Saturday, November 6, 2010

Honor the hunt by hunting with honor

We have had some discussion amongst the Orion board about having a “tagline” or a slogan to fix in people’s minds when they think of Orion. One candidate is the title of this post: “Honor the hunt by hunting with honor.”

Some of us like this line, some don’t. Advantages include the connotations with fair chase, respect for game animals and for the sport of hunting, and promoting the positive idea of “honorable behavior” or hunting honorably when no one is looking.

Negative reactions have focused on the aristocratic connotations of the term “honor.” As in “Your honor” and deference to high rank.

Although some our board members are sensitive to the negative connotations of “honor,” they argue that allowing some interpretation of what it means to hunt with honor isn't necessarily a bad thing. They point out that to some people honor will mean respecting the animal, to others it may mean respecting other hunters and landowners, and being true to their own value system.

To me, honor as an ethical term carries more positive than negative associations. When we speak of an honorable person, we think approvingly of an honest and trustworthy individual who is able to follow his/her convictions and act with integrity. In this way, honor and integrity function as moral virtues. “He is a man of honor and therefore will keep his word.”

In one of the few sustained book-length works on the topic, Honor, anthropologist Frank Henderson Stewart argues that honor is best understood as a right to respect. This interpretation, too, has certain advantages to hunters. Ethical hunters command the respect of their fellow hunters. At the same time ethical hunters ask that society extend the same respect to them and to ethical hunting.

Stewart reviews the range of meanings that includes the idea of honor as a moral virtue. He cites a famous passage by the Renaissance humanist François Rabelais that captures the essence of this meaning: “Free people, well-born, well-instructed, conversing in good company, have by nature an instinct and a spur that always impels them to virtuous behavior and restrains them from vice: they call it honor.”

For hunters, the Rabelaisian meaning is analogous: Ethical hunters, well-brought up, well-instructed, surrounded by a supportive hunting community, have instinctively a trait that always impels them to ethical hunting behavior and restrains them from its opposite: that trait is honor.

Or we might think in terms of sportsmanship. Sportsmen do not take advantage of the animal, rather they give it. Fair chase is all about giving every possible advantage to the animal within the limits of the hunter’s own individual abilities and skill level. The novice hunter begins on a more level playing field than the expert; the expert accordingly restricts his advantage over the game with ever more restrictive techniques, including stricter rules, less efficient technologies, and voluntary restraint. The advanced deer hunter may forego the gun for a bow, impose antler restrictions on himself, and hunt only by stalking his prey on the ground rather than using a tree stand. Each of these voluntary, self-imposed choices confer advantage to the animal while removing advantages from the hunter.

These voluntary choices are born of respect for the game animal, but they are also in an important sense born out of respect for the hunt itself. Hunting does not take place in a cultural vacuum, but instead occurs within an ongoing historical tradition that identifies the moral bounds of honorable and ethical hunting.

Fair chase is sportsmanship, therefore, in an important sense. Honorable fair chase hunting is hunting with honor, but fair chase hunting is also deserving of honor—that is, the honorable fair chase hunter is someone who has earned the right to society’s respect.

I believe this is the image of hunting that Orion the Hunter’s Institute wants to communicate and promote. We should embrace the fact that the ethical hunter deserves respect.

We should embrace the fact that the ethical hunter deserves a kind of “deference to high rank.” After all, the ethical hunter who holds to a high standard of fair chase is truly elite, in the best sense of the word.

We should embrace the fact that the ethical hunter is worthy of our respect and deference both. In the same way that we defer to skill and knowledge in other contexts—dentists and doctors come to mind—we should hold up the example of good hunters as models to follow. We can and should defer to the experience of skilled hunters, and we should hold their hunting knowledge in the high esteem it deserves.

In this way, Orion the Hunter’s Institute can promote a vision of admittedly elite hunting, and of elite hunters. Why wouldn’t we? Elite hunters, that is to say, who honor the hunt by hunting with honor.

