Friday, January 29, 2010

What is Hunting - a philosophical view

There is an interesting series of posts going on at the Hog Blog started on The Thinking Hunter titled An Approach To The Hunter Ethic Problem. Due to the depth of the discussion they have decided to discuss it as a blog forum. To catch up please click on the above links and read the posts. It will be worth your time.

As the readers of this blog know the topic of ethical hunting and the concept of fair chase is at the core of the founding of Orion-The Hunters' Institute, founder Jim Posewitz's books and much of my work at VT Fish and Wildlife and with the IHEA.
Last winter Orion teamed up with the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation and Colorado State University to host a think tank on hunting and how hunting could be framed so society would view it in a positive light in the 21st century. Participants included PhD's, state and federal folks, academics and a some NGO leaders. As many of these things go the discussion led to some very interesting but different than planned places. Copied below is an edited version of the report I put together following the retreat. Dr. James Tantillo is currently working on an in depth article as a follow up to our work.

Hunting Think Tank Report
16-18 January 2009

Why are our experiences and this discussion relevant?

The future of hunting is uncertain with hunter numbers on the decline and a big drop off coming as the baby boomers become too old to actively hunt. How we define ourselves will have an impact on this future. If the threshold of what is allowed, either legally or ethically, is set too low, people could decide not to try hunting because they don’t want to associate with folks they perceive to be behaving poorly. To offset this we could take the “elitist, yet democratically available notion” that narrowly defines hunting and makes all other practices illegal.
On the other hand, if the bar is set too high some people will be excluded and never get started. Taking an inclusive approach allows a diversity of philosophies, motivations, and behaviors and follows the Jeffersonian notion of live and let live.

What are the pros and cons of using a broad or narrow definition of hunting?

On the pro side, the higher numbers of hunters translates into financial and political support for agencies and conservation. However, this user-pays model is not viable now and will be less viable in the future, as more non-traditional wildlife users demand more services from Fish and Wildlife agencies.
More hunters also help with hunter recruitment (it takes a hunter to make a hunter has been the mantra).
On the con side, the attractiveness of hunting diminishes as it moves towards the lowest denominator. Non-hunters’ support for hunting in the context of hunter conduct, fair chase, utilization, etc. could and probably will erode if the definition is too inclusive.
Eric Nuse - Is sport an adequate term to explain hunting? It doesn’t seem to go quite far enough to justify the death of the animal. Should we coin a new word or find a better one to represent the context of what hunting represents? Words that come to mind are: the sacred sport or beyond sport, spirit of sport…
Should we come up with an adjective to describe hunting such as: responsible hunting, modern hunting, certified hunter…Or would it be better (although harder) to elevate the term hunting to where we feel it should be and debunk the negatives now attached to it by some?

What is recreational hunting: a conceptual model

Dr. Tantillo presented his research on hunting as a sport. Starting with play (unstructured or free, done for pure enjoyment) to games (rules, specific setting, goals, can be competitive, but done for its own sake) to sport (physical, written and unwritten rules, takes effort, competitive, done for the enjoyment).
Logically speaking, hunting as a voluntary leisure activity (play) has structure and rules that make it structured play (game) and a physical aspect that make it a physical game (sport). These relations are logically entwined whether we like the term 'sport' or not.
Why this matters is because the structure and rules of the game give rise to our concepts and beliefs about fair play and fair chase. Again, this is true whether we like the term 'sport' or not.
Some sports are a variation referred to as athletics. Here the goal is to get the prize, to beat the competition and win. The goal of sports like hunting is in the enjoyment, or recreation of the activity itself ---getting the deer is icing on the cake. The possibility of the kill is necessary but accomplishing it is not, because the joy is in the striving or the hunt.
J.W. Keating addresses this in his1964 article in the journal Ethics, "Sportsmanship as a Moral Category," where he writes about the "purpose" of sport: The primary purpose of sport is not to win the match, to catch the fish or kill the animal, but to derive pleasure from the attempt to do so and to afford pleasure to one's fellow participants in the process.
Tantillo thinks this gets the issue exactly right, and offers one reason why food-based justifications fail: they make hunting ALL about the results, meaning, all about the killing. A hunt is not successful unless it yields meat. The pleasure of the hunt is the hunt itself.
Understanding hunting as a sport helps to cut through the complexity and diversity of hunting practices. Hunting as a sport and the concept of fair play or fair chase in hunting have infinite variety; thus, the notion that hunting is an open concept. It can be defined at the value level in the context of sport, but definitions seem to fall apart at the position or specific practice level.
This understanding could help hunters think about what they do, align their behavior with their reasons for hunting and assist in communicating this clearly to others. If we are successful, hunters will not have to sell the value of hunting. We will have to demonstrate that it is part of our sacred world and as important to our lives as religion and other types of recreation are to all people.
The importance of placing hunting right in the middle of the play universe, delays the tricky question (justifying death of animal) for later.

Additional Comments

Jim Posewitz summed it up: “Play>recreation>re-creation>eating the hunted validates the hunter and the hunted. "The Hunt" is born as play amid the pure joy of nature; the game becomes recreation to nature as re-creation. Through the kill and utilization, the hunted and hunter becomes one. When the hunted's renewal precedes all else, the circle closes and the game, sealed in blood, becomes sacred. They become one. Hunters validate the relationship when they assure the environment is suitable for the hunter and the hunted.
John Edwards – Rather than spend our energy defending the term sport hunting -that we already know many hunters and non-hunters find distasteful- maybe a better approach is to define what hunting is in the context of sport and pleasure without using the modifier.
Jim Tantillo - The importance of keeping the modifier 'sport' in mind is that logically this concept provides the only possible explanation of where ideas of "fair chase" come from, i.e. from ideals of "fair play" and sportsmanship--and explains why these ideals are important for thinking about recreational hunting. Whereas law obligates us to maintain the bare minimum standards of codified acceptable behavior, sportsmanship holds us to higher, uncodified standards of behavior, i.e. to standards of fair chase.
And we *voluntarily* elect to follow these higher standards, as opposed to being obligated (legally or otherwise) to follow them.

Other benefits of hunting; and confusing these benefits with why we hunt

If you want to play, you need a playground. Our playground is the environment and all the necessities of life, which are necessary for our lives and the lives of all the animals including those we don’t hunt. Creating this playground takes money, knowledge and skill. All of which hunters have supplied, thus the success of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. But all of these good things are not why we hunt.
When we try to justify hunting on these results, it comes off as self-serving and is easily countered. For example, a common justification for hunting is controlling populations. This falls apart when you look at a hunted species such as woodcock. There is no overpopulation of woodcock, yet we hunt them (and many other species like them). Does that mean they should not be hunted? Even species that need population control can be controlled by many other means such as sharp shooters, elimination of critical habitat or the introduction of predators.

Sacred vs. Profane

The profane world is the world of work and subsistence. You do work because you must in order to live. The sacred world gives you the reason to live beyond the basics of reproduction and survival. Play/games/sport are in the sacred sphere and are critical for man’s psychological and spiritual well-being.
History shows that the Greeks hunted rabbits for fun. Sport hunting has a far longer history than the 100 year span that most people think.
(The rest of this section was added by Jim Tantillo)
The connection of sport to religion is made most explicitly in the literature pertaining to the philosophy of sport, for example in Charles Prebish's anthology, Religion and Sport: The Meeting of Sacred and Profane.
But before we ask how sport can be seen as religious, we need first to see more fundamentally how play and leisure are sacred to humans.
At the risk of over generalizing, the sociology of religion typically characterizes our daily work or our routine daily toil as the realm of the ordinary, i.e., as the realm of the profane; whereas play, leisure, festivity, and celebration are the realm of the sacred.
In Leisure as the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper writes, "Leisure is only possible when a man is at one with himself, when he acquiesces to his own being. . . . Leisure, it must be clearly understood, is a mental and spiritual attitude."
This insight highlights the importance of meaningful leisure activities such as hunting for human happiness. In this sense leisure (as is play) is generally seen in contrast to work. Pieper comments:
"Compared with the exclusive ideal of work as toil, leisure appears . . . in its character as an attitude of contemplative 'celebration,' a word that, properly understood, goes to the very heart of what we mean by leisure."
As regards hunting, one might argue that it is the experience of authentic leisure in hunting that is the spiritual experience, not necessarily the experience of hunting per se. Or stated another way, it is the contemplative aspect of hunting that we enjoy most when hunting,.
Here again we see the importance of interpreting hunting fundamentally as a form of play, i.e., as first and foremost a form of recreational activity. As Huizinga writes in Homo Ludens:
"PLAY. It is an activity that proceeds within certain limits of time and space, in a visible order, according to rules freely accepted, and outside the sphere of necessity or material utility. The play-mood is one of rapture and enthusiasm, and is sacred or festive in accordance with the occasion. A feeling of exaltation and tension accompanies the action."
Essayist Diane Ackerman builds upon Huizinga's themes in her book, Deep Play, and she emphasizes both the religious aspects of play but also echoes Pieper's view that leisure is a spiritual attitude:
"Deep play is the ecstatic form of play. In its thrall, all the play elements are visible, but they're taken to intense and transcendent heights. Thus, deep play should really be classified by mood, not activity. It testifies to how something happens, not what happens. Games don't guarantee deep play, but some activities are prone to it: art, religion, risk-taking, and some sports-especially those that take place in relatively remote, silent, and floaty environments, such as scuba diving, parachuting, hang gliding, mountain climbing.
"Deep play always involves the sacred and holy, sometimes hidden in the most unlikely or humble places-amid towering shelves of rock in Nepal; crouched over print in a dimly lit room; slipping on AstroTurf; wearing a coconut-shell mask. We spend our lives in pursuit of moments that will allow these altered states to happen. The Australian Aborigines search for it on wilderness treks called walkabouts, during which young men of the tribe go alone into the dangerous outback to gain strength and wisdom. Buddhist lamas and Hindu sadhus travel, nearly naked, to pray atop glacial mountains in Tibet. People from many cultures have gone on soul journeys into the wilderness, where risk, hunger, pain, exhaustion, and sometimes self-torture might inspire visions. Young Masai men set off on a pilgrimage to Mount Kilimanjaro, the sacred center of their world, as part of the initiation rite known as Moranism. Native Americans have often used ritualized running to scale mental heights. The Hopis stage many such races every year, featuring paint, costumes, fasts, and prayer. The Crow Indians run to exhaustion to persuade the gods that they deserve good luck. The Zuni run twenty to forty miles while kicking a sacred stick. The official purpose of these ordeals may be religious, but the physiological goal is to impel the initiate into a higher state of consciousness that kindles visions and insights, in a locale where survival may depend on a combination of ingenuity and nerve."
The literature on play, deep play, and the theology of play is vast. I used "sacred" and "profane" at the McGraw think tank as a kind of shorthand for the entire subject. To me the concept of hunting as play, i.e. as deep play, again is what explains so much, from understanding the rules of fair chase as resulting from the structure of hunting as play to the experience of the spiritual felt by hunters when they truly lose themselves in the activity.

