear that is at or exceeding what our biologists would like, and we are considering different methods of controlling the population, which may include either allowing the hunter a second tag, or the use of bait, to bring things back in line. In New Hampshire, I can use bait and scents; does that ensure me a bear every year? Absolutely not. Many times all I get for myself is a ton of pictures from trail cameras and a lighter wallet from money that I have spent and spread to their local economy.

Why does Maine matter so much to you?

Maine has top notch bear biologists; when there are symposiums around the country to discuss bear, they are the featured speakers. I can’t even begin to understand the thought process one would have, to wanting to take away the excellent management like Maine has out of the hands of those who know better than most lay people, and put such an issue to a vote.

I can see the bigger objective of the HSUS. Their stated mission is to end all hunting, period. If Maine loses the bear management methods they now employ, I foresee them going to New Hampshire and trying to do the same to them. Now, not only are you going to ruin good management in one state, but two. And, you are going to put me out of business. People won’t come to book a hunt in New Hampshire for bear, they are too elusive of an animal. Now you are hurting my wallet, and I won’t let that happen. In our respective states, predators that would have helped to remove or keep in check bears, have been gone from the landscape for years.

Humans have stepped into this role. To effectively manage all species of animals in our states, we have hired biologists to help manage animals, keeping them in line with available habitat, carrying capacity, and there is that fine line between what humans want to see, and how many we can sustain before damages start to occur to both humans and critters.

Too many moose, they destroy sugar bushes, tear down sap lines, go through windshields. Just enough, and a baby industry is born via moose watching, moose guiding, etc. The same goes for bears.

Ontario did away with their spring bear hunting season just over ten years ago; Since this time, human-bear complaints have escalated so much that beginning this year, the spring hunt will be brought back in a limited capacity.

In New Jersey, they did away with their sound, scientific management of their bears, and what has happened? As one would expect, their population grew too much also, to the point of being dangerous for residents. The state had no choice but to bring back bear hunting.

Management of any species is something best left to the professionals; professionals need the ability to manage with all of the available tools out there. In the case of Maine, those tools include the use of hounds, snares (which allows a bear to be released unharmed, something those against trapping always seem to leave out) and over bait.

It really makes me mad when those against hounding say that bear dogs are mistreated; to that I say, well, I can’t tell you what I say. I know several guys with packs of hounds. An ex landlord had a great pack also. The care that he showed to his dogs would rival how most treat their children. Nothing but the best food for them, fresh water, even a pretty cozy birthing/pup area for his dogs. These dogs are athletes, and they are treated as such, and spoiled just the same.

Those against the trapping part I don’t think have a clue of what they are talking about, how it is easy, how bears languish in pain for days, how traps indiscriminately target animals. Again, a fallacy. Try getting an animal to come to an attractant regularly, for starters. Then, with an entire 360 degrees for them to come in from, get them to come down just one trail. After that, get this animal to step into an area roughly the size of a dinner plate with an entire forest for them to walk around in. Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it?

Remember, traps are no longer allowed in Maine, snares are used. A snare is a simple noose, a slip knot almost, which doesn’t injure an animal. When the trapper checks on it within the 24 hours as mandated by law, he or she may release the animal if they so choose.

There are some out there who claim that most people who come to Maine to hunt bear are trophy hunters, to that I would ask, what is a trophy hunter to them? Is it the guy from Texas, coming to Maine to hunt, because they don’t have their own population? Is it the young kid sitting with an adult, who elects to pass on a small bear, so that they may take a larger one an hour later?

I love the fallacy that people say hunters aren’t in it for the meat, just the glory, the teeth claws and hide. Show me someone who does it just for those things, just show me. Anti’s love to drum up emotions, but few facts. The facts are that unless Maine keeps their bear management tools, the population will not only grow, but grow to the extent of over population.

Will the taking away of these 3 methods lead to more human-bear conflicts? How would it not? Would it lead to bears starving, sickness, attacks of pets and perhaps humans? Possibly. There is only so much food and space out there, for animals and humans to live side by side, and we are moving into their homes all of the time.

Maine does not harvest as many bears as they need to harvest to keep the population to a healthy level, and that is with the use of these methods. Without them, it will be impossible.

Robin Follette

About Robin Follette

Maine Press Association award winner, 2013. Robin's Outdoors, Bangor Daily News, third place in Sports blogs. I grew up with a fishing pole in my hand and have always loved the outdoors. From gardening to hunting and fishing, kayaking, camping, hiking and foraging, most of my time is spent outdoors. I teach outdoor skills as a volunteer instructor for Hooked On Fishing - Not On Drugs and Becoming an Outdoors-Woman. Pro-staff at The Limb Grip. My personal blog is here. I'm currently working on my first book, a collection of short stories based on my outdoors experiences.