Good Hunters Follow a Moral Code

Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni

By virtue of longevity, I’ve seen more hunting seasons than the average kid on the block. I never developed into the best woodsman, the best marksman, or the best hunter. I doubt if I could track a wounded deer…I never tried, and I definitely can’t use a duck caller. Having said all of that, in spite of my questionable hunting skill set, I still consider myself a good hunter. My success isn’t necessarily based on the amount of game I’ve bagged or the size of any trophy hanging on my wall. I’m a good hunter because I follow a set of rules, rules introduced by my father a long time ago. I admit that sometimes I didn’t like it, but I tried to follow them to the letter. Although I slipped up on occasion, at the very least I followed the law.

Speaking of laws, just because a hunter follows the laws doesn’t necessarily mean the hunter is being ethical. For example, a law-abiding hunter will respect bag limits, will follow season times and dates, and will get hunting permission. On the other hand, although legal, shooting an animal just to fill a tag might not be ethical. A bow hunter that takes a doe with a late fawn is legal, but I don’t know how ethical. Group hunting might be legal, but how it’s done might be unethical. Going into the woods with a gun you’ve never fired is legal but questionably ethical. Not being proficient with a bow or crossbow doesn’t break a law but violates a decent hunter’s moral code.

Another ethical question deals with shooting at a responsible range. It would be rough to prosecute a hunter for taking a long shot. Unfortunately, most hunters have been guilty of this practice at one time or another. For example, waterfowl hunters have had their share of cloud-busters since the first shotgun was invented. Dove hunters have been known to take long shots relying totally on luck. I’ve heard deer hunters say that any hit is a good hit when group hunting. It’s easier to track a deer with more people. The ethical hunter needs to ask the following: When I pull the trigger or release an arrow, am I almost certain that I can hit and kill the animal I’m aiming at? You don’t take a shot to find out if you can hit it. If you have any doubt in your mind you don’t have a killing shot, don’t take it.

An ethical hunter will respect his fellow hunters. Basically, it’s the “do unto others” rule. That doesn’t mean you always have to put up with the occasional jerk. Depending on the circumstances, it’s the intent that counts. In terms of property owners, if you’re fortunate enough to hunt private ground, treat the property as if it were your own. Of course, respecting the property owner is something that shouldn’t need to be mentioned. Keep in mind that there are people who are not hunting enthusiasts. They really don’t want to see the dead deer in the back of your pickup truck when you pull into a gas station. Like it or not, all hunters are ambassadors for their sport. Consequently, make sure you play the part to everyone you meet.

There are ethical principles dealing with fair chase. In the wild, animals and birds we hunt generally have natural abilities that make them a challenge to bag. Waterfowl fly at ridiculous speeds when riding a strong wind. They have altitude for protection and keen sight needed to spot danger. Getting a big buck in bow range takes skill, if it were easy, there wouldn’t be big deer showing up every year. Are shooting preserves ethical in terms of fair chase? That depends on the preserve. I’ve hunted game bird areas where the hunt was just as difficult as any wild bird hunting. On the other hand, I’ve been on preserves where pheasants were released with their legs tied so they couldn’t run. I’ve also seen them planted in traps to make hunting easy for the guides and dogs. Big game or small game, preserve hunting can be totally ethical. Your conscience will tell you otherwise.

An ethical hunter uses the animal he harvests. Ethical hunters always make a total effort to find wounded game. If a hunter doesn’t have a good dog, it isn’t ethical to drop birds in heavy cover. If you’re hunting big game, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to kill an animal and not be able to retrieve it. I recall asking a Wyoming elk hunter how he would get his kill out of a deep ravine. His answer was, “with a knife and a fork.” If you can’t retrieve a kill, don’t shoot it. Once you bag an animal, process it quickly and efficiently. Use the meat or provide it to sources who will use it. It’s nice to trophy hunt but not at the expense of wasting the rest of the kill.

Hunting ethics are a personal thing. They’re unique in that, for the most part, there is no gallery to applaud or disapprove the conduct. Most hunters do the right thing because of conscience and not onlookers. Everyone admires the golfer who takes a personal penalty for breaking a rule no one else sees. That’s the way a good hunter should be. Enough said.