Harm vs. Offense

This concept can be summed up as follows: “Your freedom to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose.” Swinging a fist may be offensive but it is tolerated up to the point of doing harm. The American form of democracy allows for offensive people to do what they want as long as they do no harm.
This question gets tricky when you try to look at hunting practices through the eyes of non-hunters and when you project into the future. How much political consideration should be included in our decision making on practices that may hurt the future of hunting?

Definition of Hunting

Sunday morning we came back to the definition of hunting. On Saturday, we were divided on whether we should try to draw a line in the sand – on this side was hunting; on that side was shooting or killing or something else. Was high-fence hunting doing us harm or was it offensive? (It was noted that reasons to oppose high fence operations-such as denial of wildlife as a public resource; thus the denial of several components of the North American Model, such as “public resource”, “democracy of allocation” and allocation by law, among others-are the best arguments against captive shooting operations.)
How about preserve bird hunting such as is practiced on the grounds where we were meeting? Again, evaluation of the circumstances is important, in this case looking at it from topography or location. The McGraw Center is an island of opportunity set in a sea of concrete/suburbia 40 minutes from downtown Chicago. It is as good as could be done in this place and time. Whereas, a western wilderness of millions of acres of public lands is as good as could be done in that place and time- both the product of the conservation ethic of hunters.
Conversely, a high fence operation out on the vast open spaces of
Texas represents a denial of the North American Model and a retreat to the fortress that is not necessary for any real conservation purpose.
Consensus began to emerge that most of these practices did not rise to the level of harm, from the hunter ethic view. Most of us felt that they and some other hunting methods did serve as an entry point for new hunters and opened the possibility for them to gain more skill, so they too could eventually enjoy a wilder and more challenging hunting experience in the future.
Edwards’ comment - We started to consider the benefits of hunting and hunter numbers and explored the idea that if the results of the hunting practice are positive then the practice should be accepted and would constitute hunting. Much of this we wrestled with and I don’t think that we really arrived at a consensus – several unresolved issues. Do we want to make these “open” ideas available to misinterpretation?

Framework for thinking through hunting ethics and esthetics/preferences

We decided it would be very helpful for agencies, rule-making boards and hunters to develop a framework to assist in working through what is acceptable hunting and what is not. This could be in the form of a series of questions, a decision tree or something else. If we do this well, such a framework could over time become the equivalent of the seven sisters of the North American model, and we could offer talks, workshops, and guidelines for asking these questions and making informed decisions. This process could also help locate areas of disagreement and help focus the debate where it will do the most good. Currently there is a lot of time is wasted on fighting over preferences (mistaken for ethics), which only divides hunters and distracts from the pressing issues.


  1. Eric, I am looking forward to reading the proceedings of this conference. Do you have any time frame for when it will be released? This will be an important addition to my library and I'm sure will figure in to my future research.
    Galen Geer

  2. Good stuff, Eric. It's a tricky conversation indeed, which is one reason I'm glad we're having it. I'm not sure we'll see an "answer" to the questions... or at least not a single answer. As Galen pointed out in his earlier posts, and you alluded to here, much of it comes down to a consideration of the circumstances... it's situational.

    Thanks for jumping into the conversation!

  3. I agree that how a hunter acts and what they choose to do depends on the situation. But I also believe it must be rooted in a solidly thought out foundation and fall within the sideboards of the culture and laws of the area.
    For my hunter education teaching I define ethical hunting as
    1. Safe
    2. Legal
    3. Clean one shot kills
    4. Full utilization and/or serious purpose
    5. Fair chase (the outcome of the hunt or kill is always in doubt up until the final moment.)
    I also add to be an ethical hunter one must become a conservationist and do all you can to give back to wildlife and wild places, which includes the future of hunting.
    This is a pretty tall order for new hunters and an ongoing challenge for all hunters. But it is a pretty good goal, and with work you can get pretty close!

  4. Hi Eric,
    Could you expound upon number 4 a bit for me? Utilizatoin and purpose are two concepts that I've had trouble working around in my own research because they often seem to be trapped in abiguity and some additional insight would be greatly appreciated.

  5. Galen,
    Utilization is the old - if you shoot it, you eat it/or skin it idea. Serious purpose expanse this to include population /damage control or other legitimate reasons to kill wildlife where they are not used directly by people. You could argue that this is more of a cull shoot and not hunting, but most people use the words interchangeably.
    The kill is where folks have problems with agreeing that hunting is a sport. Up to then most are OK with it. It seems to me the utilization/serious purpose helps make the kill OK. Lots of survey work with non-hunters shows support for hunting if the animal is eaten. Without using it the support drops off the chart.

  6. Much to chew on here. A couple random thoughts:

    1. I hate the term "sport" with regard to hunting. I understand its origins - to distinguish what we do from market hunting that was decimating species - but the very word suggests that we do this for s**** and giggles, which is hardly true for the vast majority of us.

    2. I think the notions of 'play,' while fine in an academic setting, won't play (no pun intended) with the public. (Sorry, I work in academia now, but I'm a lifelong journalist firmly grounded in the real world.)

    3. I think the notions of fair chase have very little to do with hunter recruitment, unless the high priesthood of fair chase manages to codify its standards, which would reduce the ranks of hunters dramatically. In my experience - and I'm gathering quite a bit of experience working with new hunters in Northern California - what's bringing new adults into our fold is the notion of acquiring meat in a more respectful and more honorable way than buying factory-farmed crap at the grocery store.

    The reality of the situation is that new hunters will ALWAYS need some relatively easy opportunities so they can have their drive to hunt fed by a little success.

    When the San Francisco Chronicle did a story last summer on the Bull Moose Society - a group of young foodie hunters in SF - the comment thread was immense. Notable in those comments was some tough old-school moron who proceeded to berate members of this group for hunting high-fence ranches. Who cares how they hunted? They were LEARNING. In every teaching endeavor, we give students training wheels. As the students mature, most will seek greater challenge. Duh.

    4. I completely agree with you on the importance of utilization, preferably for meat, but definitely for something. I don't think most people can stomach the notion of death for amusement. If a shark kills me to eat me, then at least I'm food, part of the cycle of life. But if a shark kills me because it's funny to watch me die, I'm not down with that.

    Polls bear this out, as do my own experiences. The first thing non-hunters ask when they find out I hunt: "Do you eat what you kill?" That, for them, is the dividing line between good and bad. It was for me, too, before I became a hunter. I know some people want to kill for fun - coyotes, wolves, lions - and I try not to judge them for it. But they've got a high bar to meet in terms of public acceptance. With the exception of defending livestock, I don't know how to answer for them yet. Which is probably because I don't do what they do.

    My two cents. Glad this discussion is going. I'm wondering if there's a way we can move these great discussions to a single place - perhaps start a new blog with many contributors (like all the people commenting here) where we can post unique material or repost things we've written for our own blogs? Wouldn't be too hard to do.

  7. You don't need to hunt behind a fence to learn how to hunt. In fact, I believe it would be the worse way to learn. I learnt to hunt deer on my own - 4 years after I started I actually saw a deer. I followed a lot of footprints in the mud before I even saw a deer, but that is learning, and every deer up until then had beaten me. It showed me how stupid I was in the outdoors, and how smart the deer were. I learnt to hunt.

    I will never accept that hunting an animal behind a fence is teaching hunting. Sure, if you’re learning to track an animal or learning what they look like hidden in the woods etc, but actually drawing a sight bead on an animal that is ultimately penned in by wire – it’s sending the wrong message.

