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Are Hunting Ethics Still Practiced Today?

It’s been a long while since I have climbed up on my soapbox, but with opening day of gun season just around the corner — Nov. 16 — for local sportsmen I thought it would be time to discuss and give a few examples of what are basic hunting ethics and what are not.

Hunters learn during their hunter’s safety course about hunter ethics. Each course I have visited over years, this very topic is an important one. Keeping our sport enjoyable and safe for those of us who haven’t taken said course in decades, it’s often times important to have a short review. Each new hunter learns many lessons during hunting safety class, along with firearm safety, but the one that is not so cut and dry for some folks many times is hunter ethics.

Like all learning, it’s best to use examples, and recently I have experienced firsthand, or heard from those who I trust and shared many a hunt with, what seems to be a disturbing trend of a few folks who have lost basic ethics.

I have done some research with local trappers, and why a trapper would be checking his traps the last hour of the day during archery season. Trappers, by law, must check their traps at least once every 24 hours in New York State. I understand all of this, but why do it the last hour — otherwise known as the golden hour for archery hunters — which is the best time of the day for stick and string hunters.

For said trappers to walk or ride their quads by a stand that has been there for years with a hunter sitting in plain sight and is a well-known hot spot for archery hunters, is frustrating to say the least. Then, to witness first-hand breaking of the law by said trapper is an out rage.

After doing a little research with law enforcement officials, it’s my understanding that when one is trapping, you’re supposed to have your back tag on. Also, whether trapping or riding to and from hunting areas, it’s against the law to ride around in any motorized vehicle with a loaded firearm. How do we know it’s loaded? Because when asked, a trapper says, “What good is an unloaded gun?” My response? A safe one.

Trapping is a very important sport; it is as old as hunting itself. For those who trap, I give them all the credit in the world. Trapping is important to keep fur-bearing species in check that most folks don’t hunt. To help manage said species during a trapping season is imperative to keeping overpopulated and healthy.

I know the price of fur has been down in recent years, but the majority of trappers still enjoy trapping. This is not a dig at trapping, it’s about working together with sportsmen sharing the woods with each other. It’s about ethics. Hunting land is hard to come by these days and a landowner does not want to learn of a conflict between folks he has given permission to use his land.

I guess it comes down to common sense and common courtesy. As sportsmen, no one is more privileged as the next. We all should be the same. One of the best ways to do this is to take into account those who are using the same land as you are and trying to do your best not to encroach on their activities.

There may be reasons that trappers need to check their traps during this golden hour that I am not fully aware of, but from a sportsman who enjoys all the outdoor sports there are a lot of things I refuse to do when seasons overlap. They have made whatever I’m doing at the time more difficult, but thinking about others is important.

Here is just one example: If we are fishing during duck season, we are keeping an eye for other lake users, like duck hunters. If I’m trolling a shoreline and see duck hunters –generally fairly easy to spot — we will make a wide swing of the hunters. Generally, hunters will get off before the time we are done fishing, and it doesn’t take much to set up to troll the area again after they have left. There is always a way to work around others.

Looking down at a hunter for his harvest choice is something that is becoming more commonplace. Doing this on a piece of property that neither of you own and have the same permission to hunt on, is just rude and disrespectful. Then, to watch first when “Mr. or Mrs. Greatest Hunter in the World,’ take their gator across the field to recover a fawn during gun season that they or somebody in their group has killed, well I hope you see the irony in it all.

As we get older, some of us have a tendency to be a little more selective on what we use our tags for. While this is a personal choice, it’s no different to when we choose to put out Christmas decorations or we decide what type of truck we’ll drive.

I have nothing against a new hunter shooting at jake during the spring season. On the other hand, I feel that if you’ve been turkey hunting for years and have shot your fair share of birds, then maybe it would be best to let the young birds pass and to harvest a gobbler. This is my own personal feeling; I don’t tell folks what to shoot and what not to shoot.

