Monday, December 29, 2008

Profile of a responsible hunter

We've all seen slob hunters - similar to the description of pornography by one of our Supreme Court Justices - "you know it when you see it". That is one extreme, but what criteria needs to be met to be a responsible hunter? We all think we are one, but are we?

Here is my opinion of the criteria that needs to be met:

1) Safe - bottom line is you must follow the safety rules for gun handling and hunting. If you endanger yourself, others or property you are not a responsible hunter.

2) Lawful - Game laws can be complicated and tempting to bend or break. But they have a vital purpose and must be followed to the letter and spirit.

3) Clean Kill - Responsible hunters only shoot at game they know they can kill, not to see if they can hit it. Stuff happens, but we do everything we can to make one-shot kills. Excuses like I didn't have time to sight in, or practice or check my pattern don't make it. Taking shots byond your ability to hit the vital area, moving shots if you are proficient at them and high risk angle shots are other no-no's. Among the worst are the "bowhunters" who brag about sticking deer - ahhhh - a great way to lose hunting.

4) Full Utilization - If you kill it; you (or someone else) eat it. If you don't like mergansers and don't know anyone who does - don't shoot them. For game like moose, it takes planning ahead to be sure you can get it out of the woods and cool it down before it spoils, not as easy as you might think. The exception to this rule is damage shooting. But that is different than hunting and I still think the critter should be used if at all possible, even if it is just cleaning the coyote skull for the local Boy Scout troop.

5) Practice Fair Chase - If it is a 100% guaranteed kill or the animal can't get away, it is not an ethical hunt. The outcome of the hunt must be in doubt up to the instant the trigger is pulled. Anything else is just shooting or slaughtering. Within this definition is lots of room and it will vary between hunters and even for the same hunter at different times of their lives.

There is inherent conflict between fair chase and clean kill. If you erect to high a barrier to harvest, say using a homemade stick bow, you could without a lot of discipline, set your self up for wounding animals because your skill level is not high enough to be successful under reasonable conditions. More on fair chase and hunter preference in future posts!

6) Support Conservation – This applies primarily to more experienced hunters. I don’t think you can call yourself a responsible hunter unless you are actively supporting wildlife conservation beyond buying licenses and paying tax on equipment and ammo. We need to be in the arena supporting scientific management and environmentally sound policies both politically, physically and monetarily.

I also don’t think paying dues to a hunting club or conservation organization is enough. It is a great start but not enough. We need to be actively engaged with that club, doing habitat work on the ground and making those phone calls to legislators. It also means building support for conservation and hunting, like taking a kid hunting and showing the neighbor kids how to read sign.

As you can see, I think there is more to being a responsible hunter than what happens at the instant you touch the trigger. All of this together is what makes hunting such an engaging and ever new and challenging activity.

I’d love to hear your thoughts ….


  1. Eric,
    Glad to see you take this step. I'm excited about the new blog, another venue for the sporting men and women to put forth ideas and comment on the goings on in the VT outdoors.

    Will check back often.

    Brian Ames

  2. I'm just back from a weekend Think Tank at the Maz McGraw Wildlife Institute in IL, where we grappled with defining hunting. When is hunting just shooting? Is there a line in the sand? Should there be a line in the sand?
    New post coming with what we came up with...

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