    We should be learning hunting in the wild environment where the animal numbers and densities are real – this teaches us to value true contact with the animals.

    We should also encourage and value those wild moments more: like the thundering hooves of the deer you’ve just spooked without seeing it! Now that’s a wonderful hunting moment, because you know, just then you got beaten by the animal and you still have a lot of learning to do. And that animal is as wild as the weather and you may never get another opportunity with it…unlike the fenced stag who might just be a valley or two over, or just behind the mountain where the fence is.

    The trouble is, there is a mind-set of hunters who believe they have to kill to have a ‘successful’ hunt. I feel this way myself sometimes, and have to check my thinking.
    We often think that conservation is about preserving wildlife, planting trees and finding money, and it is about those things, but it’s also about how we value our time in the wild places, and it’s this as hunters that we sometimes lose sight of.

    "Hunting is made up of stalking game and listening to the sounds of the forest. But mostly listening to the sounds of the forest." Zsigmond Széchenyi

    We should teach our hunting children that…not that we can hunt animals within fences because we’re just learning and here’s something connivent to shoot.

    And then there’s the people who complain that fences give others a chance to hunt near their town etc where they currently have no hunting. To them I say, would you like to move Mt Everest into Chicago as well? Part of the hunt is the preparation, the travel, the tramp (hike) in etc. If you can’t hunt at home, save for that one big trip (like I do) or move towns. I can’t surf in my home town: I don’t have surf at the farm gate.

    Finally, have we not witnessed enough destruction of wild animals through genetic manipulation for farmed “trophy hunting” enterprises (fenced hunts) to disgust us already? The Red deer now hunted in my country for trophies grow such huge and un-natural antlers that sometimes their skulls are splitting under the weight of antler mass. These “trophy” animals are bred like this for hunters who believe that fence shooting such stags is hunting. I’ve seen kids hunting tadpoles with more skill than these guys have, and the animals that we hunters have “farmed up” for these men with guns are jumping fences and mixing up pure wild subspecies across the globe.

    As hunters, we will only have integrity when we get back to the natural experience and stop pretending that artificial environments (fence hunts) have a place in hunting. We don’t need to come home with an animal to have a successful hunt.

    -Shaun B

  8. Shaun, I totally respect your feelings and decisions on this issue.

    Question: Do you believe that high-fence operations should not be allowed, even though other hunters may not share your feelings on the subject?

  9. Good question.

    I think that every hunting organization should actively discourage fence hunts and we should work to see ‘fair chase’ certified in some way, so that real hunting can be easy discerned by the public. It is the values attached to hunting that give it credibility and relevance in an age where it isn’t entirely necessary for survival. Although all sorts of pseudo arguments are made for hunting enclosures, if we’re honest, these are types of farmed hunts actually take more from hunting than they can offer.

    I personally don’t like more rules and laws, and I think that fence hunts would die a natural death if the general public were able to easily recognize an animal taken in an enclosure (farm / paddock / fence etc) as easily as say, recognizing American Made products. At the moment, these farm animals are being passed off as game taken through a true hunting experience, but we know that in many cases this just isn’t true, and it’s really this falsehood that drives fenced hunting and ruins the credibility of hunting as a modern past time.

    We recently had a front page newspaper story in my country, where a record breaking “trophy” stag was shot for $100,000. This stag was tame: rattle the feed bucket and it would come running for a handful of high protein nuts. The stag was shot in the paddock behind the hay barn, a few steps from the leather air-conditioned seat of the ‘hunters’ 4 x 4. But the photos of the hunter and the stag had our wonderful snow capped mountains in the background, and the guy all dressed up in camo hunting gear etc as if he’d just climbed and hunted half our Southern Alps and been fantastically successful on his hunting adventure.

    If we consider the actual event of the kill (of which there are hundreds others like this every year down here), we soon recognize that even a small boy wouldn’t find much challenge in shooting a stag in such a way. So why did this guy do it at such expense, and why did he take the lovely photos of himself posing as a grand hunter in a wild landscape?

    Because back home (America / Europe / Dubai – wherever it may be) nobody can tell for sure that he didn’t actually ‘hunt’ the animal in the true sense of the word. His staged photos suggest that he actually did, so in effect he is lying to everybody (maybe even himself) about the success he had. There is a whole industry built here on this type of thing (mostly American’s ‘hunting’ farmed stags, and recently chasing Tahr with helicopters until their feet bleed, and then shooting them etc.) The only reason they want to do this sort of thing is because as a group, hunters are not making them ashamed of their obviously poor actions. We are too accepting – as a whole – that there should be fenced hunts, guaranteed hunting (is that not an oxymoron?) and trophy record books that only pay token reference to their supposed fair chase rules etc. The general public is repulsed, and it easily slides into a front page story in some hunting communities, where real hunters are forever explaining the difference and defending true hunters everywhere.

    I believe, that once we start to reclaim hunting as the honest wildlife experience that many of us know it to be, then we will ensure a hunting future for our children long after we have started growing all our food in Petri dishes. Fences are not honest. Shooting from helicopters and vehicles is not honest. Shooting hand raised game isn’t honest. It’s up to us to defend hunting against these erosions.

  10. So you would eliminate pen-raised bird hunts too, put-and-take? That's where I find people usually waver on their fair chase stance.

    Here's a thought - and forgive me, but I love being a devil's advocate: It sounds like what you (and many hunters) hate about high-fence hunting is the braggarts who will pose for photos and brag to friends as if they actually worked hard for their kill. Do we hate their posing? Do we hate the fact that they didn't work as hard as we compel ourselves to? Or do we think there's a qualitative difference in the animal's death inside a fence?

    If we called it "animal husbandry with guns" would we feel differently about it? Is there a place in our world for people who want animals that ate natural food and used their muscles, and don't mind paying a fee to shoot them, rather than have someone else raise them in pens?

    I, too, hate posers and braggarts, but I'm not sure I'm willing to legislate against them. I'm kind of Libertarian that way. I mean, the situation you referred to sounds disgusting and embarrassing. But will a law or the admonishment by more distinguished hunters really prevent someone from doing that?

    Personally, I'm not sure I'm willing to lump that guy in with people who hunt in a 1,000-, 2,000- or 10,000-acre ranch, where animals are not cornered before being shot.

    Who decides where we draw the line at which the degree of challenge is sufficient to merit the term "hunting" - and the blessing of law?

    These are the questions that trouble me. Thanks for engaging in the conversation with me - I always learn from these things.

  11. Hi everybody,
    it's great to see such thoughtful discussion here, so thanks in advance to you all for that.

    It was helpful to me to review Eric's summary of the McGraw meeting from last year. Something that jumped out at me upon rereading those notes was Diane Ackerman's comment,

    "Thus, deep play should really be classified by mood, not activity. It testifies to how something happens, not what happens."

    I really like that, and I think that insight explains how even a high fence hunt can be a morally acceptable activity. By "mood" Ackerman refers to the state of mind of the hunter as what really counts . . . and I think that's right.

    Some hunters simply hunt for the wrong reasons, and we are right to judge them as people: e.g., possessing the character flaw of excessive pride if their real reason for hunting is self-aggrandizement. But that is a very, very different thing from judging the hunting activity itself.

    Anyway, I am coming into this conversation kind of late after taking a bit of a mental break (read: late season goose hunting--we had a great season, btw!), so I've got to warm up some after coming in from the cold. But I'm enjoying what I'm reading so far!!

  12. Theodore Roosevelt believed that one of the prime virtues of hunting was the strenuous life it required. He and his father believed that the eastern elite of their time were becoming femininized like the nobles of Europe and if American democracy was to survive this needed to be reversed.
    I've been tempted to include physical effort as a necessary ingredient to have ethically hunted, but would that mean that folks with physical disabilities or old feeble people could not ethically hunt?
    This gets us back to the fair chase problem where a challenge to one person is not to another. Perhaps the gap between the hunters skill and the situation on the ground or in this case the physical ability of the hunter and the ability needed to get to the animal and/or to make the kill is the real measure. Which still leaves the public perception/acceptance problem...

  13. If strenuous activity were to be a measure, I would be the most supremely ethical duck huntress because I hunt without a dog. I highly recommend it if you want to get lots of exercise. I've actually lost weight this duck season. LOL.

  14. I've tried to train my hunting partner to retrieve but he doesn't take hand signals for beans. Plus he complains about the cold water and food all the time. I've gone back to Lab-a-dab-a-dors!

  15. I have learned to both give and receive hand signals, and occasionally I can be seen wagging my tail. Very unseemly.

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. Back to thinking thru how we should hunt and how we should behave - A pretty good measure for me is to think through how good of a story the hunt will make and how will my mother/father/hunter ed instructor/peers think it is. It eliminates the "I was road hunting, spotted a buck, jumped out of the truck, shot at it 5 times, got yelled at by the farmer and yup, I got my buck." type stories.
    I just read thru a bunch of Junior hunter stories as part of a contest VT sponsors. Lots of them had missed shots, parents helping with drives and hunting over food plots. But they all had lots of excitement, challenge and fun with family in them. I had no problem overlooking what some folks might say was less than ethical hunting.
    The good story test doesn't work so well when it is told at a bar or hunting camp with the ethically challenged shooter talking to his poacher buddies. But, if in the work we do as hunters and educators we give one of those guys the guts to say - "You know Buba, if you had even a small amount of hunting skill, some woods knowledge and a bit of strength; you wouldn't need to kill deer that way, you could actually hunt them." Now wouldn't that be something!

