Black bears have quickly become my favorite game species to pursue—yes, even more favorable than hunting whitetails—and after spending a week in Strong, Maine, with Scott York of Spruce Mountain Guide Service, hunting black bears with hounds has become a favorite way to pursue my favorite game.
Like anyone who’s never tried it, I was skeptical at first: Find some bear scent, loose the hounds and walk in and shoot … or so I thought. And as rare as it is that I need to admit I’m wrong, my uneducated assumptions about hunting bears with hounds couldn’t have been further from the truth. I never expected this type of hunting to be easy, but I also never imagined it would be as challenging as it was.
Misconception No. 1: It’s a piece of cake. The only cakewalk involved in hunting bears with hounds happens when walking in to check the cake (or bagels, mostly) at the bait sites.
Misconception No 2: A trailed bear is a dead bear. During most hunts, a bear has a 6- to 8-hour head start on the hounds … and that’s if the hounds are even able to get the trail started. And a mature black bear can run farther and faster than a pack of scent-trailing dogs any day of the week. We started a number of trails throughout my week-long hunt that ended in frustration for us and the dogs, when the bear simply gave us the slip.
Misconception No. 3: Bear dogs are rough dogs. After each and every hunt, I loved-on each and every dog to thank them for their efforts. If you’re a black bear, the dogs are going to be on you like stink in a bait bucket. But as a hunter and a dog-lover, those pooches would lick and beg for attention every chance they got. Heck, one of Scott’s best open dogs (a dog he uses to first start the trail at the bait sites, such as Willie, who Scott talks about in the video) is a pup named Sis that sleeps in the house and cuddles with his grandkids.
Misconception No 4: It’s cruel on the bears. Scott starts all his dogs on scent trails from bait sites … complete with a scouting cam. Before attempting to start a trail, Scott checks the cameras for pictures of a bear he/the hunter wants to pursue. If it’s a young bear or sow with cubs, Scott re-arms the camera and walks away.
But when the stars and scents align just right and the dogs are able to work out and open a trail, running a bear with hounds is some of the most enjoyable and extreme hunting I’ve experienced. It’s a wicked-intense game of chess that revolves around a love of watching the dogs work—much like any bird hunter who smiles in the upland fields when his shorthair goes on point.
But pheasants pose much less of a threat to man’s best friend than does a bear. In the video below, Scott talks about his love for his dogs and the limitless things he’d do to keep them safe—including kicking a bear in the testicles that has his lead dog in its teeth.
Watch a video interview about the heart-pounding experience below:
As funny as this story is—because it indeed takes a true man to kick a live bear in the balls—it goes to show how dangerous this pursuit can be.
And it would be easy to view this situation as cruel, but I encourage you to not look at it like that. If you’ve been pursuing critters long enough with a gun or bow to call yourself a hunter, you know things don’t always go right. You’ve wounded animals, and I have, too. It’s an extremely unfortunate part of the game. Instead, look at it as a very funny, highly inspirational story of a man who would do anything to protect his dogs. And a man like him is welcome at my fire any time.
Keep your nose to the wind.