9 comments:

  1. Well said Jim. I confess to being a proponent of using honor in the Orion byline. I heard another used by our founder, Jim Posewitz, during a radio interview in South Dakota, in referring to fair chase hunting he said words to the effect- We honor the hunt through expending effort. We dishonor the hunt by taking the easy way or short cuts to the kill.- Poz boiled it down to, "Honor through effort."
    To me effort is very individualized. What is effort to me as a fit 62 year old is different than a 25 year old or a paraplegic. I also include mental effort, as in learning an animals habits, locating his feeding areas, resting spots and so forth. It also is included in skill development like reading sign, tracking, shooting and dog training.
    Can you have ethical hunting without effort? I think if you add in the honor concept, and think about effort as a cumulative thing, the answer is no. It is true you can get lucky and get a deer with out much effort, But I bet if it is a fair chase hunt, you have done a lot of leading up to the "lucky" result. A definition of luck I once read is - "preparedness meeting opportunity."

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  2. It's an interesting thought that bothers me a lot. Honor. Elitism.

    Is this really a positive step for the future of a sport that has, at least in this country, struggled to maintain a semblance of egalitarianism? The very idea of the North American model is that the wildlife, and hence the hunt, be available to The People. It says nothing about the people who hunt according to one ethical standard, or about the folks who fancy themselves paragons of outdoorsmanly virtue.

    The problem with all this talk of ethics and honor is that there isn't, as yet, any universal standard by which to gauge it. And if I, by my choice of methods, do not live up to the elitist ideals... am I then, dishonorable?

    For example, and to borrow from your own definition here, I believe in showing voluntary restraint from time to time. But I don't know that choosing "less efficient technologies" is always the best way to show my respect or my sportsmanship to the animal I'm trying to kill. Why would I want to reduce my likelihood of making a clean, quick kill? No matter how diligently I practice, a bow is no match for the accuracy and consistency of a high-powered rifle. I can place the killing bullet much more precisely, and the technology allows room for error that is, in truth, a very human eventuality. It seems to me that, if the question were purely one of ethics and morals, then no one would hunt with primitive weapons at all.

    I think a lot of people up the ante in their methods, not so much out of an enhanced sense of obligation or respect to the animal, but simply to make it more challenging... more fun... or to extend the hunting experience itself. (I think I've said this here before.) But there are times when a challenging hunt is more of a luxury, so perhaps I select the rifle and leave the bow at home. Am I less of a sportsman for that choice? And who, by the way, holds the right to judge me so?

    And sometimes, to me (and to a lot of hunters), the ends are more important than the means. Sometimes I just want to fill my freezer. Where does this fall on this scale of honor/dishonor? Is the meat hunter lesser than the trophy hunter? What about the subsistence hunter?

    The problem, perhaps, is that there's an assumption that there's some common motivation for hunting, or that there's some common value-set. There is not. Simply listening to the debates on hunter ethics, techniques, and practices should serve to illustrate that fact well enough. I mean, I get the Rabelaisian reference, and Ortega y Gassett hits the same notes... but there's a big gap between calling something honorable or ethical and quantifying that ideal for the entire population.

    I'm all for efforts to identify or define a common hunting ethic. To that end, the discussion is good and well and valuable. But it seems like you're trying to cast arbitrary parameters around a sport that means so many different things to so many different people... as though you're saying there's only one honorable way to hunt. By hanging it with a tagline, the lofty goal falls flat into the realm of bumper sticker mentality.

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  3. Hi Phillip,
    You honor me (!) with such thoughtful comments. I have rarely been on the other side of the "It's my way or the high way" debate . . . you might take a look at my piece, "Ethics and Preferences," to see what I mean by that.

    Elitism here to me conveys something more than simply superior knowledge or most refined technique. Elitism to me conveys excellence, in the Greek sense of the term arete. Genuine excellence includes moral and ethical excellence as well. So I think that people of honor and integrity have a type of expertise or excellence that is "elite" in an important sense of that term.

    Not that I am unaware of the negative connotations of "elite." But Orion tries to make better hunters. The logical outcome of fulfilling that goal would be the best hunters. They would be elite in an important sense of that term as well.