  18. There’s some good points in the arguments above, and some neat ways of looking at things. But in my mind, fair chase is fair chase. I don’t really know why people who support fair chase and its important place in hunting ethics find hand-raised birds acceptable. Again, they’re just using the birds to generate profit and artificially adjust the hunt; the practice doesn’t belong to honest ‘fair chase’ hunting. Anything hand raised is no longer a wild, free ranging animal. As hunters, we should be careful to manage our wild populations (and American’s do this very well, from what I understand) so that we value the wild experience over all else…personally, if that meant that I could only take one animal a year, then I’d be happy with that, as long as the honest wild experience is maintained.

    I don’t have a problem at all with a person’s lack of effort. I know hunters who hunt by sitting on their butts at their favorite spot – it works for them. Personally, I don’t hunt that way because I believe the exercise and physical challenge is good for me, but I don’t have a problem with people who don’t believe that. And if somebody steps out of the truck, walks one hundred yards into the wilderness and by complete fluke bags the biggest elk in history, then good luck to them! That’s called good luck, and I hope I have my share! I was a days hike from the nearest road once, when I nice stag walked right into my camp while I was cooking dinner – I got such a surprise that he happily managed to walked right away again. *laughs* But that was a lucky encounter, and had nothing to do with “effort” etc.

    But to walk out there knowing the elk is fenced in, and then you have a different set of factors. And of course, once you include the fence you include farming – known animal quality – market driven management…and you end up with “pretend hunters” and Frankenstein animals bred to fit the ambitions of men, and not to maintain the wild and healthy herd.

    As hunters we should promote a very strict sense of ethics to protect what hunting really is: the natural outdoor experience in pursuit of a game animal. Those ethics should include zero wastage, protection of habitat, protection of species etc and promotion of hunting values (caliber limits / cruelty etc); all of those things listed above in a pervious post, without the lame ‘fair chase’ qualifier.. Once we drift away from those basics (and others I’ve not mentioned), we end up undermining the true hunting experience in a way that it just doesn’t deserve. Hunting should be an honest, truthful pursuit.

    Do I have a problem with somebody humanly shooting an animal behind a fence and harvesting it as organic meat? No.
    Do I have a problem with somebody humanly shooting an animal behind a fence and pretending that’s representative of hunting? Yes.
    Because it doesn’t represent hunting and it’s that farce that ultimately leads to an erosion of understanding and public appreciation for hunting and its place in our future.


  19. Great conversation. Eric, you've hit some good points and I like where you're going... especially the reference to Diane Ackerman's idea.

    Likewise, Shaun raises some good points, although I'm not completely in agreement with some of them. I still have a real problem with generally defining "ethics" or "hunting" through a personal set of values.

    To keep the roundtable moving, I've tossed another couple pennies worth of commentary out on the Hog Blog: (…able-continues/)

  20. Hi Phillip,

    first off, they're not "personal values" as I'm suggesting hunting groups should be doing more to debate, define and promote these values.

    The problem I have with your argument that you suggest that we should simply “Hunt and live according to your [own] personal ethic.” I.e. each to his own.

    Yet Americans already have agreed seasons, bag limits, game tags etc that ensure everybody hunts by a general set of game management / ecological principles. Why not have those principles extend to the fair chase argument?

    There is nothing wrong with a community (in this case the hunting community) establishing protocols that morally encourage good conduct and protect traditional values. We do it in all facets of civilised society – driving speed limits, doctor/patient relationships, rules on the sports field etc, so I see no reason why we shouldn’t collectively debate, establish and extend similar guidelines to modern hunting. Hunting will only gain creditability.

    “At some point, you have to recognize that there’s no such thing as “fair chase”…”

    I don’t agree. It can be debated and defined if you’re prepared to have a go. It can’t if you lack the motivation. At the end of the day, we can define other concepts like “sportsmanship” and “good manners” etc in other fields of endeavour, so why can’t hunting groups define the values associated with honest hunting? And enforce those values through trophy certification etc.

    Ultimately I think our failure to do so will spell doom for hunting credibility as technology slowly but surely defeats all the senses of animals. Nigh vision equipment, satellite cameras, laser guided bullets, fences, hand raised game – you get the picture…next they’ll be wanting to shoot game from their computer terminals…each to their own, right!

    No way!

    The hunting community should be debating, defining and morally enforcing the original values of hunting – that great wilderness experience - or however you want to phrase it, so that it’s kept alive as a genuine human activity for our children and the children after them. Every time we make some excuse for fences or endorse some super technology to defeat the animals, we belittle that rich hunting heritage we all know and respect.



  21. I'm not going to respond to everything here because it's late, and I have to accept the fact that my regular job (teaching at a university) has resumed and requires me to not stay up all night debating.

    But two things in particular caught my attention:

    1. "Americans already have agreed seasons, bag limits, game tags etc that ensure everybody hunts by a general set of game management / ecological principles. Why not have those principles extend to the fair chase argument?"

    Why not? Because fair chase principles are a moral argument, bordering on religion, and we live in society in which we have growing acceptance - not resistance to - people making moral choices on their own, without government intervention. I live with my boyfriend "in sin." Not so many decades ago, this would have made me an outcast. In other times and even other modern societies, I could be killed for this - and my killers lauded.

    I think we can all agree on some basic tenets that I have yet to hear anyone argue against: following game laws designed to ensure the health of species (a common sense idea that ensures the longevity of hunting, if nothing else), and taking steps to achieve quick kills to prevent suffering (a basic sense that suffering is not desirable - and truly, only certain subsets of the mentally ill enjoy torture).

    But can we agree on the morality of certain types of hunts when that morality does not affect the lives and deaths of the animals and their species as a whole? Obviously not, because many of the hunts you abhor have a dedicated constituency. Shall we have an Inquisition to ferret them out and rid ourselves of them? I say no.

    2. "The hunting community should be debating, defining and morally enforcing the original values of hunting – that great wilderness experience - or however you want to phrase it, so that it’s kept alive as a genuine human activity for our children and the children after them."

    What, exactly, are the "original values of hunting" you're referring to? Personally, I like to go back about 2 million years. I'm not saying that facetiously. I like that hunting connects me to what I and my ancestors have done and been for 2 million years. Do we know what that looked like? Not exactly. But we can guess. We're hungry. Meat is good. Let's go get some. Obviously that's going to conflict with the tenets we can agree on now - preservation of species and potentially the quick kill idea (I'm thinking here of driving terrified herds of mastadons off cliffs and such).

    So, whose original values? Again, this is a question with some analogs in religion. Some people think Christ's values are original. Some people believe in Mohammad. Others, the heroes of the Old Testament. I believe your original values, Shaun, are reaching back about 100 years. But go back 50 years earlier and those original values read more like: "Manifest Destiny - head west, kill everything, and sell it at market, health of the species be damned!" You don't mean those values, do you? Because they're more "original" than the ones you're talking about.

    Of course there were no high-fence hunts back then (not that I know of), but there were punt guns that could take out hundreds of ducks - lured on the water - in a single shot.

    This is what Phillip is talking about. When you seek to impose a morality-based law on any society, the question of whose morality becomes very important. If it's your morality that wins, of course that's swell. But what about those of us who don't want other peoples' morality shoved down our throats when in fact what we're doing does no harm?

    I'm happy to keep debating and listening, but you haven't won me over. I used to think a lot more like you did. Then I had some debates with Phillip, and I listened to him and found he made a lot of sense.

  22. One clarification and one addition:

    I recognize that you said "morally enforcing," not "legislatively."

    That is slightly better, but still almost as troubling to me. I grew up atheist in a country where many people have no problem declaring this a "Christian nation" - Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists notwithstanding. I absolutely cannot stomach it when someone tells me his religion is the right one and I am wrong (if not outright destined to hell) for disagreeing. Hence the vehement nature of my remarks.

    I don't take back anything I said. But I thought it was worth explaining the source of the passion on the issue.

  23. I can’t stand people telling me what to do either, especially in relation to religion.

    But…I drive on the correct side of the road and I also give up my seat on the bus for old ladies. One is the law, the other is expected of me as a young man.


  24. I drive on the correct side of the road and I hold the door open for women and men of any age if I get there first, because that's how I was raised. Some men, particularly in the South, won't let me do what I view as common decency, which I find offensive, though for them it's just that they were raised to always hold the door open for a woman and to have a woman hold the door open for them is blasphemy. And some people don't hold doors open for me, which is irksome if my hands are full. But I'm not about to launch a campaign of social coercion to make any of those people live up to my standards. Perhaps they were simply raised in a place where all they're supposed to do is give up their seat on the bus for old ladies.

    If they are not doing harm or damage to society or property, who am I to impose my will on the choices they make? I am free to disdain them, but why must they do what I do?

