Saturday, December 13, 2014

California wildlife managers ban prizes for competitive hunts

The California Fish and Game Commission voted last week to prohibit rewards for hunting contests involving species such as coyotes and foxes, classified by the state as non-game species or furbearers. Previously cash and merchandise prizes were awarded in competitions, often termed “predator derbies”, for contestants who harvested the most animals. The ban will not prohibit hunting the species, nor will it prohibit trophy hunts for game animals such as deer.
Read more about the ban at Reuters.

Before approving the measure, California Fish and Game President Michael Sutton said awarding prizes for killing the largest number of coyotes and other creatures was unethical and that such contests “are an anachronism and have no place in modern wildlife management.”

Note from Eric - The quote from Sutton above brings out an interesting nuance - it seems like he is saying that the attitude or mind set of the hunter is important as it relates to ethics. If you are doing it for fame or money primarily it is unethical. If you do it for challenge and utilization of the animal (honoring the animal) it is ethical.  

In a recent discussion on the controversial Idaho derby one of the Orion board members said this

Todd Wilkinson recently published an excellent piece that addresses several of the questions you raise below, Eric. I highly recommend it to all:

One of the most interesting observations of the researchers upon whom he is reporting is that most hunters of conventional game animals (i.e. those that will become meat) report deep feelings of empathy with their prey, whereas predator hunting seems to be rooted in a lack of empathy. Ironic, to say the very least.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Man Charged for Feeding Bears

Press Release

For Immediate Release:  July 15, 2014
Media Contact:  Col. David LeCours, 802-828-1529; Forrest Hammond, 802-885-8832

Man Charged for Feeding Bears

MONTGOMERY, Vt. -- A Montgomery Vermont man was charged by the Fish & Wildlife Department for intentionally feeding bears.   

Jeffrey Messier, 54, of Black Falls Road was charged with feeding bears after Game Warden Sgt. Carl Wedin received a report of a bear being killed in self-defense at a neighboring residence on June 22, 2014.  Sgt. Wedin responded and recovered the bear.  Its stomach contained a large number of sunflower seeds. 

The investigating warden went to Jeffrey Messier’s residence where he discovered evidence of bear feeding and encountered a bear walking around the residence.  The bear showed no sign of being afraid of people and walked right up to the warden.  The bear then approached a picnic table where sunflower seeds were placed.  It was obvious to the warden that this bear had been intentionally fed on several occasions and had lost its fear of humans. 

Further investigation by Sgt. Wedin revealed that several other bears also came to the residence often enough to be named and that many of them in recent years may have been killed or injured in incidents with other landowners.

According to the Vermont Fish &Wildlife Department, black bears are found in most forested portions of Vermont where they rely on wild foods such as berries, cherries, beechnuts, apples and acorns to survive.  But the department also points out that bears can easily become attracted to other foods such as birdseed, garbage and pet food. 

“Bears are normally shy and not aggressive toward humans,” says bear biologist Forrest Hammond.  “However, a bear that has been fed by humans soon loses its shyness and can become dangerous, especially to the landowner feeding the bears and to their neighbors.  Often, as in this case, fed bears will seek similar foods elsewhere, and in the process cause property damage and scare people not expecting to find bears on their porches and in their back yards.”  

“At this time we are responding to reports throughout the state of bears causing damage while attempting to get at chicken feed, bird seed, stored garbage, and food kept in screened porches.   In most cases this does not end well for the bears.”

“People such as Mr. Messier that feed bears often think they are helping them,” said Hammond, “but in reality such behavior causes problems for other landowners and often ends with the death of the bears being fed.  When we start receiving multiple reports of bears causing problems in an area we most often find that someone is intentionally feeding them.” 
The intentional feeding of bears is illegal in Vermont.  If convicted Messier faces a fine of up to $1,000 and a one-year revocation of his hunting, fishing and trapping licenses.

For information about living with Vermont’s black bears, see the Vermont Fish & Wildlife website (

Thursday, April 24, 2014

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

When my ECS Gordie was a youngster, we each enjoyed a two-for-two day hunting woodcock. I killed both birds he flushed with two shots, and he made two finds and retrieves.

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible cleanly to kill wild upland birds on the wing in the gnarly places where they live. I cringe whenever dispatching a wounded woodcock after it freezes me with an icy stare from a baleful eye.

