Haters Gonna Hate, but Hunters Gonna Hunt

Online activists have called out former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler for posting a photo of a beautiful black bear that he hunted in Montana.  Cutler is right to be proud of that bear, and himself.  His hunt directly contributes to successful bear management and conservation.

Haters gonna hate—but hunters gonna hunt, to keep populations of bears, and many other species, in the appropriate balance and to support wildlife conservation across the country.

Black bear populations are healthy in all U.S. states where these bears are found.  In Montana alone, a 2011 estimate exceeded 13,000 bears, one of the largest populations in the lower 48 States.  These bears live side-by-side with an increasing human population.  In 2022, Montana ranked sixth among the states for human population growth.  Having so much overlap between bears and people heightens the risk of human-bear conflict. 

This takes many forms, including crop or livestock depredation, property damage, bear-vehicle collisions on roadways, and, unfortunately, even attacks on people.  Last week, a Minnesota woman was mauled by a black bear while letting her dog out.  Two weeks ago, two children in Pennsylvania were attacked by a black bear while playing in their yard.  These attacks underscore the fact that bears can easily live in areas very near to people.  Where they do, human-bear conflicts regularly occur.

A recent study concluded that, “because the landscape is finite, increasing the size of the urban area means decreasing the natural area, leaving less natural food for the bear to select.”  The authors found “a small change in the size of the [human] community can have a much larger effect on the number of conflict bears around the community.”

State wildlife agencies work hard to reduce conflicts through education, garbage control, and relocating nuisance bears.  But these agencies also rely on regulated hunting to help keep bear population growth in check.

Black bear populations can quickly expand, both in size and range, due to their biology.  Female bears reach reproductive maturity at around four years old and can live and reproduce into their twenties.  In a balanced population, female bears of reproductive age will give birth to a litter of two to three cubs every other year.  Without intervention, bear populations can easily double in well under a decade.

Regulated hunting is the only viable tool for managing and controlling the size of a bear population.  There is no feasible alternative.  The International Association for Bear Research and Management has stated it plainly: “Where the primary management objective is to slow population growth or limit population size or distribution, then increasing human-caused mortality is the only option.”

Hunting helps reduce human-bear conflicts by reducing the bear population and targeting conflict bears when possible.  Bear hunting has other benefits: it provides free-range meat (yes, people eat bear meat), as well as a recreational activity that creates self-sufficiency.  It is no surprise that during the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of new hunters skyrocketed.  Hunting is empowering.

Finally, hunting is the primary source of funding for wildlife management in the U.S.  Through excise taxes on hunting gear and firearms, state agencies can acquire new habitat and fund scientific research.  These are crucial benefits for all Americans, not just hunters.

Rather than criticizing Jay Cutler, we should all be thanking him.  Just like all hunters, through this hunt, he is ultimately contributing to the future of black bears and other species.