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Viral video sparks debate on hound hunting in Vermont

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 7:56 AM EDT
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PEACHAM, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s a hunting practice older than Vermont itself, but it has some renewed interest now following a viral video on social media.

A video that racked up more than 12.5 million views on social media platform Tik Tok alone shows a black bear treed by hunting dogs in Peacham.

“I worry about the stress it puts on my animals and the risk it creates for my animals. I worry about the liability it creates of having hound hunters here on our property,” said Morgan Gold, the owner of Gold Shaw Farm.

The video shot by Gold has rekindled a conflict over property rights in Vermont when it comes to dogs in pursuit of their prey.

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Gold is a hunter himself and hunts deer on his 160-acre property. But he isn’t a fan of hound hunting because dogs in pursuit don’t notice private property and keep on running.

“As a private property owner, I should be able to make that decision. I look other folks can do what they want on their land, but I should be able to choose what happens on my land,” said Gold.

“There is not a violation in statute for dogs chasing a bear or chasing a raccoon and going on to someone’s posted property,” said Louis Porter, the former commissioner of the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. At the time of the interview, Porter was the commissioner, but just changed jobs.

Porter says that is where conflicts generally stem from. It’s a heavily regulated sport. Dogs need tags, hunters need licenses and Vermont only has just over 100 licensed hound hunters in the state.

Vermont law requires property posting every 400 feet and the signs have to be updated annually.

If it is posted correctly, hunters need permission to enter, but Porter says it’s better to go one step further.

“Especially with something like hound hunting, we encourage hunters and suggest to hunters that they have permission to have their dogs go on someone’s property,” said Porter.

Porter says for the state, hound hunting is part of good practice for managing the bear population and controlling nuisance bears and says in this case, there are landowners in the Peacham area who encourage bear hounds to come to their property.

At the Gold Shaw Farm, Porter says the viral conflict was overall handled appropriately. Permission for hunting was denied and the hunters retrieved their dogs and left.

Gold decided to post the video of his interaction with hound hunters to social media to spark change. There’s now a petition with close to 70,000 signatures to make some changes to the current hound hunting law.

“I think that if you had a law where hound hunters had to keep their dogs on leashes or if they had to keep their dogs in visual sight, and always have complete recall,” said Gold.

The president of the Vermont Bear Hound Association Butch Spear says he believes in property rights, but also believes in sharing the land. He says he’s willing to sit down and talk with anyone who disagrees with him.

Spear says you can only kill one bear a year, and he would only take one if he wants it for meat. He says the sport isn’t in the killing, it’s in training the dogs to track and run down the wild animal.

There are also two bills introduced in the state Legislature looking to change the law.

Bill H.172 introduced by Rep. James McCullough, D-Williston, looks to ban the practices of trapping and hound hunting in the state. Trapping would only be allowed for nuisance wildlife and would require a license. It also makes using dogs to hunt black bears illegal.

McCullough says he has introduced it in the interest of the bear’s health but says it’s about property, as well.

“The property rights that people should be able to enjoy about this sport now because of changing demographics and expectations have evolved, need the ability to protect their property, their horses, their sheep, all of whom have been reported harassed by the dogs on their way through in search of the bear,” said McCullough.

There is also a second bill in the Legislature that would heavily regulate the practice, but Porter says that would effectively kill it. H.172 is in committee until the incoming session.

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