Bird hunters have long been told that burning powder on the clays field is the best method for minimizing crippling shots. For the hunter just as for the inquisitive violinist in the title, their mutual solution has always been “practice, practice, practice.” Having great equipment well suited to the job at hand is certainly part of any performance equation. But for some of us geezers, performance improvement is primarily an internal process.

And so I had mixed feelings when I learned the other day that an American arms manufacturer is offering a $5,500 “integrated shooting system.” In an article introducing this arm in October, 2013, the company stated “The advanced internal ballistics computer immediately generates a firing solution….” That sounds less like the deer hunting I know and more like Burt Lancaster loading a forward-tube torpedo for a bow shot on the Akikaze in the Bungo Straits. My problem with this, after chewing on it for a few days, is that it replaces the internalized “practice, practice, practice” with its external substitute “purchase, purchase, purchase.”

The possibility that this “shooting system” may reduce crippling shots is attractive, even if the hunter’s shooting skill is improved simply through his wallet. Further, it seems to me that some if not many fair chase issues concern events happening before the shot rather than during the shot. To the extent that’s true, I’m not sure that this system, while still something I’d probably not choose to use for aesthetic reasons, runs afoul of fair chase hunting.

But I’m no expert. So, like some callers to radio talk shows, having set the table, I’ll just hang up and listen.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Posewitz recieves BHA's Aldo Leopold Award

DENVER, CO - Four sportsmen from across the West were presented with awards at the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers' Annual National Rendezvous in Denver, in recognition of their outstanding contributions to protecting backcountry habitat and promoting conservation efforts.

Jim Posewitz of Helena, Montana; Bob Mirasole of Chattaroy, Washington; Oscar Simpson

of Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Scott Willoughby of Eagle, Colorado were the recipients of this year's awards.

"The awardees truly embody the boots-on-the-ground conservation ethic our membership values" said National Board Member and Awards Committee Chair, Jay Banta. "These guys live for hunting and fishing the backcountry and have dedicated a good part of their lives to keeping that tradition alive. Our national awards are but one small way to distinguish their ongoing efforts."

Jim Posewitz of Helena, Montana received the Aldo Leopold Award, which is given to an individual or a group who has done meritorious work on preserving backcountry values and land habitats. Posewitz retired from the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in 1993 and went on to found Orion, the Hunters Institute, a sportsmen organization that leads the conversation about hunting ethics and fair chase. Jim is also the author of numerous influential books on fair chase and our hunting traditions.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Is It Hunting?

