Amid the rage aimed at Ohio hunting enthusiast Josh Bowmar, who in June posted a video of himself gleefully spearing a black bear in northern Canada, one detail has been largely overlooked: His hunt appears to have been completely legal.
On Tuesday, Canadian authorities confirmed to The Washington Post that they would not pursue charges against Bowmar. “The investigation is now complete,” said Brendan Cox, a press officer for Alberta’s solicitor general. “As there is no evidence that any existing laws were broken, no charges will be laid.”
After Bowmar’s video blew-up on social media last week, officials said they would immediately look into whether Bowmar should be charged. At the time, though, no one could identify which laws he might have violated.
The officials also announced that they would introduce legislation this fall to ban spear hunting in the province.
There still have been repercussions for Bowmar and his wife, Sarah, who shot the video and who, like her husband, is a fitness and hunting enthusiast based in Columbus. Last week she lost a sponsorship from clothing giant Under Armour.
I wasn't even hunting!!!! I was just filming!!!!! https://t.co/HkZo42fs13
— Sarah Bowmar, MBA (@sarahbowmar_) August 21, 2016
The company, which has heavily courted hunters, posted on Facebook: “The method used to harvest this animal was reckless and we do not condone it. We…support hunting that is conducted in compliance with all regulatory laws.”
Even with the local government deciding that Bowmar broke no laws, “reckless” seems a fair description of his activity. The video featured a close-up coverage of the actual impaling — a GoPro camera was attached to the spear — and a triumphant, almost giddy Bowmar. “I drilled him perfect … I smoked him,” he says on the video, bragging that he got “mad penetration.”
For his part, Bowmar still maintains he’s done nothing wrong.
“We thought that [Under Armour] would have our back,” Bowmar told the hunting site Wide Open Spaces. “We thought that we could trust them, and we were going to be with them forever. It just blows my mind and actually just hurts my soul.”
Though it may be legal, Bowmar’s conduct violates other less official rules that hunters normally follow, like “the rule of fair chase.” Popularized by President Teddy Roosevelt, it holds that hunters should not take “an improper advantage” over their targets and “make the kill as certain and quick as possible.”
Liebman compares Bowmar to Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who drew international rage when he killed one of Africa’s most beloved lions. Critics said Cecil was lured off a Zimbabwean game preserve so Palmer could take aim with a bow. After his first shot, Palmer tracked the injured lion for a day before finally killing it.
“This case is similar in the amount of time left for the animal suffer,” Liebman said.
Bowmar said he didn’t track the injured bear until the next day because it had begun to rain and get dark — despite what appears to be daylight in the video. He said his party found the dead bear about 50 meters away and claims he is sure it must have died within seconds. And that night, his wife tweeted, they ate bear fajitas.
In the United States, according to a survey of U.S. laws by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), spear hunting is actually allowed in at least four states: Alabama, Hawaii, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
These four laws, though, vary wildly. Oklahoma permits it in a variety of situations, including “gigging,” or frog hunting. Nebraska permits it for “antelope, deer, elk, mountain sheep or turkey,” although a spear cannot contain “poison or stupefying chemical” or have “an explosive tip.” Hawaii allows spear hunting for “wild pigs and wild goats and wild sheep.”
Alabama? Let’s just say you can hunt a lot with a spear in Alabama.
Other than those four, “most states are silent on it,” according to Matthew Liebman, ALDF’s chief legal counsel.
That doesn’t mean the practice is legal in the remaining 46 states. Liebman said hunting laws usually are written to specify what sort of weapon hunters can deploy, not what they can’t. When not listed, it’s assumed that “any other method is illegal,” he said.
So a state like Idaho, where hunting remains popular with locals and visitors alike, makes clear that “it is unlawful for hunters to use any weapon other than a muzzleloader, archery equipment, crossbow, a shotgun … or a handgun using straight-walled cartridges.” A spear — or a mace, poison dart, flamethrower or any previously unimaginable way to hunt — falls into the illegal category.