    Your feelings about Fair Chase are your beliefs, not principles grounded in what can be scientifically determined to be best for the species. Why should your beliefs prevail over everyone else's? What if someone else has even more restrictive beliefs than you and wants to launch a social campaign to stop the way you hunt?

  25. Food for thought...


    I sort of see where you're coming from, and I can appreciate the simple truths in what you're trying to say.

    Unfortunately, things aren't simple in the real world.

    First of all, when I suggest a laissez faire approach to hunting ethics, I certainly don't mean no holds barred... there are a set of key parameters based on a simple question. What does it hurt?

    As you point out, we already hunt under a code of law based on sound ecological and safety principles. Those regulations are accepted precisely because they are quantifiable. Failure to abide by the laws results in damage to the resource and habitat, and physical risks to individuals... no different than laws regulating highway speed. Keep in mind that even these laws tend to vary based on different conditions. Are you driving in a school zone or on the autobahn?

    But ahh... morals...

    Now we're talking emotional concepts. We're talking about mushy ideals that run the gamut of rationale and conviction... and more than anything else, morals are driven by environmental and social factors which vary across geographic, economic, religious, and even racial boundaries.

    Is there common ground? Of course. But there are more exceptions than there are rules.

    We (myself included) often speak of the hunting community as a single entity, but really, it's a multi-faceted and loosely connected group of individuals. Sure, we all hunt, but beyond that we hunt different environments, different species, different ways, different weapons, and for different reasons.

    That's not to say that there aren't locally held standards. A deer club in NC where I used to hunt held a set of general rules for club members regarding not shooting certain deer based on size... with penalties and exceptions for members based on age and experience. In that part of the state, the deer population exceeds the general carrying capacity, and it's legal to shoot any deer from the smallest spotted fawn to the biggest trophy buck. But there's a shared ethic on the club that says shooting tiny bucks or does just "isn't right".

    The ranch where I do much of my CA hog hunting generally frowns on shooting wet (nursing) sows... not because it wants to perpetuate the herd, but simply because it doesn't seem right to orphan the piglets. Again, it's a shared ethic. If you don't agree, don't hunt there.

    And think about it...

    These are moral decisions... emotionally-driven rules that really have no bearing in logic, and are, in fact, generally counter to sound wildlife management goals. Yet, they make the individuals involved feel "better" about what they're doing.

    Really, isn't that what this is all about... this talk of "fair chase" and ethics? To make us feel a little bit better about killing for fun... to make us feel somehow noble and honorable for bloodying our hands with the lives of other animals? Isn't it about creating an image for popular consumption, despite the fact that we know how inconsistent that image really is?

    Think about it before you snap off an answer. If I'm wrong, then what does all this talk of morals and ethics offer us? What is it really for?

  26. I find the concept of doing no harm very interesting. The adage of "Your freedom to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose." is pretty clear cut. But what about the risk of your swinging around to hit the tip of my child's nose? To bring it back to this discussion, how do you factor in behaviors that are doing no appreciable harm now, but experience or polls tell you will probably do harm in the future. For example, Vermont just went through an effort by the Fish and Wildlife Department to enact a rule on wanton waste of wildlife. We only had the Federal waterfowl wanton waste regulation which does not apply to other types of game or fish. During the hearing process, nearly everyone agreed that game animals should be eaten and fur bearers skinned. The Wardens figured if it was illegal to dump game and fish there would have been about 100 violations in the last few years. The folks who argued against a regulation felt the violations of wanton waste were so rare that it did not justify a regulation. They felt this rare practice was not doing harm now and would not in the future. The Dept and particularly the Wardens felt it was doing harm in some areas and would erode support for hunting in the future. The argument of future harm did not prevail and the regulation died.
    My position was a basic regulation should have been adopted because the risk of harm to hunting outweighed the inconvenience of obeying a rule that I always follow anyway. The opponents also tapped into the widespread libertarian belief that the fewer laws the better.
    Sorry for rambling, but this concept of harm seems central to our thinking about where hunter behavior falls on the ethical, legal, preference line. Thoughts?

  27. Oh, dear! I'm done for!

    You know what...I think I’m becoming convinced.

    I agree with Phillip: there’s no such thing as fair chase.

    When we pay token homage to those supposed 'fair chase' principles with phrases such as “the outcome of the hunt or kill is always in doubt up until the final moment” we must also appreciate that we can easily apply such logic to a hamster in a cage – it’s alive until it’s dead! So, in a sense, our token fair chase is not anything fair or chase at all. I take your point.

    And when we say things like “The reality of the situation is that new hunters will ALWAYS need some relatively easy opportunities so they can have their drive to hunt fed by a little success.” What we’re really saying is that we prefer to teach new hunters that success is mainly in a little killing. And we go on to encourage this logic with fences and statements like “Who cares how they hunted?”…and so you see, very soon fair chase becomes a figment of my imagination. I’m learning, slowly.

    Later, when we add things like “I had no problem overlooking what some folks might say was less than ethical hunting.” I understand that we are now basically content to allow ‘anything goes’ as we collectively believe that it’s wrong to encourage something more from people.

    And of course, all said and done, we can’t really have a fair chase concept, “Because fair chase principles are a moral argument” and moral arguments cannot be defined by vote, debate and argument. No way! We should never attempt to promote and improve the conduct of humankind! Bring back the foxes and the hounds, that's what I say!

    I’m getting it! Finally I’m getting it.

    “…what does all this talk of morals and ethics offer us? What is it really for?”

    Well, we could go back a million years or fifty, it doesn’t matter in my mind: What’s important is that we strive to improve ourselves by the standards and circumstances of our day – and because I’m a passionate hunter, I believe..whoops…did believe…that hunting in the modern world faces many moral challenges today, of which fair chase is one argument which would go a long way towards ensuring…

    Oh, what am I saying! There’s no such thing!

    It’s been nice debating – thanks to you all!


  28. Shaun, your sarcasm is cute, but it does not address the key question: Whose morals? Who gets to decide?

    What if Tred Barta gets to decide and we all have to hunt like he does or not at all? Are you really cool with that? Do you have as much money as he does, so you can fling your homemade stone-tip arrows all over the planet in hopes you get something once in a while?

    Personally, I love Tred, but I've neither the time nor the money to hunt like he does.

    Your sarcasm about the opportunities new hunters need also ignores some fine old traditions in which humans have started their young on hunting with the easiest types of prey or hunting. That's not merely a modern justification for high-fence.

    Eric, your question about wanton waste is especially interesting because that's one I believe in strongly - and it's law in California. For game animals, of course. I can kill a rat and toss it in the trash anytime I want. And coyotes? Have at 'em!

    Personally, I won't hunt anything I won't eat, so I have happily turned down some offers to blast coyotes. I also get pissed when my cat takes out rats and decides not to eat them. I find thrill killing unsavory.

    But I recognize there are circumstances under which predator or "varmint" hunting when there is no intent to use the animal may legitimately be allowed under state law. And because of that, I'm unwilling to impose my personal values on others, even if I believe - as you do - that this behavior does not do hunting any good in the eyes of non-hunters.

    For the record, because it won't be apparent here to anyone who doesn't already know me, I spend a great deal of time not only addressing the public image of hunters, but working to improve it - with considerable success, I might add. I do not oppose the imposition of morals that might improve our image either lightly or without serious consideration.

  29. "I do not oppose the imposition of morals that might improve our image either lightly or without serious consideration."
    This thought seems to be the source of disagreement with the "live and let live" notion as it relates to hunting practices. If we believe that some practices are doing harm to hunter recruitment and/or support of hunting and hunters by the majority no-hunters, should we stick to the "live and let live" mantra; or should we say - sorry guys, this practice is doing harm and will lead to greater harm in the future, we can't afford to let this continue. If we can't educate you to the harm your doing then we will regulate it or outlaw it. If you continue there will be sanctions and we can rightly tell our fellow citizens that we have done what we can to stop it.
    The part I grapple with is when does a practice tip into the harm column or when are we treading on others preferences and just acting elitist?

  30. But Eric, part of the reason it "does harm" is that the HSUS brilliantly exploits it. The non-hunting public's image of high-fence hunting is EXACTLY what the HSUS promotes - beleaguered petting zoo animals backed into a corner of a corral. That is NOT what most high-fence hunting is!

    And every single time HSUS harps on it, the first thing out of their mouths is that "ethical hunters agree with us."

    HSUS opposes high-fence hunting (and dove hunting) for one reason and one reason only: Both rank very low in public opinion polls. They are picking the low-hanging fruit. And when they've picked that tree bare, they will move to the next tree. I absolutely guarantee it.

    I personally would rather spend my time talking to the non-hunting public about what hunting is than scurry around stamping out the things that the public thinks it doesn't like because HSUS marketers have told them it's bad.

  31. gotta agree with Holly on this one. Similar dynamic was at stake in the Maine bear baiting referendum: HSUS local surrogate argued "see, ethical hunters agree with us," and exploited the divisions that exist between hunters over questions of technique. This is not what hunters should be spending their energies on.