    One of my favorite essays in defense of environmentalism and of wilderness is by the columnist George Will. In "A Word for Wilderness," Will writes the following:

    "Most Americans will never care a fig about wilderness. Perhaps that means it is an elitist concern. But so what? Edith Hamilton, the classicist, once said to Ezra Pound: 'I have heard of a great Confucian who wrote a letter so difficult there was only one other man in all China who could understand it. That is not very democratic, I'm afraid. That is aristocratic, like you, Mr. Pound.' Pound replied: 'It is democratic insofar as it provide that anyone may have the opportunity to learn enough to read that letter.' Enjoyment of wilderness may not be spontaneous and 'natural.' It may be a learned process, inviting and even requiring reflection. But it is nonetheless valuable for being an aristocratic pleasure, democratically open to all."

    That paragraph has always stuck out in my mind. As Will says elsewhere in the essay, "It is said that any stigma will do to beat a dogma with, and environmentalism is often stigmatized as an 'elitist' cause." I think ethical hunting and fair chase are similarly stigmatized by hunters professing to speak for the great unwashed democratic masses. So what's the alternative tagline? "Fight the power, anything goes!" I don't really believe that, I don't suppose that you do either. But it is one thing to try and convince people through argument and leading by example, and another thing entirely to try and pass laws and regulations outlawing specific hunting practices. That's where the 'ethics and preferences' piece comes in as a complement to this piece about honor.

    Anyway. What a pleasure to have such thoughtful responses. I really appreciate that. I have a slightly different version of this essay in the works for an upcoming Orion newsletter--when it's ready, let us know if you'd like and we can send it along, or post it here.

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  4. Hey Jim,

    First off, let me say I'm happy to toss in my two cents... even when it doesn't always flow with the grain. The discussion here, and on the Orion site, is certainly worth having. I believe I benefit by participating, and hope that even when I'm wrong, I can get someone else to think about things so maybe they'll find a benefit as well.

    I don't think we're that far apart on the general idea here... at least if I read you right. I think most of us benefit from efforts toward personal growth, and part of that is the evolution of our personal ethic. As humans we're all fallible, but those who continue to reach for the pinnacle will always come closer than those who don't. On this level, I'm certainly not anti-elitist.

    At the same time, I get a little hung up on value statements like "better." "Orion tries to make 'better' hunters."

    "Better" than what? "Better" than whom? Or is it simply "better" than before?

    I mean certainly, when it comes to a skillset then there is a quantifiable concept of "better". I can be a better hunter than someone else if I define that through my marksmanship, woodscraft, and success rate. I can be a better tracker, or a better shot.

    I also feel like I can improve myself... make myself "better" than before. But in this, I use myself as a benchmark.

    But when it comes to something as personal as hunting ethics and values, how in the world can I say I'm better than anyone else? The implication is not only that I'm a better hunter, but a better person... and that's an ego trip that just doesn't seem productive.

    Assuming equal complicity with the codified ethics of law and regulation, I will continue to challenge the idea that one set of personal mores, values (or even aesthetics) is inherently "better" than another. I get what you were saying in the Ethics vs Preferences piece, but it doesn't seem consistent with what you wrote in this current post.

    There's an implication here (intentional or not) that there is some clearly defined route to "enlightenment" that will elevate the pilgrim above those who are, as yet, unenlightened. For example (and as I called out before), the idea that as a hunter's respect for the animal increases, he must increase the challenge of the hunt... giving the animal more of an advantage. I don't disagree that, on a personal growth level, that individual is bettering himself. But that doesn't necessarily equate to that hunter being better than a hunter whose motivation isn't to challenge himself, but to simply enjoy the outing and maybe put some meat on the table.

    The problem with elitism, at least in this context, is the judgement of better vs lesser without an equal scale. Means and motivation differ for every individual. Traditions and environment dictate behaviors and vary across geographic and social divisions.

    I suppose that as long as the judgement isn't used as a dais from whence to dictate law, it's relatively harmless. But this kind of thing just never sits well with me. It seems fairly inevitable that someone, somewhere, will try to use these criteria to tell other folks how to live.