This essay is cross-posted with permission from Phillip Loughlin's Hog Blog.
Is It Hunting?
April 7, 2014
Last week, my brother and I spent two full days at Crystal Creek Bowhunting, a high fence ranch over near Del Rio, Texas.  Our plan was to target axis deer and hogs.  The package we paid for also allowed us to shoot a turkey.  We could swap the axis for any other exotic we encountered, which could have included sika deer, blackbuck antelope, or various sheep (ramboulet, mouflon, aoudad, or hybrids).
Each of us spent one arrow, shot at wild hogs during the last light of the first night’s hunt (neither of us connected).  Each of us also passed up a single shot opportunity at a ”wild” sheep during the trip.  I got caught flat-footed by a big tom turkey that snuck in through the brush and suddenly appeared, five yards away.  Other than that, we had no shot opportunities and spent the majority of the time in the field enjoying the plethora of birds that flock through Texas during the spring migration.  I may have napped a little in the warm, spring morning sun.  Neither of us killed anything except time.
During the trip, the contentious debate about high fence hunting kept running through my mind.  In particular, I kept thinking about the insistence by some folks that high fence hunting isn’t hunting at all.  The argument centers on the fact that high fence hunting is easy, and that the animals don’t have a fair chance of escape.
So is it the difficulty of the hunt that makes it “hunting”?
I’ve got a spot at the Tejon Ranch, back in California, where I could guarantee a shot at a wild hog.  Even better, I could just about pinpoint when the animals would appear, and where they’d show up first.  Everyone I ever took to that spot had at least one shot opportunity.  I am certain that, had I wanted to do so, I could have laid around camp all day long, driven out to that spot in the last half hour before sunset, and killed a hog (if I shot straight)… every trip.
Tejon isn’t a high fence ranch.  There were no feeders, and no food plots.  Was that “hunting”?
When I was guiding for mule deer out at Coon Camp Springs, in California’s eastern Sierra, my clients had a 100% shot opportunity rate.  Once I learned the lay of the land, I had specific areas that almost always produced deer.  By the time the clients showed up, I could usually have them tagged out within two days… often sooner.
Coon Camp Springs is about 7000 acres of unfenced land, surrounded by millions more acres of public and private property.  With the exception of some habitat restoration work, there is nothing unusual there to specifically attract or hold deer.  But the hunts were typically easy.  Was that “hunting”?
A few years back, I joined my brother on his first elk hunting trip.  The first morning, the sun came up on us about four or five miles into the Uncompahgre Wilderness.  We were surrounded by elk.  Fifteen minutes later, my brother had a 320″ bull on the ground.  The next morning, I set up on the edge of some dark timber while the guide and wrangler took the horses down to pack out my brother’s bull.  By the time they got back up the mountain to where I was, I had almost finished skinning and boning out my own bull.  Sure, it was a fairly long hike in and out, but it wasn’t what I’d call a “hard” hunt.  In fact, it was far easier than some high fenced, hog hunts I’ve been on.  Was it “hunting”?
Enough with the redundancy, then.
Besides the relative ease of all of those hunts, high fence and low, they share one other thing in common.  I enjoyed them.  Even the ostensibly “fruitless” bow hunt on the high fence ranch was a great time.  I had fun, and really, isn’t that what hunting is about?
There are people who would tell me that my visit to that high fence ranch wasn’t “hunting”.  But I have to say, it sure felt like it to me.  As I sat there with my release clipped on, waiting with ragged breath and racing pulse for the spotted boar to take just two more steps… it felt like any other time or place, sitting in the same position with the same apprehensive tension.  Or leaning back in the stand, nearly dozing under the late morning sun… I could have been on any hillside in any place.  And later, around the skinning pole with the guys who were successful, it was the same jokes and banter that I’ve heard around skinning poles in every state and setting I’ve ever experienced.
No, I was there… and I’m pretty certain I was hunting.  I am also dead sure that I enjoyed the experience, and it makes me wonder; in what world ruled by reason and logic could anyone tell me that I didn’t?
Isn’t that a foolish thought… to tell someone else that they couldn’t have enjoyed an experience because you wouldn’t enjoy it yourself?
Is it hunting?  It is to me.  Maybe it doesn’t meet your definition, but that’s alright.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Fair Chase and the Hunt for Survival

The following is an essay I was invited to write for the Center for Humans and Nature on the question, "Does hunting make us human?" I focused in on the question, "Is hunting still important to humans in the modern era? Does it still contribute to our being human? And if so, is it a good thing?"

"...I contend that modern fair chase hunting contains a seed that could spark a transformation in our relationship to nature. I am cautiously optimistic because this love of the hunt has sparked a transformation before."

Friday, March 28, 2014

Trying to find the bright line in a pile of sand...

At the recent Orion and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers joint Board meetings this issue came up as it relates to smart rifles and other technologies. Below is a slightly edited post that was on this Blog in 2012 as it relates to canned hunts:

In a recent article, “Canned Hunting: Don’t Call It Hunting!” outdoor writer David Petersen discusses the difference between fair chase and canned hunts, and he quotes Orion founder Jim Posewitz approvingly. 

“A fenced shoot,” Posewitz writes, “is just the sale of a fabricated image to people who have neither the skill nor the inclination to obtain the real thing.”

Petersen agrees, and argues, “There is honorable hunting, and there is cowardly captive killing. The motivations and characters defining each are as distinct as day and night.”

Petersen is wrong.  The motivations and character of hunters are NOT as distinct as day and night.  There is no distinct line between canned hunts on the one hand, and fair chase on the other.

The difference between honorable hunting and cowardly hunting does not depend on the presence or absence of a fence.  Ideals of honor and cowardice, however, as well as ideals of fair chase, depend crucially on the hunter, and upon the hunter’s skills and aptitude. 

Fair chase has traditionally been defined relative to the animal—in particular, to the animal’s ability to escape. 

What’s missing in most debates about fair chase is the awareness that we need also to define fair chase relative to the human hunter—and to be specific, to the individual hunter’s ability to hunt. (And here we also know that hunters come in all shapes, sizes, interests, and abilities.)