  32. OK, lets go even more extreme. What about the internet deal from TX where it was proposed you could see thru your computer in real time watch an animal coming into bait and then using your mouse, line up the sights and touch off the rifle. A ranch guy would get the critter, cut it up and ship it to you.
    It didn't take HSUS to get that outlawed very fast.
    It seems to me that all human endeavors end up needing a base line of behavior that society will accept. Hunting is no exception as history has shown and I suspect that the line will continue to move. Do we as hunters anticipate the moves and show leadership or do we drag our feet and fight for outdated practices that we know are going to lose out in the end?

  33. nope, I agree with you too--and hopefully I'm not just being slippery in doing so. ;-)

    The computer "hunt" is really different--different in kind, not just in degree. VERY VERY different than the question of baiting, which has been a hunting technique since Cro-Magnon Man.

    The key idea in the ethics/preferences piece: "Each style, genre, or form of hunting has a loyal following and, usually, an internally consistent set of ethical and aesthetic standards that typify the form."

    We DO NOT just make up anything we want to do and then go do it, in hunting or elsewhere. Our activity stands in a tradition, with standards and "rules" that not only typify the activity but constitute it as well . . . that is, they make the activity what it is. Your example is more properly interpreted as a computer game rather than as a form of hunting; or perhaps as a high tech form of meat shopping. I think we can make these distinctions, and we should make these distinctions.

    Contrary to Shaun's reading of some of Philip's comments, fair chase is not some sort of relativistic morass where "anything goes." I do genuinely believe that there's a right way to hunt grouse, and that there's a wrong way to hunt grouse.

    But where I think we err is in insisting that our sporting code needs to be legally mandated and imposed on others. I think there's a right way and a wrong way to play golf--and that's not just my personal idiosyncrasy. But do I believe there should be a law against people taking Mulligans on the first tee? Do I think mini-golf should be outlawed as the high-fence-equivalent perversion of the noble game of golf? Should carrying extra clubs or a GPS unit on a golf course to estimate range, be misdemeanors punishable by fines or equipment seizure?

    No, of course not. It's the political recommendations of hunting purists that scare me. I am a 100 percent hunting purist myself. If I played golf, I might be a golf purist. I just don't think we need to make laws to enforce the rules of golf. The PGA can legislate the rules of golf, and elsewhere in the thread someone suggested that we need to "certify" fair chase hunting--which is kind of what the PGA does for golf. That's fine, if someone wants to wear an arm patch like in some European countries that announces to the world that he/she is a "master hunter," that's fine with me. But to try and push for hunting certification, performance standards, fair chase requirements, etc. across the board, for all hunters . . . well, that would just continue the erosion of what up until now has been one of the few truly democratic activities we have in this country.

    Anyway, now it's me that has rambled on. Eric, you should change the blog settings to keep this thread on the front page.

  34. "But where I think we err is in insisting that our sporting code needs to be legally mandated and imposed on others."

    To me, that's really what it boils down to. I can sure respect the individual who sticks to the most stringent rules of the hunt. That doesn't mean I want to hunt that way, though. My own standards run the gamut, depending on where I am or why I'm out there. Should I be judged for that?

  35. Jim,
    I hear your argument on the internet hunting. How about hunting practices that gradually change until they are very different than they were historically. One example that has been under fire and you were involved in in ME is bear hunting with hounds. With the widespread use of GPS tracking collars, ATVs and professional trainers this activity has changed significantly. Is it (or has it) fallen into the ..."hunt" is really different--different in kind, not just in degree." like computer hunting?
    I worry that the boosters of hunting gadgets and short cuts are pushing many hunting methods to an undefendable position with the public and by dividing the hunters.

  36. I don't really think those changes to bear hunting materially effect the hunt at all: a GPS unit is simply a more advanced compass, which was originally a technological improvement over celestial navigation. (Plus the GPS is more prone to failure.) The ATV is simply a technologically advanced horse, which is to say it is simply and essentially a mode of transportation. Professional trainers? the entire Livre de Chasse from the 14th century is devoted to the dog trainers, kennel keepers, and hunt attendants that went along on the hunt with the aristocratic higher ups. And Phoebus's 1376 volume simply repeats much of what were in the Greek cynegetica, or hunting manuals, which again had everything to do with dog training and specialized dog trainers.

    So no, I don't think those things in Maine really change the hunt all that much.

    The whole "fear of gadgets" thing is blown way out of proportion, usually by people who have read too much Aldo Leopold on duck hunting. Gadgets have been around since the dawn of human history. The roots of the word "technology" refers to "tool" or "technique." The gun is a gadget. Setters originally "set" or laid down so the hunter could throw a net over the partridge. Do you think setter-owning hunters in the 1600s and 1700s started complaining about those gun-shooting slob hunters who preferred to shoot birds rather than net them? and on the wing, no less! I doubt it.

    Anyway. This continues to be a fun conversation.

  37. For what it's worth, I think gadgets and gizmos are relatively meaningless in the big picture, UNTIL they start to significantly alter the impact on the resource.

    The spinning wing duck decoys are a good example, and one that is still in question. The argument is that these decoys make it so easy to lure birds that the average harvest is increasing. With waterfowl populations still in flux across the flyways, there's concern that this increase in average harvest will negatively affect populations. I'm not sure a solid case has been made, but if it proves true, this is good, solid grounds for banning this technology.

    Tracking collars, on the other hand (at least as far as I can tell from houndsmen) are as much about recovering your dogs as about finding a treed bear or coon. As far as I can tell, they're really not making a big impact on the bear kill... although truth be told, when it comes to hound hunting, I am generally a spectator.

    Beyond that, despite the cries of the technophobes, most of the gadgets out there are designed to harvest one thing... hunter dollars.

    The basis for most of our hunting laws is the protection/conservation of the resource and the protection of private property and personal safety. I think that's a fine guideline, and veering away from it in order to satisfy the wild vagaries of public opinion is a dangerous thing.

  38. Seems like they are taking the hunt out of hunting. Then you are ultimately left with just killing. To me that is work. But, just like I used to tell my deer jackers, if your hunting skill is so poor, I guess all you are left with is killing deer at night with a light.
    I agree deer are good food. I disagree they should be easy food. Admittedly fair chase is somewhat relative, depending to the game, location and hunter's skill. But there is a bottom line. I agree that the hunter's should be setting the line. We can take the lead or we can let the others set it, but it will be set. Just look at the history of game laws if you don't believe me.

  39. "Easy" is another value statement, isn't it? What is "easy"?

    When I guide my hunters on the high fence ranch where I sometimes work, I make the hunt as challenging as I think the hunter can handle. We'll park the jeep and climb the ridges and hump the canyons in an effort to locate and close with a specific animal. Many of them are surprised at how difficult the hunt was.

    I don't have to do that. There are times and places I can put a hunter where all he has to do is ready the rifle and shoot. (But then again, I've got places on unfenced, wide-open land where I can do the same thing.) But that's not really the experience most of them want... they want to have "hunted", at least a little bit. If I just take them out and let them shoot an animal, few of them would ever come back for another hunt... a pretty poor business model, no?

    And personally, I'm in both camps when it comes to easy versus hard. The hunts I most enjoy are those that take me deep into the wild places and leave me physically and mentally exhausted, with or without meat on the pole. I want to follow spoor, to experience the habits and habitat. I love the amazement at how clever the prey can be at eluding the predator (me), and I'm always reminded of how small I am in the bigger picture of nature and wildness. That fulfills me.

    But there are times when I like the idea of being able to step out onto the "back 40" with the rifle and pot a nice hog or a deer for the freezer. It's one of many reasons I'm considering moving to TX... because the exotics (Axis, blackbuck, feral hogs) are so plentiful and offer year-round shooting opportunity. With a little work to cultivate food plots and run some feeders, I can be assured a regular source of wild meat any time I choose to shoot some.

    I don't see where the two experiences have to be mutually exclusive.

    I agree with what you say about hunters drawing the line or having it drawn for us. But that goes way beyond establishing some kind of ethical/moral standard. Trust me, I've looked long and hard at the history of game laws, especially recent laws, and I see the trends. It's one of the reasons I first became involved in this discussion so many years ago.

    Even so, Hunters' involvement in the lawmaking process is a whole different animal, and success in that endeavor has a lot more to do with getting involved in the political process... something hunters seem generally loathe to do. Hunters DO hold their own future in their hands, but the threats that future faces come more from political apathy than ethical/moral behavior.

    Remember that the majority of hunters DO operate under a pretty strict set of ethical rules that often goes well beyond the rules of law. Poachers (jacklighters) are still the exception, as are the small handful of folks who are, truly, killers and not hunters. Those exceptions get notice precisely because they are exceptions... aberrations... anomalies. In this discussion, we shouldn't fall into the trap of defining them as the norm.

  40. Never a truer word was said than Eric’s post above.

    Hunters can not keep pretending that we’re working outside the values held by our wider communities. But yet it seems we’re increasingly happy to make excuses for many questionable hunting practices: he / she is too young, old, cripple, blind, too fat, too lazy, too short of time (one we here a lot of in my country), too new to hunting… so we have to provide fences, spotlights, half tame animals, drugged animals, helicopter chased animals, farm raised, artificially feed etc. It’s immoral…or “low hanging fruit” as somebody called it.

    At the end of the day, if somebody wants to shoot meat from under a feeder, fenced farm etc, call it “Organic Harvest” or something similar. If we wish to keep hunting alive as a genuine human ‘hunting’ experience today, then we need to protect what it means to hunt in the wild true sense of the word.

