I'm a hunter. I will hunt anything I'm willing to eat. Bear is high on my list at the moment, because I ate some two years ago and loved it. It was substantial, a little like pork, but clean, not greasy.
There are two ways I can hunt bear in California: One is spot-and-stalk, where I scan the landscape for bears, and if I spot one, I get as close as possible without being discovered, then hope I get a chance at a shot. Around half the bears killed by hunters each year go this way.
The other way is to hunt with hounds. Dogs catch the scent our weak human noses can't detect, follow it, and, if they're successful, they'll tree that bear, corner him or drive him into a cave.
If I choose this kind of hunt, this is where I have a decision to make: Can I kill an animal that is trapped and looking me in the eye?
I don't know. I have a pretty visceral reaction to that scenario. I can't help but imagine what it feels like to be the animal at that moment, as I do with all animals I kill.
It's probably safe to assume that most of you have the same visceral reaction. This is why the Humane Society of the United States, which does not approve of any hunting, has sponsored a bill in California to ban the use of hounds to hunt bears or bobcats. It seems like a slam-dunk.
But it shouldn't be.
There are several perfectly sound reasons why Senate Bill 1221 should not pass, but I'm going to tell you the one you probably least want to hear: Most of you probably do something similar to animals every day, only with a surrogate doing the killing.
Take chickens. And not even industrial chickens, but free-range beauties. On the day of the slaughter, they are taken in ones, twos, threes and fours to big cones where they'll be inserted upside-down and a knife stuck into their throats, a knife so sharp they don't realize it's their own blood dripping down their faces as they lose consciousness.
That's not so bad. I should be so lucky to go so blissfully unaware. But the last chickens remaining in the barn do you think they don't know something bad is happening? They're not that dumb. Anyone who raises chickens can tell you that.
What about cattle?
Most of the beef you eat had to be shipped to a slaughterhouse. You've passed those cattle trucks on the freeway, haven't you? The ones with perforated sides that have liquid excrement splattering out of them?
Do you think those cows aren't afraid? Do you think they have a chance to get away?
Humans frighten, hurt and kill animals every day, mostly through surrogates. Even if you're a vegetarian, there's blood on your hands, because farms plow wildlife habitat and directly exterminate whole fields of rodents and nesting birds.
So before supporting a bill that makes you feel you're doing "the right thing," consider this:
Hunting bears with hounds is not, as the Humane Society would have you believe, a lazy man's hunt. Hunters follow the sound of hounds over ridge and canyon, often for miles. Most say it is the most physically demanding hunting they've ever done.
And treeing a bear is the closest thing to catch-and-release hunting, because the hunter gets to evaluate the bear at close range. Is it a sow? He can pass on it. A youngster? He can pass. Is it an enormous boar, but five miles from the truck, with no way he can pack out all that meat? He can pass, as he should, because it is illegal to waste bear meat.
Is it a boar whose absence won't harm the health of the species? Bang. Done. The fact that the hunter gets so close means it's likely to be a quick, clean kill.
In truth, I'm pretty sure I could shoot a treed bear, because once I made the decision to hunt, I accepted the fact that predation and death wouldn't always be poetic.
I would prefer that the animals I kill not know what hit them. But the truth is that many of them know they've made their fatal mistake. As would you, if you stumbled into the path of a hungry mountain lion and you saw those claws as they were about to slam into your body.
While it might be easy to point the finger at bear hunters who use hounds, it is intellectually dishonest. While ignorance is bliss, I have to believe some people still care about honesty.