Abolish West Virginia Spring/Summer Bear Dog Training

By Allen Johnson

This picture is of a young bear that entered  our chicken coop in August 2020. I shot it at the command of a West Virginia Division of Natural Resources game warden who otherwise would have to do it himself. Several nights earlier a then-unknown predator had broken the outside of our coop enough to get in and eat two of our hens. At the time I was puzzled as it did not seem the work of a fox or raccoon. This time our dog was barking, it was mid-afternoon, and the chicken entrance was open. When I saw a small bear inside the henhouse, I first wondered how it could get through a small door one foot wide and two feet tall? 

Here’s why: the bear, likely a two-year cub, was emaciated. A radio collar was around the bear’s neck….and its right front leg had slipped through the collar! Someone had illegally captured the cub and fitted it with a radio collar to track its whereabouts. Fitted too loosely, the bear had pawed at the irritating collar and had inadvertently pushed its paw through into the collar where it was stuck. 

Severely handicapped by the crippling collar, the bear was unable to forage in a normal way. Desperately facing imminent starvation, it had encroached upon our chicken coop. 

The neck collar, now overtightened from the leg, had cut through the skin into an open wound infested with maggots. Clearly the bear was in misery soon to die from starvation and the infected and infested wound. 

The game warden arrived following our phone call and picked up the bear to take away. He said the radio collar was not one that an authorized wildlife researcher would use. Yet he could not trace it. 

My wife and I were incredibly sad. If the invader bear had been normal, we would have shooshed it out and on its way. We were angry that some unknown hunter had trapped this cub to follow its whereabouts through an illegal collar device. 

So how did this hunter capture a bear cub? West Virginia is one of several states that permit a hunting method called hounding. Bear dogs are trained to get on the scent of a bear and chase it until the exhausted bear either turns on the dogs to fight them or climbs a tree to escape the pack. The dogs are equipped with radio collars so the hunters can locate the pack, find the treed bear, and shoot it. 

West Virginia’s 24-Hour, 365 Day Bear Hound Training Season

Many (not all) bear-hound states allow a training season, beginning in late summer or early fall, so that the dogs can practice chasing bears, typically taking several hours over many miles. During training season, it is against the law for a hunter to kill a bear.  

West Virginia differs from other hounding states. It has an all-year, 365-day, 24-hour, bear dog training season. In other words, bears can be dog-chased for training or (in season) killing year-round. “Sportsmen” can chase bears in spring and summer, often scattering cubs from their running mother. 

Spring/Summer Bear Training Hunts Must Be Abolished!

West Virginia is one of 32 states that permit bear hunting. Of this number, 18 allow hunting with hounds. From what I can ascertain, most of these states allow a season to train dogs to chase live bears in late summer or August. For example, Virginia’s season is August 1 through September 25, with hours 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. No Black Bears can be taken during this season.

West Virginia is an exception, allowing training 24-hour, 365-day, all-year long. Then during hunting season bears can be legally killed with adherence to regulations.  

Typically, bear cubs are born during their mother’s winter hibernation. The bears come out of hibernation in March or April. These small inexperienced cubs are especially prone to separation from the sow bear during a chase even through that first year. Surviving cubs hibernate with their mama the following winter, then separate from the sow the following summer.  Orphan cubs are likely to die of starvation or predation. 

“West Virginia residents’ attitudes and opinions toward American black bear hunting” was an extensive study conducted by Christopher W. Ryan, John W. Edwards, and Mark Damian Duda under auspices of WVDNR, WVU Division of Forestry, and Responsive Management. Over 1200 West Virginia residents were surveyed in 2006. Although regional differences were noted, most respondents accepted bear hunting. However (quoting), “our study found that even among hunters, public opposition exceeded support for the current, year-round training season of black bear hunting dogs.”

Many people feel that hounding is unethical and not “fair chase” hunting as it gives too much advantage to the hunter who uses sophisticated GPS collared dogs, sets of fresh hounds, and often an army of jeep-driving hunters. An exhausted bear will climb a tree or turn to fight and often maim the pursuing dogs. On the other hand, many feel that hunting with dogs is a long-honored tradition, and that trained dogs can help the DNR eliminate nuisance bears.

The Spring/Summer bear dog training season must be abolished. Eddie Fletcher has started a petition drive. To sign the petition, go to https://www.change.org/p/wv-division-of-natural-resources-give-cubs-a-chanceor go to the website, change.org and type in the search icon “give cubs a chance.”