    As Eric said, “There’s a bottom line.”

    That bottom line must eventually include limits on technology: a laser guided rocket on a hunt is not just a “clever bullet”. Any fool can see that using such a device crosses a moral / spiritual line from hunting to killing or destroying. We should, as hunters, be engaging constructively on establishing Eric’s ‘bottom line’ ourselves, through our clubs and codes of conduct, particularly trophy competitions which (because of the competitive element) should be studious about protecting such principles. At the moment, they often barely acknowledge such things, or as in the case of SCI, pay only token respect to it.

    Mostly, the message I’m getting from you guys is “NO WAY” …there’s no reason to push for change…and then I read an array of excuses for hunting behavior I have mentioned as questionable (behind wire etc).

    Yet, you seem prepared to accept (by deduction) that there is “low hanging fruit” in hunting today, and it’s these that anti-hunting groups target first. That’s like saying we’re happy to troll blood through the water – but then we complain when the sharks show up!


  41. I did a google search for "Fair Chase Hunting" last night. It is amazing how many high fence operations use that term in their titles and bylines. They must realize fair chase sells, even though in most cases they don't live up to it, except for folks with all the excuses Shaun outlines above.
    I was just reading Plato's Republic with my daughter. In the section she wanted help with, Socrates is exploring the virtues of various arts (professions) He argues that to be named for example a physician, the practitioner must work for the good of thier patients. If they don't they are not a physician. My point is I think we (hunters, hunting groups, government agencies) need to refuse to refer to people who shoot animals in non-hunting situations as hunters or engaged in hunting. What if we adapted a name for these folks, such as shooters or as Shaun suggests "Organic Harvestes", or poachers (if they are breaking the law) and that is the only way we collectively refer to them.
    Perhaps a suit against the 100% garenteed kill operations as a violation of the fairness in advertizing law would be a good start.
    Jim T - I've come to the conclusion that these most agregious actions done under the name of hunting are doing harm. But where to draw the line??? The topic of our next Think Tank? As I said above - the line will be drawn...

  42. fair enough. It would be great if you could list some examples of the "most egregious actions" done under the name of hunting so that I understand what you mean by that phrase.

  43. Jim,
    I suspect we are going to agree to disagree that there is a bottom line or legal line that hunters should identify as it relates to fair chase. From a practical political point of view it seems to me we hunters will do a better job of this than most law makers, who have and will continue to draw the line for us. I suspect we could take the NRA tactic and fight all attempts to legislate fair chase issues (your position?); or take my position of a more nuanced hunter led defining of the legal bottom line. I do agree that fighting many of the offensive methods is better left to education, and as in the case with high fence with disease, fragmentation, privatization and commercialization of public resources arguments. But where I disagree is that there is no case where fair chase practice becomes so watered down that for all practical purposes it becomes non-existent. Can you have hunting when the rules which make it a sport become so individualized and situational that there is no standard? It seems to me it is like saying to a golfer, it is ok to pick up the ball and put it in the cup if you haven't taken the time to practice or get proper equipment. And by the way we will even keep a record book for you folks (like the SCI estate records).

    Sheyenne Whitetails was established in 2004 for the sole purpose of producing huge typical whitetail deer.

    The doe herd consists of 200+ genetics. Our AI program consists of Canyon, AGN, Thundercloud, and Top Draw.

    We have 60 huge northern whitetail deer in a 20 acre natural environment. The abundant trees and rolling hills provide the deer with protection from the elements.

    We plan on AI'ing 10 does in the fall of 2009.

  44. "I suspect we could take the NRA tactic and fight all attempts to legislate fair chase issues (your position?)"

    I don't think I'm an absolutist on the issue the way the NRA is; on the other hand, I don't think I've had anyone ever give me an example of a fair chase behavior that needed to be criminalized via the penal code.

    I'd still welcome some examples from you.

    But let's take high fence: there's a myriad of issues there, not all of which are consistent.

    If it's literally high fence that bothers us, why not seek minimum enclosure sizes rather than the abolition of high fence.

    If it's uber-breeding of big-racked whitetails, then why do we care about that or make it out to be an issue fundamentally about hunting? we breed animals all the time, what makes wildlife so special?

    If it's the fact that some guys will shoot genetically-bred uber-whitetails, then why do we care about that? why not simply tax the $5,000 or $10,000 shooting fee the way we tax a box of ammunition and simply live with fact that some people's egos are tied up in big racks.

    If it's the privatization of wildlife and/or hunting that we care about, then why aren't we all fired up about the fact that the state controls the hunt through hunting licenses, which Louis Warren has labeled as a "bill of sale" where the hunt itself is sold rather than the animal?

    I don't see consistent arguments anywhere. And while I don't make a fetish of consistency (Emerson's "hobgoblin of little minds"), I sure wouldn't mind seeing at least a little bit of it from time to time.

  45. I like the tax idea! Let's see 10% of 5 grand is...
    "I don't see consistent arguments anywhere." Hits the nub of what I seem to be seeking. Holmes called it simplicity on the other side of complexity.

  46. An example of a bottom line being set here in VT:
    Pre 1965 you could drive around with a loaded rifle and shoot from the window at game.
    A law was passed with the support of other drivers and hunters on a safety and fair chase argument that made it illegal to have a loaded long gun in a MV and you couldn't shoot from the vehicle or on the traveled part of a public road.
    Around 1990 it was changed again, saying you had to be 10 feet of the edge of the traveled portion of any public road before shooting at game. The motivation for this was fair chase and public relations with non-hunters. There were no safety stats to back the change. The driver for this change were hunters concerned about their image and support for hunting.
    With the use of the decoy deer this regulation is enforceable and has changed hunter behavior (to the better in my mind)
    there is an exception for folks with mobility issues to shoot from the vehicle but they must be 10ft off the road.
    Where hunters wrong in getting this law changed? Didn't they impose their preference for hunting technique (on foot) on those that preferred to road hunt? Should we hunters have waited until the majority of citizens said enough, we will change the law to stop what looks like us to (fill in the reason)?

  47. honestly Eric, I don't see anything inherently immoral or unethical or unfair about shooting from a vehicle. Plenty of jurisdictions allow hunting from window rests for varmint hunting or from the roof or truck bed for African safaris for the matter: see e.g., So I'm not clear on how this is a "bottom line" issue, unless you're willing to push it in all jurisdictions and in all cases--including for disabled hunters. But to me there is nothing inherently evil or immoral about it. The fact that Vermont chose to institute this regulation tells me more about Vermont than about the morality of the technique.

  48. I might add that such window/vehicle rests contribute (as any rest does) to the stability and quality of aiming that every good hunter strives for in achieving the clean one-shot kill. So if a window rest from the cab of a pickup guarantees a heart shot instead of a gut shot deer, then I think I'd prefer the window shot, ethically speaking.

    Come to think of it, I think we ought to entirely outlaw deer drives as a technique that unnecessarily takes chances with the prey because people are taking too many shaky offhand shots at running animals. Yeah, that's it: let's abolish deer drives. That would be the sporting thing to do, and it would clean up the image of hunters as all being slobs who relish the Texas heart shot and just take pleasure in wounding animals so that they can have fun blood trailing them for hours on end. Yeah, that's the ticket.

  49. No question the harder you make the hunt the more it can impact clean kill. Which means the hunter has to hone their shooting skills as much as the hunting skills, leading to more restraint, greater challenge and more satisfaction with the kill. All making for a better story. It also reinforces the position we should not force, thru laws or coercion, to attempt to take game with equipment that they don;t have the skill to use or the skill to get close enough that they could admin a clean kill. Use of a stick bow for example.
    To go you're (tongue in cheek) direction the critters should be herded up a chute, one selected and dinged between the eyes like we do cattle...

  50. I don't consider road hunting a moral issue. I think it is (or was when it was legal) a preference question. I only use it as a real life example of where a legal line was drawn by the public and hunters. In your view I gather, this was a mistake and would be in all such cases. I understand your arguments, but feel it is wishful/Utopian thinking that the world will work this way.
    I'm grappling with the thought that hunters are the best group to set broad and non-binding codes of conduct with a binding/legal floor of conduct that may take away some folks preferred techniques but that hurt is offset by doing good for the majority, including future hunters. If we dodge this by defending or just standing mute, others will act and probably do more harm.
    Is there a way to walk this line without consorting with the enemy, nor being a part of the problem?

  51. Once again, I agree ...

    "I'm grappling with the thought that hunters are the best group to set broad and non-binding codes of conduct with a binding/legal floor of conduct that may take away some folks preferred techniques but that hurt is offset by doing good for the majority, including future hunters. If we dodge this by defending or just standing mute, others will act and probably do more harm. "

    Technology will soon force us all to debate and define 'hunting' - lets make sure that hunters are at the forefront of this debate as the moral guardians of what it means to 'hunt'.

    We only become a part of the problem when we try to defend the indefensible... where human greed and pride get in the way...because fences and night vision and helicopter gunships are only used to help ensure success, and prop up human aspirations. They have no place in the wholesome hunting experience, however we wish to define it in words. That's why we have people working against hunters in these areas - which we call "low hanging fruit". Remove the fruit, tidy up the house and help keep hunting alive and real and the anti hunters will have very little moral currency.


