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Ethics Of Hunting And Angling
When the topic of ethics comes up amongst hunters and anglers, it almost always stirs up a debate. One hunter or angler doesn’t see or understand the other’s views and the table is set for a debate, and some of them can get quite heated.
Hunting ethics are defined in the Boone and Crockett Club’s Fair Chase Statement and are listed under six main rules.
According to the club’s website, the Fair Chase Statement, as defined by the Boone and Crockett Club, is the ethical, sportsmanlike and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging, wild, native North American big game animal, in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.
Fundamental to all hunting is the concept of conservation of natural resources. Hunting in today’s world involves the regulated harvest of individual animals in a manner that conserves, protects and perpetuates the hunted population. The hunter engages in a one-to-one relationship with the quarry and his or her hunting should be guided by a hierarchy of ethics related to hunting, which includes the following tenets:
1. Obey all applicable laws and regulations.
2. Respect the customs of the locale where the hunting occurs.
3. Exercise a personal code of behavior that reflects favorably on your abilities and sensibilities as a hunter.
4. Attain and maintain the skills necessary to make the kill as certain and quick as possible.
5. Behave in a way that will bring no dishonor to either the hunter, the hunted, or the environment.
6. Recognize that these tenets are intended to enhance the hunter’s experience of the relationship between predator and prey, which is one of the most fundamental relationships of humans and their environment.
If you want to get into a debate fast, bring up guns and ammunition. I rarely let myself get dragged into a rifle debate, and they are easy to get into. Sure, they start off as conversations. But many times, without anyone noticing, they quickly get carried away.
The majority of the time it’s just one person trying to convince the other person that their choice of rifle or ammunition is better than the other person’s. Manufacturer’s names get thrown around, ballistic calculations and even the price of a gun is brought into the debate. Truth is, if the rifle is of legal calibre for the chosen hunt, and you are comfortable, and, above all, confident with the rifle, that’s all that really matters. The name on a rifle or the price of it should never dictate the status of the person using it.
However, I question the ethics and sensibility of hunters that use their scope mounted on top of their chosen rifle for binoculars.
Last November, I was sitting on top of a large brush pile, overlooking a cutline. I was concealed amongst the tangled limbs, waiting for a whitetail buck to show himself.
I can’t explain it, but an odd feeling came over me. I looked over my left shoulder and there was another hunter and his 14-year-old son standing only 70 metres away. I was hunting on crown land, so the man and his son had every right to be there. The problem was he had me in his scope.
I began yelling as loud as I could and, with my hat in my hand, I was franticly waving my arms. As soon as he gave me the signal that he knew it was another hunter, I was off the brush pile and closed the 70 metres in seconds.
The conversation was extremely one sided and my words were not the kindest. I instantly knew this man had very little ethics and respect for gun safety and others that may be hunting in the area. It was stupid on his part, and I questioned what he just taught his son. To make matters worse, his binoculars hung around his neck.
It’s a scary feeling, being in another hunter’s scope. Had he pulled the trigger at that distance, I wouldn’t have even heard the report of the rifle. Not only would he have taken my life, the lives of my family members would have changed dramatically. Not to mention the changes in his and his family’s lives, and his son would have witnessed it.
After this happened to me, I spoke with many other hunters about this subject and I found out I’m not alone. This happens to someone every year and there’s no need for it. We spend good money on binoculars and they’re meant for viewing and confirming our target before we ever raise our rifle. One of the first things you learn in any hunter safety course is, “binoculars are for viewing, scopes are for shooting.” Never raise your rifle until you’re a hundred per cent sure of your target and beyond.
Once you have confirmed your target with your binoculars and made a humane shot, it’s hard to beat the excitement of a successful hunt. You walk over to your downed game and the celebration begins. And why not? You’ve waited all year for this hunt and you’ve just filled the freezer. The trouble comes during the photo shoot.
Everyone loves the trophy pictures. However, care and respect must be shown to the animal when taking pictures. Showing respect for downed game is something I hold at the highest level. I believe this falls under a few tenets of the Fair Chase Statement, regarding behaviour that reflects favourably on your abilities and sensibilities, as well as behaving in a way that doesn’t dishonour other hunters or the animal.
I’ve spent hours cleaning and positioning animals and taking photos. Nothing takes more away from the trophy picture than seeing someone standing over top of it in the championship boxer pose, with one foot on the animal and arms in the air, with their hands clenched in a fist. In my opinion and many others, this is a complete lack of respect to the game we hunt.
I’m not sure if it falls under ethics or respect, but it’s my personal choice never to sit on downed game ether.
We all love viewing trophy pictures, but before taking pictures, take the time to clean the animal up. I carry a towel or paper towel in my pack to wipe off any excess blood around the bullet or arrow wound. I also wipe up any blood around the mouth and I refuse to take a picture with the animal’s tongue hanging out. Clean the animal and position them with pride, whether it’s a trophy or not.
