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The Game Trail

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Ethical hunting

Hunting season is in full swing with lots of hunters hitting the woods. With the November 1st doe whitetail opener, and the rut right around the corner, it will be a busy time out there for your local game wardens. We have been working hard and are happy to report that the majority of folks are following the rules and making ethical decisions.

Ethical decisions? What is making an ethical decision while hunting, or so-called hunting ethics? It’s a question that I frequently ask my hunter education classes. It’s amazing that those 9- to 12-year-old kids already have an understanding of ethics when they correctly respond, "doing the right thing." Webster defines ethical as "in accordance with the accepted principles of right and wrong that govern the conduct of a profession." I like to tell my hunter education classes that it’s simply doing the right thing when no one is looking. It’s important that our children have a solid grasp of hunting ethics at an early age. It’s been shown through research that once a child is taught the wrong way to hunt and not allowed to develop a hunting ethic, that child will continue to poach as an adult. That individual will prolong the cycle and pass it down generation to generation, similar to the actions of domestic violence or substance abuse.

Isn’t hunting ethics just following the laws? Following the hunting regulations is just a part of being an ethical hunter. Hunting and fishing are extremely personal experiences that are riddled with individual decisions that no two people would make the same. For example, if an elk is standing at 400 yards in a clear-cut across the canyon and there were three hunters deciding whether to shoot or not, you would most likely hear three different responses. The decisions to shoot would be based on many personal experiences such as hunting experience, weapon choice, marksmanship, etc. There are no laws regulating the maximum distance that a hunter can shoot big game. Conversely, there are many people that would never take that shot and would look negatively at a hunter that would attempt such a feat. Some might think that there is a chance that the animal may be wounded at that distance, and not produce a clean kill. Some might think that a 400-yard shot is not hunting and would prefer to stalk the animal. On the other hand, there are sportsmen that have the capability, the means, and the knowledge to successfully make that shot. Now if someone made that shot but couldn’t hike over to that canyon to retrieve the meat, that would be illegal.

If you picture hunting ethics as the core or center of sportsmen’s decisions, then hunting regulations are on the fringe of that core, guiding the decision process. Illegal hunting acts are never ethical, but sometimes unethical hunting decisions are legal. Somewhere in that gray area is the difference between a true sportsman and just a plain old big game killer.

Sportsmen have an ethic that extends to the animals, the land, and fellow hunters. I would challenge all of us to broaden that ethic to include everyone, and yes, even those who don’t hunt. Many individuals choose to never hunt, and although this is a decision I cannot relate to, that is their hunting ethic, not mine. I respect that decision to not hunt; however ,non-hunters should not force their ethic on the hunting community. Subsequently, hunters should not force their ethics on non-hunters, respecting their views.

For example, when we have a successfully harvested an animal we should be cognizant of how and when we display that animal as we travel home. There are a few Neanderthals out there who just don’t care about the damage they cause to the hunting community. These folks are few in numbers but speak the loudest when it comes to adverse hunting publicity. These people give a majority of law abiding, ethical hunters a bad name. Please report these thugs so we can protect our great hunting heritage.

Hunting ethics are a little window into ourselves. The people we are to our families and to our community can be seen through the way we act in the woods. I’ve seen some people that don’t break the laws but are pretty unethical. Start your children off on the right path and create that ethic early in the life. If you don’t, someone else’s child or parents will do it for you.

Enjoy all that we have out there, and don’t forget to include the kids. Be safe, be legal, and most of all, be ethical. See you out there!

Leave No Child Inside

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Author info

Matt Haag Matt Haag is an Idaho Fish and Game Conservation Officer.

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