I guess the part for me that is hard to understand is this: why would somebody who calls himself a hunter tell another hunter what to shoot on a given piece of property that neither hunter owns and has the same permission to hunt by the same land owner. I totally understand managing your hunting property. I get that everybody wants to harvest the biggest and baddest of each species, but that choice is up to each hunter.

As hunters we buy our licenses, purchase our weapon of choice, practice with said weapon, legally scout and take the time to legally pursue our game of choice. It really is nobody’s business what we all choose to put our tags on, as long as they are filled under the word of law.

This is where we all lose new hunters.

Decades ago, I was told in my hunter safety class, hunting and fishing is like no other sport. There is not a referee around when we are taking part in our sport. Each individual is his own judge and jury, in many cases. Like everything in life, anybody at anytime can break the law. You may get caught, or you may not, but when it comes to fishing and hunting, we all are conservationists and we all should be following the law. If we don’t follow the given laws, you may get away with something, but future hunters will pay the ultimate price.

With that said, I believe that science has proven, and history has shown us, that if you want a healthy deer population, the female of the species needs to be kept in check as to not stress out the carry capacity. I prefer to take a mature doe or a buck that is 2 ¢ years old, but that is my choice. Telling somebody that shooting a buck that I personally would not take, does no good. Heck, there may be a reason the said hunter wanted to take that buck. Maybe they are trying to fill a freezer, maybe their work schedule is such they that don’t have a lot of time in to spend in the woods.

Most folks understand basic game management. While they may not agree with it, they understand. It is each hunter’s choice on what they prefer to fill their tag with. It’s not my, or anybody else’s place, to talk down to him and tell them they are shooting the wrong thing, as long it is legal.

In my book, any deer that is taken with a bow is a trophy. Archery hunting is one of the things, when successfully and when a hunter fills their tag, they have done something that many haven’t been able to do.

Along that line, a deer taken with a bow is difficult on many fronts and should be considered a trophy. But taking a shot at a “monster” that you wouldn’t take on a smaller deer just because it’s a monster is wrong. A true hunter will wait on the deer to give them an ethical shot or no shot at all.

To take it one step further, said hunter takes this long unethical shot and then has to track the deer on to property they don’t have permission to be on. Again, that is not the way to do things. Case in point: just because your little piece of property abuts a larger piece of property doesn’t give anybody the right to pull on it with six hunting “buddies” to track a “monster” that you took an unethical shot at.

There are ways to do things properly and not ways to do them. I’m not saying that every shot always hits its mark. Many things can happen that mess a shot up. We are not talking about that. The point I’m attempting to make is when you see a “monster” and take a shot that you wouldn’t normally take, that in many books is called an unethical shot. Then mess up an area that others have permission to hunt that you and your “hunting buddies” do not, well, we may want to reconsider “tracking.” But all this does is mess with other hunters and upset property owners for the future.

I have been on my share of blood trails and some would say I’m an above-average tracker, but I can count on one hand out of the hundreds that I have tracked that I haven’t been able to find. The first rule of tracking a game is keeping control of the trackers. Having buddies just stroll around the woods “tracking” a “monster” isn’t called tracking.

Now, some of you all wonder are these actual events? Well, I will let each person who has, or may not have, been apart of the above situations answer those questions. Remember, this was designed to help us all remember why we hunt and fish, and what is really important about it all. Having the honor to live in the United States of America means we all have freedom of choice. Being a human being, God has given us all freedom. Maybe we all should sit back and think twice before we make decisions that will impact others.

Again, there is a right way and wrong way to go about things. We, as sportsmen, need to think about those around us who are using land that we have been given permission to hunt, trap or fish on. Oftentimes that begins with simple communication. It’s amazing how much better folks get along when they just talk to each and take things for granted.

As we all step into the woods next Saturday for the start of gun season, I ask that we all take into account others using the same areas we are using. Whether it’s private land, public or state-owned land, realize most of the time we aren’t alone in pursuit for venison.

Have a safe Opening Day.

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