Furthermore, we must acknowledge that there is a fundamental ambiguity to the very concept of fair chase. This ambiguity involves the philosophical problem of vagueness, a problem that has long been identified by philosophers as the sorites paradox, from the Greek term meaning “heap” or “pile.” 

The paradox is this:  start with a pile of sand, and begin removing the sand, one grain at a time.  At what point does the pile or heap become a “non-heap”?

The thought experiment can also be run in reverse: start with a grain of sand, and add to it another grain of sand. Do you now have a pile of sand?  Of course not.  Now add a third grain.  Is it a heap yet?  Of course not.  Now, continue adding sand, one grain at a time . . .  at what point do you have a heap of sand? 

The upshot is that there is no clear dividing line between having one or two grains of sand (that might constitute the concept dust) and having a pile, or a heap, or even a mountain of sand.  Thus the very concept of heap or pile or mountain is ambiguous.

Baldness is another inherently ambiguous concept (my own baldness, however, is clearly unambiguous). Begin with a full head of hair and remove it one hair at a time. When do you cross the line from having hair to being bald? (For me, it was around the age of 20!) 
Author Jim Tantillo
Trying to define fair chase is exactly like this—like trying to define “baldness” or “pile.”

So what does all this have to do with hunting?

On the one hand, or to be more precise, on one end of the spectrum (and spectrum, a term from physics, is exactly the right term to use) we have hunting practices that are clearly akin to a single grain of sand or to my gloriously bald pate. 

To illustrate the point: imagine a deer chained to a post in a 10’x10’ chain-link enclosed pen, being shot at close range. Clearly this is not fair chase:  the deer has no ability to avoid death, and the hunter needs no ability at such close range either to pursue or to shoot the tethered animal.

Remove the tether.  Now the deer is in a 10 x 10 enclosure, but can move around.  Is this fair chase?  Clearly the hunter is at more of a disadvantage than in the first scenario: the deer may jump at precisely the same moment as he/she squeezes the trigger, and the hunter may wound the animal or possibly even miss entirely.  It may take two shots to bring the animal down, particularly for a poor marksman.

Does this second scenario constitute fair chase?  Clearly not, the animal is still enclosed, and little to no skill is needed on the part of the hunter.

Let us now imagine that we expand the enclosure—how about a full acre?  And while we are at it, let’s add an acre’s worth of brushy vegetation.  The deer has the ability to roam about, but the hunter must still stay out of the fence to shoot the animal.

All the hunter need do in this case, is wait patiently for the deer to come along within view inside the fence, and take a killing shot.

Is this fair chase?  Probably not, although now the lines are getting a little more fuzzy.  How does waiting outside the fence differ from an archer sitting and waiting in a tree stand?  But I’ll leave that question for another essay.

Let’s keep going, trying to get closer to fair chase.  Let’s put a gate in the fence, and allow the hunter to enter and pursue the animal within the one-acre confines of the enclosure.  The animal can still move around and has plenty of early-successional shrubland (let’s go ahead and fill the enclosure with thorny multiflora rose and honeysuckle) in which to hide.

Now it takes the hunter the better part of a morning to locate, stalk, and shoot the deer.  But after several hours of patient stalking, the hunter is successful.

Does this “hunt” now constitute “fair chase”?  Observe that we have come a fair way from shooting the animal that was tethered inside what was essentially a dog pen.  

Most hunters still would not be comfortable labeling the one-acre stalk on a deer--multiflora rose or not--as a fair chase hunt.  And yet notice that some hunters might . . . .  We can imagine hunters with disabilities, for example, who might be content with such a one-acre stalk if confined to a wheel chair. Or a young hunter, just starting out, may appreciate and learn from such an experience.

Note that I am not implying that this necessarily would be a good hunt, for young hunters or hunters with disabilities.  I am simply suggesting that the hunt might provide sufficient challenge to each individual hunter, and each hunter might possibly go home satisfied with their hunting experience. 

Now let’s continue the sorites part of our thought experiment.  Let’s rerun the thought experiment a thousand times, adding one additional acre with each repetition.  First the hunter pursues the deer in a two-acre enclosure, and then in a three-acre enclosure . . . and so on, and so on, and so on.  (And let’s, for the sake of argument, assume there is only a single, individual deer to be pursued—not legions of overpopulated deer as occur in many areas of the country.)

