Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hunting nakedly: A twist on a classic hunting ethics test

Photo illustration by Holly Heyser
One excellent measure of your hunting ethics is asking yourself this question: How would I feel if what I’m doing on this hunt was blasted onto TV screens across America? If the answer is “like a total loser,” then you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

Recently, though, I faced a flipped version of that test: I actually was being followed by a filmmaker who had the potential to blast what I was doing onto TV screens across America, and I faced a situation that I thought would look bad, but that passed my personal ethics test.

The question I faced was this: Do I do what I’d do in this situation if I were hunting alone and present myself honestly, or do I alter my behavior rather than explain myself on camera?

If you’re familiar with my old blog NorCal Cazadora, you’ll be able to answer this question easily. If you don’t, allow me to explain: I’m so unflinchingly honest that my mother once aptly described my writing style as “naked.”

The scenario I faced with the filmmaker in tow was a small pack of jack rabbits a good 100 yards ahead of me on a trail, out of range because I was using a shotgun. When they spotted me, most started heading up a levee for an easy exit, but one of them inexplicably began hopping toward me.

While this scene met a literal definition of fair chase--this was a wild rabbit, not confined in any way--there was a good chance that this was an animal somewhat habituated to humans, and therefore in a poor position to exercise his ability to escape. I've watched a lot of animal-rights videos and I knew this was right up their alley: Mean ole hunter shoots a tame bunny.

I stifled a groan. Why this rabbit on this day?

And when he got close enough, I shot him.

You can read the full story here at Shotgun Life – including exactly what the filmmaker caught on camera – but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Would your decision change depending on the presence or absence of the filmmaker? Did I make hunters as a group look bad?

I’ll kickstart the conversation by saying this: One of the reasons I’m ridiculously honest in all aspects of my life is that it’s easier to be honest than to perform perpetual maintenance on lies and omissions. When I first started hunting, I wasn’t so open, but I quickly learned that lying or even holding back about any aspect of the hunt only cedes points to anti-hunters in our great ongoing debate about hunting.

So now I’ve had my say. What say you?

Holly Heyser is a hunter, forager, writer, photographer and college journalism lecturer who lives in Sacramento, California.


  1. I would shoot. As long as I'm comfortable with what I'm doing I'm comfortable with the world knowing what I do. I sometimes explain why I do what I do but I never argue to justify.

  2. I wouldn't shoot, but I have no problem with people who would. To me it would be like shooting a duck that landed in my decoys. I'd do something to spook the animal until it attempted to flee. Ethically, I don't think there's anything wrong with shooting the rabbit and I wouldn't look down on someone who did it. I just wouldn't do it personally.

  3. I would shoot because dinner is not always difficult. Sometimes you get a gift like this. Why not accept it? If a vine bearing sweet blackberries is within easy reach, I will pick them. I see no difference.
    For me, the most difficult part of this would be hunting with a stranger.


  4. I agree w/ what anon is alluding to; and it might depend on how hungry I was, how soon I could prepare the meal, whether it was my intended quarry, whether taking it would alert my intended quarry of my presence, whether it would ruin my dog, and so forth. Not ethical deliberations so much as practical ones--

  5. Holly, I've faced similar issue with TV reporters following me in the woods deer and squirrel hunting. My biggest fear was not having a quick kill. Fortunately they camera guy on the deer hunt was so noisy any deer with in a mile knew we were coming, so I went with the theme of how hard it is to be successful hunting wild deer. With the squirrel hunt we did see some, but I managed to get them out of sight before the camera guy saw them. I don't like the kill shots on TV and didn't want to be part of them myself. What most people don't understand is the skill and work leading up to the kill, i.e. the hunt.

  6. I also agree with anon - hunting game does not always have to be such a challenge that you go home empty handed - sometimes you get lucky, so take the 'gift'. If a grouse lets me walk up to it or doesn't flush when i walk by on a trail, I'll shoot him off the ground and be grateful for a clean head shot and no pellets in the breast - and yes, after I have a couple I try to make them each his apologies necessary, even if you do have to explain that fact to a camera shadow....shawn

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