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.