At what point does the enclosure become large enough that we cross a line between canned hunting and fair chase?

Perhaps never, for some hunters.  For them, hunting inside a fence is always unethical.  But for others, trying to pursue a single deer in a 1,000-acre enclosure, or a 5,000-acre enclosure, or a 20,000-acre enclosure, would be challenging and fair regardless of the proximity of the fence. 

So now let’s just remove the fence.  And imagine the same, solitary, single deer roaming about unrestricted over a 20,000-acre, or 50,000-acre, fenceless area.  Would this hunt now constitute fair chase?

I’m pretty sure if you plunked down a hard-core deer hunter, and took away his tree stand, and made him stalk a single deer over 50,000 acres (that’s 78.125 square miles!), he or she would most likely call that a fair chase hunt.

While I myself might never hunt a captive animal in a high fence setting, unlike David Petersen I am not about to tell someone else that they should not do so.  As long as a hunter conscientiously strives for a clean, quick, one-shot kill, and does so safely while respecting the law, then that hunter acts ethically and morally.

The difference between canned hunting and fair chase is like the difference between a grain of sand and a pile of sand.  When viewed on each end of the hunting spectrum, fair chase and canned hunting are clearly different.  But there is no distinct line, no clearly unambiguous boundary, to be drawn between fair chase and canned hunts, or between honorable hunters and cowards.

Jim Tantillo is the Executive Director of Orion, The Hunters’ Institute. He has M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University, where he currently also teaches ethics and environmental philosophy in the Department of Natural Resources.

A grouse hunting purist, Jim will generally argue until he is blue in the face that the One, True, Correct Way to Hunt Grouse is with a 16 gauge Parker double gun over the staunch point of a well-trained English setter.  In the spirit of political toleration, however, he also argues until he is equally blue in the face that his retriever- and spaniel-owning friends be permitted to hunt grouse legally as they see fit, despite their aesthetically misguided preferences for flushing dogs or 12 gauge autoloaders!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Caretaker and a Killer: How Hunters Can Save the Wilderness

From the Atlantic on line by Tovar Cerulli, co-chair of the Back Country Hunters and Anglers

Stereotypes of gun-toting brutes and tree-hugging hippies miss the basic facts about who is protecting nature—and why.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

For those that are "Condemed to the core of relentless citizens" advocating for conservation.

Get a cup of tea, pull up a chair and soak in this mindful video from Shane Mahoney at Pheasant's Forever's Rally for Conservation:


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Beyond Fair Chase

A wonderful memory and endorsement of Orion's founder Jim Posewitz and of his influential book Beyond Fair Chase in the blog The Starving Sportsman :
...We were all given a book in these classes.  Beyond Fair Chase by Jim Posewitz.  I remember sitting and reading this book in my room from front to back in one sitting.  It’s not a big book but when it took my literally 5 years to read “Five Years to Freedom”, you get the idea I'm not much of a reader.  I found my original copy that was given to me while sitting in that high school study hall room so long ago this past weekend.
I remember some stories in it vividly.  The one about the hunter not knowing if he should take the shot.  The bow hunter who vowed to never hunt the next season if he did not find his bull, yet after 30 days of searching he was able to finally tag his bull in a clearing he had walked by many times the previous month.  This book is filled with so much of what a hunter should be and strive to be.  ETHICS…

Read the entire post here.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Senate passes ‘conservation-minded’ Farm Bill

This is very good news for wildlife and wildlife habitat. Thanks to everyone who called and wrote their Congressman and Senators.

 US Capitol
Photo courtesy
After three years of hard work, the Farm Bill has passed the U.S. Senate and is on the way to President Obama’s desk. This afternoon, the Senate voted 68-32 in support of the bill, advancing the mammoth legislation and helping secure critical private-lands conservation programs key to hunting and fishing in the United States.
Read more on the TRCP website.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

IRIS active alert system for hunters. Field demo

Interesting technology from New Zealand.
Another back up to reduce mistaken for game shootings, but certainly not to be relied on. I think it may be more valuable as a reminder to keep your muzzle in a safe direction with in your hunting group.
The most compelling argument against it's use is not all hunters will have the sensors needed to make it work. and non-hunters even more so. But, that was the argument used against hunter orange, and it has definitely reduce shooting related hunting accidents.

Watch IRIS in action

IRIS contribution to safe hunting