War reporter gets the bear facts (2)

For the grizzlies, the hunt, which is now opposed by almost 80 percent of British Columbia residents and only still championed by a hard-core who somehow have the ear of the provincial premier, is a matter of survival.

For us it is merely one of inconvenience. Each May and June, as we head out on some of the province’s remotest dirt-roads leaving civilisation hours behind, we come across motorized encampments of bear hunters when they abandon the detritus of their sorry sojourns in the bush: beer cans, food-tins, spent shells and piles of gore that constitute the parts of the animals they don’t want to take home.

The more fastidious hide their gut-piles away from the road, but some leave it at camp-grounds where it attracts predators and creates fresh conflict between man and the wild animals.

It is difficult to argue with hunters who are out for food – with those who would put half a deer in the freezer. Those of us who eat meat, and I am one of them, would be hypocrites to decry all forms of animal slaughter.

Even if I don’t hunt myself I recognize the legitimacy of cleanly taking down an animal that is plentiful and serving it up to feed the family. Nor would I argue with killing in self-defence.

If you have done your best to keep your yard clean of attractants, strung an electric fence around your chickens and your fruit-trees and a bear still wants to go 12 rounds with you on your own porch, you may have no other choice than to reach for a rifle.

But killing bears for pleasure? It seems anachronistic to allow men to shoot an animal whose very existence is under threat just for kicks.

It harks back to a day of wife-beating and Indian-shooting when only white males had rights and their aim was to establish dominance over all other living beings.

Ironies abound when it comes to the trophy hunters with whom I have crossed paths. One is that a good number of them are terrified of the animals they seek to destroy.

While we – soft-headed liberals to them – head up a trail with little more than a can of pepper spray and in the summer frequently carry nothing at all, it is unusual to see such men abroad without a large-calibre gun, even when not hunting.

As they sit around the camp-fire chugging beers, their favourite fare is exaggerated stories of close calls with the monsters of nature: I once heard a tale of a 900 lb male grizzly that had been charging cars in our valley. In fact it was a peaceful and elegant lady bear of no more than 350 lbs. Wild? Definitely. Dangerous to motorists? Hardly.

Then there is the notion that the bear-hunters are only doing what their grandfathers did.

Nursed in the romance of the days of the pioneers, they seek to relive the heroic scenarios of yesteryear, but with quad-bikes, GPS locators and telescopic sights.

In half an adult lifetime spent in war zones I met enough men with guns in their hands who were intent on killing. But for each armed soldier, guerrilla or paramilitary there was often another man in a different uniform or of a different creed keen to reciprocate the favour.

For today’s bear-hunters there is no such risk. Less than three people are killed in an average year in North America by bears and the majority of them are joggers, hikers and other innocents who just get unlucky.

When the pioneers headed into the bush in hob-nailed boots with poorly-made guns and pitted themselves against the fiercer grizzlies of yesteryear there was always the possibility they would not return.

But today that calculus of risk no longer holds. Today it is always the bear, and most often just its pelt, that is brought out. It seems that even in the wilds of British Columbia men with guns hold sway.     Julius Strauss, Grizzly Bear Ranch


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