A change in Michigan’s bear baiting regulations could mean hunters will have to be a little more careful about what goes into their bait piles this fall. Soon to be prohibited: Melatonin gummy bears.
Doping bruins with a natural sleep aid that’s packaged in delicious, fruit-flavored candy form may sound more like a really lame sequel to “Cocaine Bear” than an ethically dubious hunting tactic, but the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has received complaints recently that “a small number of bear hunters” may be doing precisely that. The thinking, apparently, is that a drowsy bear makes for an easier quarry.
The problem is not widespread in Michigan, according to Cody Norton, the state’s large carnivore specialist. “This is literally the first time we’ve ever heard of it being used or even talked about in the state,” Norton said of the alleged melatonin misuse during a March 9 presentation to the Michigan Natural Resources Commission. To make sure the practice doesn’t catch on, MDNR is proposing new language that expressly bans the use of “stupefying substances” in bait piles. The regulation change would make off-limits anything that renders a bear “unable to think clearly, groggy, or insensible.”
The addition to the DNR’s 2023-24 black bear hunting rules is among 11 proposed changes that were developed with input from the Bear Forum, an advisory group consisting of 15 organizations plus the DNR Bear Working Group and U.S. Forest Service representatives. Final regs, including dates for the hunting season that traditionally runs from September to October, will be published later this spring.
Mike Thorman of the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation declared the new regulations “absolutely wise” and condemned anyone who allegedly used melatonin bait as a “low-life,” according to Bridge Michigan. “What kind of piss-poor hunter are you that you’ve gotta feed the bear something that’s going to put it to sleep so you can catch it?” Thorman said.
According to a 2021 survey, 87 percent of Michigan hunters rely primarily on bait when hunting bears, and 81 percent of harvested bears are taken over bait. The 2022 season harvest was 1,903 bears, a 2-percent increase from 2021 and approximately 12 percent above the 10-year average.
Chocolate was banned from bait piles in 2017, because it contains a chemical called theobromine that is toxic to many animals, including bears and dogs. Drugs, poisons, and anti-coagulants have long been prohibited. Also banned is the use of any man-made materials to construct bait stations on public hunting land. Bait on commercial forest, state, and federal lands must be on the ground or in a natural container like a dead tree or a hollow stump. Soon, melatonin gummy bears and the like will be off limits. Next, if the art on the packaging is any indication, will be Celestial Seasoning’s Sleepytime Tea.