Alberta government orders investigation into spear killing of bear

The Alberta government has condemned a controversial hunting practice after a U.S. hunter posted a YouTube video that shows him killing a bear using a spear.

Calling the video 'unacceptable,' province promises new legislation to ban spear hunting

U.S. hunter Josh Bowmar poses with the bear he killed with a spear. (YouTube)

The Alberta government has condemned a controversial hunting practice after a U.S. hunter posted a YouTube video that shows him killing a bear using a spear.

The video, posted in June, shows Josh Bowmar, a personal trainer and former competitive javelin thrower, hitting the bear with the hand-thrown spear. It's believed the video was shot in May northeast of Edmonton.

"The type of archaic hunting seen in the recently posted video … is unacceptable," Alberta's Ministry of Environment and Parks said in a written statement. "We will introduce a ban on spear hunting this fall."

The department has also directed fish and wildlife officers to investigate to see if charges are warranted under existing laws. 

Conservation groups press for change

"We've got at least one hunter that has come up here and wanted to hunt by use of a spear, so now it means we're going to have to address it by way of policy," said Wayne Lowry, president of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, a conservation group that consults with government on its regulations.

As the black bear approaches food left as bait, Bowmar winds up to throw his spear. (YouTube)

He said the 2016 regulations that came into force in July should prevent spear hunting by applying strict definitions as to what constitutes a weapon. But he admitted the lack of a specific ban could make the regulation a grey area. At the time the video was recorded, there was no law in place preventing spear hunting.

In the video, Bowmar was accompanied by Swan Hills outfitters John and Jenn Rivet and carried a two-metre spear equipped with 40-centimetre blade. A large black bear was drawn to the area through what is known as bear baiting, where food is placed near a waiting hunting party. That activity is also legal in Alberta.

"He's going down, I drilled him perfect," Bowmar joyously exclaims after the spear lodges in the bear's side. "That was the longest throw I thought I could ever make."

For added effect, a GoPro camera mounted on the spear captured the moment of impact.

"I just did something that I don't think anybody in the world has ever done, and that was spear a bear on the ground, on film," Bowmar says on the video.

Clean kill or unnecessary suffering?

The hunting party left the area afterward, due to darkness and rain, Bowmar later says. The next morning they returned and found the bear dead, about 50 metres from where it had been hit.

In a statement to CBC News, Bowmar said the bear "died immediately," adding the kill was "as humane and ethical as one could get in a hunting situation on big game animals."

Lowry disagrees. He said his organization was trying to get the government to outlaw spear hunting long before the Bowmar video surfaced.

"Since we want to promote the most ethical means of harvesting an animal as possible, I highly doubt that it's going to be a legal way of hunting in the future."  

He said his primary objection to spear hunting is the risk that an injured animal could run off and suffer for an extended period. He admitted those risks also exist with other forms of hunting.

Bowmar turns to the camera and raises his arms in celebration after his spear hits the black bear. (YouTube)
British tabloids and online discussion groups have been quick to condemn not just the method of killing the bear, but also Bowmar's enthusiastic approach in the video. After spearing the bear he seems giddy about his success.

"That's going to be some epic footage," he proclaims to the camera. "Yeah, I got mad penetration. That's a dead bear."

The headline in U.K.'s Daily Express read: "Warped Hunter Kills Starving Bear with Seven Foot Homemade Spear."

The Mirror headline was: "Hunters in Sick New Low as Black Bear is Stabbed with 7 ft Spear then Left to Die."

Lowry was more tempered in his criticism. "There's much more ethical and effective means of harvesting an animal."