It may be legal, but it certainly isn't fair

Out and About

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2007

For anyone that hasn't seen the video posted on YouTube of a so-called "hunter" killing a brown bear in the Katmai National Preserve, it's worth taking a look at, if for no other reason than to understand the dialogue that the incident has created.

The professionally done video done by Daniel Zatz of Homer shows a hunter literally walking up to within 40 feet of a sow and shooting it with an arrow from a compound bow. A guide then immediately fires a rifle to finish the animal off.

Don't misunderstand. I am not an anti-hunting advocate, and the controversy is not if it's wrong to hunt, the controversy is over if it's wrong to kill animals acclimated to people, such as these bears that move in and out of the McNeil River State Game Refuge and Sanctuary, and call it hunting.

As Zatz has been quoted saying, "This is about bears who have learned to trust humans. It's a question of ethics. It's a question of fair chase."

These are good questions, since "fair chase," as defined by hunters' organizations, is whether a given hunt is ethical and sportsmanlike, or if the hunter exploits an unfair advantage over the prey, as defined by hunters' organizations.

Sean Farley, a bear biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has said, "It's not fair chase," which makes it clear where he stands on this issue, but his other comments on this incident are a little more clouded.

"Not until I saw the video did I realize how bad it is. It's not appropriate," he said, but is Farley upset that people are hunting bears that have become this habituated, or that wild bears have been allowed to become this habituated to people? Either way it is good to see this incident has state biologists thinking about what goes on in this area.

Also, it's obvious from the video that the hunters are not killing these bears for the meat, as they can be seen only taking the skull and hide as "trophies," but even this brings up intriguing questions. Trophies are typically symbols of victory and mementos of one's personal achievements, but how could the actions of the hunter in this video clip possibly be construed as either of these?

It's not enough that hunter was shooting at a bear that was used to people, but this hunter paid very likely in excess of $10,000 to, in essence, shoot an arrow at bear, because a guide led him to it, and actually did the killing for him. Where is the victory in this? Where is the personal achievement?

The hunter might as well hang his check stub on the wall because that is what got him that bear, not his knowledge of a wild creature, nor his ability to track and find it in its natural environment, nor his skills with a weapon to independently dispatch the animal.

No, instead this camo-cowboy is very likely the type of guy who's got the hotline number of the Cabela's and L.L. Bean outdoor catalog memorized, but couldn't tell you where or what wild bears are feeding on right now; a guy who couldn't track his way out of his own house with the use of a Garmin handheld GPS with all the bells and whistles; and a guy who will bluster about how "hunters were the first conservationists" and "how much they give to saving the environment," and then goes out and unscrupulously shoots arrows at bears on the border of a game sanctuary.

This so-called hunter's actions were despicable, and the reason real hunters get a bad reputation. Real hunters know how to find wild game without someone holding their hand, and they kill it for food, not to feel macho or to brag to their city-slicker buddies.

I hope that everyone regardless of their stance on hunting takes the time to view this video to better understand the issue, but I hope it is hunters that champion the cause of change regarding the regulations in this area, because they need to make it clear to those that don't hunt that the action of the guy in this video was killing, not hunting, and it shouldn't be allowed to continue.

A story on the incident can be found in the Oct. 8 edition of the Peninsula Clarion on page A-7. The video can be viewed at the following link:

This column is the opinion of Clarion reporter Joseph Robertia. He can be reached at

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