Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Long range shooting - ethical or not?

I recieved this message from a long time hunter ed instructor from Ontario. He is also on the board of directors for the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) and very active with the Ontario Hunter's and Angler's Association.


I was just down at the IHEA winter board meeting (got invited back on as the Canadian Volunteer member could not fulfill his obligations due to work commitments) and in what I am seeing on the Wild Channel and all the hunting shows and what is available at the Shot Show, big 50 cal rifles etc. and people making incredible 400 – 1000 yd shots on animals we should really be discussing where the element of Fair Chase comes in here as well as dispelling the myth that most people hunt for the thrill of the chase and not just the kill. When you kill an animal from 4-8oo yds there is no fair chase, you do not match any of your abilities against the animals as he can’t see, hear or wind you and to shoot him at that range definitely disproves the fallacy that the kill is not important. When done at long range the only important thing to most is the kill and the trophy. I don’t dispute the fact that these are incredible shots and shooters who have honed their shooting skills and deserve credit for this, but they can also prove their abilities on paper targets rather than live ones if they have a true belief in “Fair Chase” and that the kill is not important. Technology is destroying real hunting and begs the question “ are bow hunters the only true hunters left” and they even have their issues of range?

My thoughts.



  1. Bill,
    We had a lively discussion on long range shooting at the Ethics Think Tank that Del Benson and I pulled together at the McGraw Wildlife Foundation 2 weekends ago. It gets worse when you are using animals only as targets with no intent to use them (prairie dogs, etc). Is this hunting or just shooting? To me you have to have the outcome of the hunt be in doubt until the shot is made (fair chase), you shoot only when you know you can make the kill cleanly - not to see if you can make the kill, and you need to use what you kill unless it is a cull hunt.
    You could argue that long range shooting for big game has it's own set of skills and challenges and is a hunter preference. I suppose we shouldn't knock it until we try it. The other question is - is it doing us any harm? To me it is offencive because of the lack of a hunt. It is more of an athletic/shooting skill sport. With the reason for doing it is in the satisfaction with a difficult well placed shot. For most of us the pleasure of the hunt is the hunt, followed sometimes with a shot and the kill. I suspect the long range shooter/hunter would not count it as a good day if they didn't get in any shooting.

  2. Here's another example where understanding why recreational hunting is a 'sport' really matters. "When you kill an animal from 4-8oo yds there is no fair chase" . . . .

    I agree with Eric here when he says, "You could argue that long range shooting for big game has it's own set of skills and challenges and is a hunter preference."

    If you limit yourself to a definition of "fair chase" that requires you to be within x yards of the animal--i.e., adopting a rule that stipulates "don't shoot until you can see the whites of their eyes"--that rule could potentially eliminate all rifle and shotgun hunting, seems to me, and morally obligate me to hunt with a bow that limits my range to thirty yards.

    Is that really where we want to go with fair chase discussions?

    Seems to me that extending the range is a way of limiting one's advantage as a hunter, much like limiting oneself to ten antler points or more, as a way of making the game/sport more challenging, interesting, and engaging.

  3. I would say they (long range shooters) are doing harm if they are regularly or willfully wounding game. If they are making clean kills, following the law, using the game - then more power to them. It's not my thing but I'll defend it. But don't expect me to promote it!

  4. This thread certainly proves that it's all in the measure of the hunt, doesn't it? In Indiana, where we can only use shotgun slugs and muzzleloaders on deer, we could easily castigate hunters in other states who for years have been using high powered rifles to take deer at more than twice the ranges we normally get. Has that been a bad thing all these years? You could easily get shots with a .30-06 from distances at which the animal could neither see nor smell you. I know for me, (who cut my shooting teeth on long range target shooting), I have developed an interest lately in taking deer at much longer ranges with my ML than I ever used to. I still have to scout locations and put in the time to find deer in those locations, but I'm getting a much deeper "measure" of the hunt now by making good long-range shots. Of course there always will be those who will abuse technology, from bows to Barretts, but that is a different issue, at least in my mind.

  5. There is this interesting tension between erecting barriers to make the outcome of the hunt harder (and longer) and the ethic of clean, one shot kills. Finding balance between these two good things adds to the excitement of the hunt. It also defies easy answers or pat formulas. Every hunter's skill is different, therefor the balance point will be different. Fortunately, because the enjoyment of the hunt is in the hunt not the kill, you can always pass on the iffy shot and still have a great day in the field!

  6. A hunter respects the pursuit. If you do not feel you can make a lethal shot 10 out of 10 times from a given distance then you as a hunter will not take the shot. Those individuals that take shots that are high risk of resulting in a non-lethal wound are not hunters and I will not share a camp with them.

  7. Anonymous, while I get what you're saying, I'd challenge the reality of your proposal. Personally, I'm a reasonably good rifle shot... Give me two full mags (five rounds each) in most of my hunting rifles, and at 200 yards I'll put about 85% in the kill zone, shooting offhand. I almost never shoot offhand in the field, even though it sometimes happens, so this makes me feel pretty confident about my abilities. I'll take that 200 yard shot almost every time. Does that make me an unethical hunter?

    A lot of people set a pretty high bar when they're talking about hunting ethics. Personally, I think they set it even higher when they're chatting on the Internet. Once it hits the field, things get a little loose, though. I've taken a fair number of hunters out into the field who talked a pretty conservative game about the distance they'd shoot... or taking that running shot, yet when those hogs step out of the brush, suddenly all bets are off.

    When I have a client in the field who starts telling me they're confident out to 400 or 500 yards, my response is to offer to set up a target at that range. My criteria is 3 out of 5 shots in the kill zone. That's reasonable, and allows for shooter error... because I know danged well that we all make errors. Even the best marksman will twitch, jerk the trigger, or mess up a breath at the critical moment.

    It's generally best to keep it real.

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