Pictures also look the best when they’re taken in the animal’s natural surroundings and it compliments the animal and the photo. Clean and respectful photos are a pleasure to view and will trigger those wonderful memories of a successful hunt for years to come.
A question that often comes up: if two hunters have permission to hunt on the same private land, who has the right of way? This topic could fall under the Fair Chase Statement tenets No. 3, No. 5 and even No. 2, respect the customs of the locale where the hunting occurs.
This question was brought into the limelight and heard around the world in November 2004 when Chai Vang of Birchwood, Wis., shot and killed five people while sitting in their deer stand.
The incident began when two hunters were returning to their rural cabin on private land and saw a stranger hunting out of one of their deer stands. An argument broke out and three other hunters showed up to help. But in the end, 20 shots were fired and five lay dead including a teenaged boy and a woman.
This was an extreme case, but I’ve heard of hunters showing up at their treestand or ground blind only to find someone has or was hunting from it. To me it’s obvious: someone other than you hung the stand or positioned the blind and it’s not yours, so don’t touch it. It’s an unwritten rule in my opinion.
I also believe if you come across another hunter in the same area, as long as you both have permission on the land, then it’s the hunter that was there first that has the right of way.
But not all hunters are created equal: I met an extremely courteous hunter while I was hunting a bull elk last September. Shortly after I squeezed the trigger and put down a nice 5X5 bull, another hunter came walking through the trees from behind me. He had a cow elk tag and had planned to hunt the same field that I was hunting. As he moved through the trees towards the open field, he saw me and realized I had an elk in my sights. Not wanting to disturb my hunt, he stood motionless behind a tree and watched the hunt unfold. He joined me in my excitement and even helped me position the bull for pictures. I thanked him for his kindness before he left to find a cow elk for his freezer.
After I returned to my truck with my last load of quartered elk meat, the same hunter showed up to tell me he had the good fortune of filling his cow tag. In appreciation for the courtesy he showed me, I spent the next three hours helping him quarter and get his precious elk meat to his truck.
Angling is another area where lack of respect, poor ethics and poor judgment has also reared its ugly head and it’s often seen right at the boat launch.
Before we can go fishing, we have to get the boat in the water. And the sooner, the better. But nothing is worse than sitting in line at the boat launch and watching someone backing up to the water and stopping just short of the launch to transfer everything they will need for a day on the water from their truck to their boat. But before they can do that, they have to remove the boat tarp, unhook straps, and check the fuel in the boat along with a variety of other tasks. This is a simple lack of respect for other anglers looking to get into the water.
Prior to entering the boat launch, it’s common courtesy to other boaters to have all your fishing gear or sporting toys already loaded in your boat. Also, before backing in, remove all the unneeded straps and tarps. If everything is loaded and unhooked before backing into the water, once you’re in the water, simple freewheel the winch, pull your truck out and the next boater can back in.
Loading your boat at the end of the day doesn’t have to be stressful either: idle up to the dock and let the person out of the boat that’s going to back the truck and trailer into the water. Drive the boat away from the dock a reasonable distance and wait. Once your truck has backed the trailer into the water, drive the boat onto the trailer, hook up the winch, secure the boat on the trailer and drive to the parking lot to unload your gear from the boat. Quick and easy.
We also need to remember that not everyone is a pro at backing in their boat. I was at a boat launch a few years ago when a husband let his wife off at the dock to go get the truck. The lady was having a tough time seeing the trailer in the truck mirror, therefore, having a tough time lining the trailer up to hit the launch. The longer it took, the worse her situation became. No one at the launch lifted a finger to help her back the trailer in and you could see the frustration building in the lady and the other boaters gathered around the launch. When I showed up at the driver’s door to ask if I could help, the poor lady was almost in tears. I no sooner had the words out of my mouth when she asked if I would back the trailer in for her, and I gladly did. When you see someone having trouble at the boat launch, it’s much faster for everyone if we just help each other out.
A few years ago my cousin and I were fishing a shallow weed bed on a beautiful Saskatchewan lake. The pike were biting like crazy. Most of them were small (hammer handles) but every so often a big one would latch onto the spoon.
Another boat pulled up about 40 metres away and he, too, began catching pike. However, he quickly became frustrated at catching small pike. Instead of releasing them, he began throwing them. And I mean throwing them, similar to throwing a baseball. My cousin and I couldn’t believe what we were seeing. This was blatant disrespect for other anglers, the fish and the sport in general.
We quickly became angry with the man’s actions and idled over to his boat and had a few words about the way he was handling the fish. From his actions and the words he said, it was clear he had no respect for the fish and his ethics were well below average. He quickly pulled anchor and we never saw him again.
They were small pike, only three to five pounds, but who gets mad when they’re catching fish? Would he throw a big pike like that? I think not. He would probably take a trophy picture. But big pike were once small too, and if they’re injured or die from improperly releasing them when they’re juveniles, they will never get a chance to be trophies.
Everyone reads the fair chase rules differently. However, the outdoors, with all its beautiful water bodies, wildlife and breathtaking landscape, can turn ugly when lack of respect and poor ethics are shown.
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