Outdoors with Fred Bonner: Bears, dogs, landowners need some changes

Published 6:19 pm Saturday, December 5, 2015

Eastern North Carolina is quickly becoming known throughout the hunting community as the place to be when it comes to large black bears. This isn’t new to us locals. To hunters from other areas who want trophy black bears, the word is, “If you want to kill a really big black bear, you need to hunt in Beaufort, Hyde, Tyrell, Dare, Washington or Craven County in the Tar Heel State.”

Even with the two-way split and bear season lasting a mere three weeks in those counties, the visiting bear hunters do contribute a significant amount of money to the local economies. Besides the rather pricy cost of the original guide fees, the non-resident hunters pay for the privilege of hunting in these productive areas. The amount of money they spend on extras such as food, lodging and travel can amount to a significant amount of cash.

Local hunting clubs are paying the actual landowners some very significant fees for the privilege of hunting in many of these productive areas. We’ve seen the price per acre for hunting privileges become nearly as important to the farmers as the crops they harvest.

Landowners — anxious to take advantage of the high prices the hunters are willing to pay for hunting privileges — have started charging extra for the privilege of pursuing different animals. For instance, the whitetail deer hunting privilege may cost one amount while turkey hunting on the same tract of land may cost an additional fee.

Bear hunting guiding services have extended their business opportunities by conducting their services to include something called a  “no-kill bear hunt with dogs.” The North Carolina bear hunters are permitted to train their bear hounds well past the usual three-week open bear season by taking their paying customers along to observe and photograph the actual bear hunt where the hounds either bay (dogs hold the bear cornered on the ground level) or tree (bear dogs hold the bear high in a tree) the bear while the paying customer photographs the operation. After the hunter gets his photos, the bear is allowed to precede, unharmed, on its way.

With the bear hunters now allowed to hunt bear over certain kinds of bait, some Hyde County natives have felt that it was against the law to use shelled peanuts to attract bears. Sources with the Wildlife Commission have cleared up this matter. Shelled peanuts (uncooked or processed in any way) are legal to use just as shelled corn is considered to be unprocessed food.

Recent developments over in Craven County, where some bear hunters shot and killed the dogs belonging to other kinds of hunters, have brought the age-old problems of hunting dogs wandering onto land where dog hunting is not permitted.

If you are legally hunting on land where hunting with dogs is not permitted and some deer, bear, rabbit, fox or bird dogs come onto this land without permission, what may the legal hunters do about it?

Sources with the Enforcement Section of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission state that the hunters who don’t own the dogs cannot shoot or harm the unwelcome dogs. The proper procedure in cases like this is to detain and hold the dogs, call the local dog wardens to come and remove the dogs and hold them in the pound for the owners to pick them up. The dog hunters are not permitted to come onto this “no dog hunting permitted” land to retrieve the dogs without the written permission of the landowners. If they do so they are then considered to be trespassing and the NCWRC can prosecute them for illegal hunting.

If the dog hunters are seen releasing their hunting dogs onto land where dog hunting is not allowed, then the hunters can (and will) be prosecuted for trespassing if the landowners are willing to swear out charges on dog hunters. The old “Our dogs can’t read the no hunting markings” isn’t a valid excuse for letting the dogs out onto private land.

This dogs interfering with landowners or legal hunters isn’t necessarily limited to the dogs interfering in other ways. One landowner near Aurora has been observing free-ranging pet dogs chasing deer all year long on land that hunters value highly for wildlife management. The three black (Labs) dogs are observed to be chasing deer, rabbits or whatever runs, and eventually return to their owners for food. This goes on all throughout the year.

The landowners say they’ll be using large conibear traps during the trapping season and worry that the free-ranging dogs will be killed by mistake.

Some states, such as Pennsylvania, allow landowners who have problems with free-ranging, un-collared dogs to legally shoot and kill these dogs when they‘re observed chasing deer or other wildlife. So far, North Carolina hasn’t felt it to be necessary to have laws like this, but it may be considered soon.