The third Saturday of Montana's 2011 duck hunting season, I crept to the edge of backwater on the Bitterroot to see what came in. Decoys displayed and a couple practice calls later, we waited for shooting light. Moments of silence waiting in darkness allow one's mind to wander, and mine went back to the first drake Mallard I shot last winter. The first duck I'd shot in 20 years. And I shot him on the water. Then I thought about hunting ethics.
I'd shot quite a few ducks those twenty some years ago while in high school in Helena, MT, but none on the water. Irrigation ditches in the valley north of town were late-season havens when standing water reservoirs had become ice. Jump shooting was the strategy, and it was effective. Enough so that I remember a double or two on rare occasion. I had hunted with a retired friend, an experienced waterfowl hunter, who taught me the ropes and let me use one of his shotguns.
That past time had passed for twenty years and it had felt good to start again. This was a different style of hunting, now from a blind with decoys rather than ditches, different companions, and a different part of Montana. I wondered if my ethics and changed too, then considered again having sluiced that drake on the water and that my companions and I were fine with it. Actually, pretty ecstatic. I'd like to think age has refined my ethics.
The biggest change was that those years ago I was a perfectly mobile, physical teenager as capable of wingshooting as anyone equally experienced. A car accident the following year had left me quadriplegic, and I now traverse by power wheelchair and shoot using a rifle mount aimed by chin-joystick and fired by sipping into a tube that actuates the trigger. The motors aren't quick enough nor designed for wingshooting, so a stationary target is necessary. In the last year I'd weighed the sitting duck situation both ways: was it the perpetual cheap shot contrary to the waterfowl hunters' moral code or do situational variables deem actions acceptable in some situations? The latter is usually at best thin ice on the pond of moral and ethical relativity, but in this case I still feel dry.
Before making that shot, my companions and I knew that my field of shooting ranged about fifteen degrees in all directions from where my barrel pointed before birds approached. We had strategically placed decoys on the periphery of open water toward which my gun was aimed to encourage them to land there. I was also aware of the speed of the aiming motors -- fast enough to get to my target, but slow enough to stop on it without going past. Finally, I knew I'd always be shooting within range of my shotgun and would be aiming at one specific duck.
Having compared the certainty of my shot to standard wingshooting, I felt comfortable with and good about having done it. We'd used only traditional methods of allure, they were all wild ducks, and they were even given time to escape on wing as the wind of my motors brought my barrel to the target. I was also quite certain that a standard shot pattern was more likely to cleanly kill a sitting duck than one passing on the wing, regardless whose barrel it came from. Everything we'd done was also legal by all state and federal regulations.
While disability hunting has been an improper excuse in recent years to justify game farms, hunting inside fences, and crossbreeding, there is substance to my justification. Ethical questions in the field consider multiple variables, and I think I passed the test. The technology required was fairly basic, required for my participation, and surely offered me no unfair advantage. We were hunting with hopes of but uncertain success, and it was about the experience more than the kill. At times, the token cheap shot is the fairest play.