  52. "In your view I gather, this was a mistake and would be in all such cases."

    Not at all. If the reg was put into place for safety reasons, then fine: be honest about it and say that it was for safety reasons. If it was for "fair chase" reasons, then be honest about that too.

    My guess is that it was for safety reasons first and foremost. I have ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEM with that.

    And my guess is also that the fair chase issue was also present somewhere in the background. That's fine. I accept that that's the way the world is. But I do not think the fair chase reason is a SUFFICIENT cause for enacting a regulation of this sort.

    In New York state, we have many shotgun-only zones for deer hunting. Presumably this is for safety. But it may have been the case that some fair chase purist in the past said to himself, "Geez, high-powered centerfire rifles are just too damn efficient and don't give the deer a fair chance at 200 or 300 or 400 yards. We should make the rifle illegal and limit our hunt to a 100 or 125 yard weapon. Hence we need a shotgun only rule for fair chase."

    I wouldn't buy the fair chase argument here. I WOULD buy the safety argument here.

    Coincidentally, some counties (such as the one I live in) that were previously shotgun-only are now allowing rifles again. Guess what??? Clean, quick kill, baby. I was able to sluice two deer this season with a .243 that both dropped dead at 100 yards. For the last ten years I've had to take that shot with a shotgun slug--same distance, same deer stand--and had to track the deer varying distances each year.

    From a fair chase, clean quick kill perspective, Nosler Partitions out of a high power gun are better than shotgun sabots. Your mileage may vary.

  53. "To go your (tongue in cheek) direction the critters should be herded up a chute, one selected and dinged between the eyes like we do cattle..."

    that's not fair. You're conflating my arguments about "fair chase" standards with my arguments about legal standards. I am not in any way suggesting we should mandate shooting penned animals like cattle to ensure clean kills.

    Look. My favorite kind of hunting is grouse hunting. Arguably the hardest type of wing shooting in terms of "success" or kills. In NY state, surveys show grouse hunters hit something like 1 of every 10 shots.

    In contrast, pheasant hunting has a higher probability of killing--let's say its 5 shots out of every 10 shots.

    And duck hunting probably higher yet--let's say 7 shots out of 10 shots.

    This is one reason I dislike duck hunting and pheasant hunting WHEN COMPARED TO grouse hunting. They seem easier. When ducks come to your decoys, you're putting virtually no effort into it all. They just come in, and you just kill them.

    Just because I prefer the difficulty of grouse hunting, however, to the relative ease of duck and pheasant shooting, DOES NOT MEAN I think duck and pheasant shooting should be made illegal because I think they are less strenuous in terms of effort, challenge, skill, or fair chase. I have a clear aesthetic preference for the difficulty of the grouse hunt in comparison to duck or goose shooting.

    Goose shooting is even lamer: you lie on your back in the snow and let a bunch of molded and painted plastic do your "hard work" for you. But just because goose hunting presents less of a challenge than grouse hunting is no reason whatsoever for grouse hunters to start seeking the abolition of goose hunting.

    Different strokes for different folks. I prefer to sluice my deer from an elevated stand at 100 yards; I don't care about big racks; and I hunt apple trees that I know deer frequent.

    Other deer hunters stalk; or use dogs; or use a bow and arrow; and care about antlers.

    Other hunters are willing to pay more than I am for big racks. I'm a cheapskate, and they are idiots. But there shouldn't be a law against being an idiot.

    At least that's Mill's argument in "On Liberty," where he defends the right of people to be eccentric, idiotic, and aesthetically misguided.

  54. Jim, Well said! (as usual) How is the book coming???

  55. Jim, can I come hunt ducks there with you? I'd love to hunt someplace where it's so slam-dunk I can get seven out of ten shots. I can't even fathom that. We don't see feet-down ducks a lot where I hunt - you know, public land, crowded conditions etc.

    Shaun, the "low hanging fruit" you've repeatedly disdained includes DOVE HUNTING. Shall we get rid of that low-hanging fruit to cleanse our ranks of the odiferous stigma of killing defenseless little songbirds of peace (classic HSUS imagery)? Maybe HSUS is right and we really do just use them for target practice because a dove couldn't possibly have enough meat to make them worth killing. I must be the only one who eats them, I guess. Yeah, I'm gonna take HSUS's word for it, just like I'm going to believe every piece of imagery about high-fence hunting that HSUS puts out.

  56. well, I don't know about slam dunk, but it was a serious topic of conversation on our hunting blog this year whether the NYS health advisory on mercury in ducks would prevent one of our members from harvesting his usual 100+ ducks per season. We hunt out of a permanent blind generally, and one year the blind total for all hunters, all dogs, etc. was something like 187 ducks. That's a lot of ducks.

    In contrast, I don't expect to shoot 187 grouse total in this or any other lifetime.

  57. NorCal Cazadora,

    I love the phrase "low hanging fruit" as a description for morally questionable practices. That’s why I keep using it!

    Why would you want to take HSUS word on anything? You’re a hunter, you know hunting – you decide and debate it amongst other hunters. Make a moral rule – draw a line in the sand. Question yourself and others…establish standards.

    …and I think the honest hunter will find no place for a fence as a hunting aid, night vision, helicopters with guns, spotlights etc. It’s only when we keep defending the indefensible that we lose moral credibility with the public.

    Eg. Shooting a dove for practice (waste) sucks and undervalues the life of our quarry – use clay birds!

    Shooting a dove for the dinner table is fine: it’s a natural extension of nature and is actual hunting (if the dove is a wild thing – otherwise it’s harvesting, not hunting.)

    How is that morally difficult?


  58. Well, Shaun, you're using the term incorrectly - that's not what it means. It's a reference to doing the easy things first. In the context of this discussion, it means the HSUS finds something that doesn't poll well and attacks it as immoral.

  59. Why doesn't the something poll well in the first place?

  60. "Wildlife is not livestock. The problem comes when people are supposedly hunting these animals. That's the problem right there." According to Kerasote, captive hunts are turning hunting "into this caged, paid affair and it bears no resemblance to what hunting is, was, and could be. Like so many things in our world, people want to buy the product (the trophy) rather than experience the process (meeting the animal on its own terrain)."

    Do you people have a problem with that statement?

    -Shaun (that was me above too, I forgot to sign off)

  61. Shaun - I agree with you and Karasote. The question is does this captive shooting do harm to what we love to do, eg hunt wild animals in wild places, or is it simply very offensive to us? If it is doing harm, what exactly is the harm? Can it be measured?
    I think we can find real harm in issues other than fair chase, like disease, blocking free movement of wild animals, even genetic polution. As far as the image of hunting, captive hunts hurt, as do most of the TV hunting shows. But is that enough to outlaw them?
    One of the joys of American democracy is we put up with a lot of people doing things we don't like. Which is a good thing, because I suspect if it wasn't that way trappers would be only doing damage trapping and all furbeares would be viewed as trash.
    I'm thinking if we could come up with a good definition of fair chase and hunting, we could go after the captive hunt owners for violating the fairness in advertizing laws and force them to stop using those words for what they do within thier fences. This could also apply to the TV shows that film captive animal shoots. They can still operate, but can't continue to confuse the public (and some hunters) with what they are doing.
    Another positive move would be for SCI to get rid of thier Estate big game trophy records. It only serves to give credability to high fence shooting.

  62. The harm is exactly what we already see: HSUS campaigns…which too often t in the minds of the public are often just simplified as immoral “hunting and hunters”. In some places, hunters are considered as moral low life, only a few rungs up the ladder from Hells Angels! We, as hunters, need to defend the real principles and tenets of genuine hunting against this public erosion of what we do.

    For evil to triumph, all we need is good men / woman to do nothing. (Can’t recall who said that).

    Of course there is much more harm than just the public perception of what we do, and I could write a treatise on the impact of genetic pollution of wild herds, but who is listening? As hunters, you’d think we’ d be right on the forefront of these issues – protecting the herds and the hunting experience we value so highly… but yet it’s quite the opposite. Why is that?

    I’m not proposing anything be “outlawed” – why laws? Why not simply moral pressure! We apply moral codes of conduct in almost every human sphere… all I’m suggesting is that hunters should be prepared to be more honest and genuine about seeing these moral codes apply to our sport/art/past time. Our hunting clubs and organizations should be at front of this debate… but instead they have slowly let our moral mandate fade away, where now it’s almost common place to see advertised fence hunts and hunters using technology that far surpasses the spirit of hunting.

    Where do we start? Maybe Mahatma Gandhi had the right idea: ‘be the change you want in the world.’

    I’ll leave it at that.


  63. I agree modeling is very powerful in changing behavior. A good example on a broad scale is the work Orion board member Randy Newberg is doing with his "On Your Own" TV hunting show. All episodes are on public land and unguided. they seem to be resonating with the viewers (as opposed to the high fence over bait hunts usually featured). At SHOT the word was more of the featured hunters are going to do some wild hunts. Now that would be progress!


  64. I just want to say thanks for your wonderful post, it is contain a lot of knowledge and information that i needed right now. Now i need to my bolg, you can play game fun, action here :

    visit our website

  65. Today topic is greats and i always follow this website to find update idea, thanks