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An official with a hunting education group says a controversial online video of a black bear being pierced by a long spear shows an extreme form of hunting that’s unsafe and unusual.
U.S. hunter Josh Bowmar has faced an onslaught of criticism for the video, which shows him throwing the spear into the side of the bear during a hunting trip in northern Alberta this spring. The video captures Bowmar raising his arms in the air after the animal is hit and exclaiming: “I drilled him perfect.”
Dave Paplawski of the Alberta Hunter Education Instructors’ Association said he’d never heard of a modern-day hunter using a spear until he saw Bowmar’s video.
“It’s the only time I’ve ever heard of this, and I’ve been in hunter education for 40 years. It’s the only time this has ever reared its ugly head,” Paplawski said Tuesday.
“Is it a normal thing that we would encourage people to do? Absolutely not.”
In the 13-minute video, which has been removed from public view on Bowmar’s YouTube channel but has been posted elsewhere, the bear approaches a bait bin a few times before Bowmar lands his shot.
Paplawski said he’s gobsmacked that Bowmar would get so close to the bear.
“That was a very aggressive bear. That bear didn’t want him there,” he said.
“This guy was crazy. Do you know what the danger level was of what he was doing — standing on the ground with nothing to protect himself other than a sharp stick?”
Bowmar, who runs an Ohio-based fitness business with his wife and threw javelin competitively in college, defended the hunt in a lengthy emailed statement.
He said the notion that spear hunting is inhumane “couldn’t be further from the truth” and that the method has been used since “the dawn of man.”
“The bear I speared only ran 60 yards and died immediately, that’s as humane and ethical as one could get in a hunting situation on big game animals,” Bowmar said. “Trust me, no one cares more about these animals than us hunters, especially me.”
Paplawski countered: “We’ve evolved out of that and now we use equipment that’s more appropriate for a quick, moral, ethical, legal kill.”
Alberta’s hunting regulations don’t prohibit spears. But the government called the practice archaic and has announced it plans to include a ban in updated rules this fall.
“We have been discussing the use of atlatls – which is a similar tool as a spear – and I know the government is considering banning those (which I would assume that spears would go with it) but, at this point in time, it’s legal,” Paplawski said.
As a legal requirement in Alberta, all new hunters must take a 25-hour hunter education class, teaching hunters to kill as safely, effectively and humanely as possible – no matter the weapon.
“We teach safety and ethics when he teach the hunter education course and so much of what we saw in the video is unsafe,” Paplawski said. “The ethics is another question all in itself.”
Once hunters are licensed in Alberta, they make their own decisions on morality.
Spear-hunting is already illegal in Ontario as it is not included in a list of permissible weapons, said Mark Ryckman, a senior wildlife biologist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.
“I have to admit, that’s the first example that I’ve seen, in modern times at least, of somebody harvesting an animal in that way,” he said.
“My fear is that some people who are not at all familiar with hunting might think that something like this occurs fairly often.”
According to a 2009 SooToday.com report out of Sault. Ste. Marie, a Michigan man was fined $1,000 for hunting a bear with a spear near Dubreuilville, Ont.
While Ryckman can understand how Bowmar’s video may be upsetting for many, he said he has some misgivings about it spurring a sudden policy change.
“Our concern is that sometimes wildlife management decisions can be influenced, if not driven entirely, by emotion rather than the more important things, like concerns about conservation and the sustainability of wildlife populations.”
Others have taken issue with Bowmar’s use of bait, which is also legal for bear hunting in parts of Alberta. Although some consider it “unsporting,” others suggest it is not only ethical – but advisable.
“It’s a very effective way to kill them because the bear is close and the females that have cubs – we can see that they have cubs,” Paplawski explained.
Some other critics say it’s simply the hunter’s boasting – and a perceived disrespect for the animal – causing the outcry.
“That’s the thing that I disagree with the most about it,” Paplawski said. “Was that it wasn’t about the hunt or the bear or anything it was about himself.”
With files from Sarah Offin, Global News