Wow. Bring on the shit-show.
That’s the first coherent thought that I could muster after watching a video of Josh Bowmar kill a black bear with a spear. The former collegiate javelin thrower, equipped with multiple GoPros, has drawn significant criticism for his use of a primitive tool, which many people believe has no place in modern hunting. The video has since been deleted from YouTube.
It’s human nature to have an emotional response to videos of this kind, but the first question that people should be asking is whether or not spear hunting is a legal practice in Alberta. It turns out that, due to unclear legislation, spear hunting is legal (although the Alberta government has quickly moved to make it illegal due to public backlash). Despite being asked for my opinion multiple times, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the use of spears for hunting. But I have to admit that it’s an impressive feat.
Spear hunting is not legal in Ontario because it is not classified as a firearm under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. To my knowledge, no one is asking the government or petitioning the OFAH to consider making spears a legal firearm in Ontario – to date, it’s been a non-issue. But is a spear, in the hands of a highly-skilled javelin thrower, inherently less ethical than a rifle in the hands of an under-practiced hunter? We are trained through the Ontario Hunter Education Program to ensure that we can make a quick, clean kill regardless of the firearm that we are using. This includes selecting the right type of firearm and cartridge, waiting for the appropriate shot, and being proficient with the firearm that you plan to use and the situation that you will be hunting in (e.g. from a treestand). Hunters also need to know their limitations and hunt within them.
Understandably, there has been quite a bit of discussion, both within the hunting community and the public at large, about the motivation for posting hunting videos online and whether or not Bowmar’s celebration disrespected the animal. Again, all indications are that the hunt was legal (although the Alberta government has initiated an intensive investigation of the entire hunt due to public outcry). With respect to his celebration, let’s try to see it from his perspective – it takes a lot of patience and persistence to get that close to a black bear (without being heard, seen, or smelled), and then to successfully harvest it with a spear. On some level his reaction is understandable, just like a golfer’s reaction is understandable when they get a hole-in-one. Bowmar didn’t violate the sanctity of the hunt or disrespect the animal any more than the golfer that whoops and hollers after a hole-in-one. They’re both difficult and rare accomplishments that are worthy of celebration. On the other hand, I understand that many people would be turned off and that’s why a discussion within the hunting community is valuable. Some hunters would question why he would invite that type of backlash into his life, while others would question the need to hide our hunting activities when they are legal, sustainable, and an important part of our heritage.
This episode highlights an interesting hypocrisy. Oftentimes, anti-hunting groups claim that hunters today have an unfair advantage over the animals that we hunt due to technological advances in optics, firearms, cartridges, scent control, and so on. So they argue that we should be hunting the way early humans did, with more primitive tools. But that’s exactly what Josh Bowmar did – he used a primitive tool to legally harvest a bear and look at the uproar that has ensued. So there is an obvious disconnect between what some anti-hunters say they want hunters to do and what they actually want hunters to do.
It’s unfortunate that the public tends to only see hunting stories that have a negative spin to them. I spend my career trying to communicate what we do as hunters, how we do it, why we do it, and promoting the benefits of hunting. It’s often difficult to get media attention for good news stories that involve hunting. If someone posts a video that leaves a bad taste in peoples’ mouths, the broader non-hunting public might assume that it’s representative of all hunting activity. But the benefit is that it generates discussions about hunting, and I see that as an opportunity to educate the public about hunting.
I think my biggest concern about this whole debacle is that the Alberta government is making wildlife management decisions based entirely on emotional reactions by the public, rather than concerns about conservation or sustainability of wildlife populations.