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  5. Hey Jim,

    First off, let me say I'm happy to toss in my two cents... even when it doesn't always flow with the grain. The discussion here, and on the Orion site, is certainly worth having. I believe I benefit by participating, and hope that even when I'm wrong, I can get someone else to think about things so maybe they'll find a benefit as well.

    I don't think we're that far apart on the general idea here... at least if I read you right. I think most of us benefit from efforts toward personal growth, and part of that is the evolution of our personal ethic. As humans we're all fallible, but those who continue to reach for the pinnacle will always come closer than those who don't. On this level, I'm certainly not anti-elitist.

    At the same time, I get a little hung up on value statements like "better." "Orion tries to make 'better' hunters."

    "Better" than what? "Better" than whom? Or is it simply "better" than before?

    I mean certainly, when it comes to a skillset then there is a quantifiable concept of "better". I can be a better hunter than someone else if I define that through my marksmanship, woodscraft, and success rate. I can be a better tracker, or a better shot.

    I also feel like I can improve myself... make myself "better" than before. But in this, I use myself as a benchmark.

    But when it comes to something as personal as hunting ethics and values, how in the world can I say I'm better than anyone else? The implication is not only that I'm a better hunter, but a better person... and that's an ego trip that just doesn't seem productive.

    Assuming equal complicity with the codified ethics of law and regulation, I will continue to challenge the idea that one set of personal mores, values (or even aesthetics) is inherently "better" than another. I get what you were saying in the Ethics vs Preferences piece, but it doesn't seem consistent with what you wrote in this current post.

    There's an implication here (intentional or not) that there is some clearly defined route to "enlightenment" that will elevate the pilgrim above those who are, as yet, unenlightened. For example (and as I called out before), the idea that as a hunter's respect for the animal increases, he must increase the challenge of the hunt... giving the animal more of an advantage. I don't disagree that, on a personal growth level, that individual is bettering himself. But that doesn't necessarily equate to that hunter being better than a hunter whose motivation isn't to challenge himself, but to simply enjoy the outing and maybe put some meat on the table.

    The problem with elitism, at least in this context, is the judgement of better vs lesser without an equal scale. Means and motivation differ for every individual. Traditions and environment dictate behaviors and vary across geographic and social divisions.

    I suppose that as long as the judgement isn't used as a dais from whence to dictate law, it's relatively harmless. But this kind of thing just never sits well with me. It seems fairly inevitable that someone, somewhere, will try to use these criteria to tell other folks how to live.

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  6. This has been the most thoughful conversation in reasoning I have read in some time and my subject too!I'm impressed and inspired and I completely understand all sides. Trying to answer, the unanswerable, will sometimes just run on.

    Rod Elmer

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  7. Phillip,
    I've got the penultimate version of this essay finished up and posted on my individual blog at http://grousersolo.blogspot.com/2010/11/honor-hunt-by-hunting-with-honor.html. You'll see I added an anecdote to start the piece, and partly as a result of thinking about some of your comments, tried to clarify the "elitism" issue a bit more. As you ask above, "'Better' than what? 'Better' than whom? Or is it simply 'better' than before?", I think my answer is "better than before."

    Anyway, let me know if you've got any further thoughts. thanks.
    Jim

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  8. "better than before" is the simple and easy answer - it applies to all and some obviously more than others. Saw a brief bit of Sarah Palin's new show. She picked up a rifle, obviously having never fired it before. She took 3 or 4 careful shots at a still caribou, missing completely. She switched rifles and hit the mark perfectly. What's wrong with this picture? Those are horid hunting ethics, and it embarassed me as a hunter, as do many hunting shows on TV - I do not watch them regularly but i tune in occasionally to see what messages are being delivered. "Better than before" is simple and true.

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  9. I never would have taken the shot. It was uphill with no backstop. Some think that's an ok shot, but not me. Nevermind the politics, but it's too bad that this behavior is coming from a person that some people view as a role model.

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