I have received some truly great comments and it is obvious you are all thinking about hunting and that’s what we need to do as hunters—think about this sport we love—hunting.
Am I correct in assuming that all of you are arguing that we cannot establish a line in the sand that is the division between the ethical and non-ethical behavior of hunters?
What if I offered the argument that I disagree—that we can, in fact, draw a line in the sand? What if I even went much farther and argued that the line in the sand was drawn very early in human civilization. If we go back into ancient history we will discover that the notion of fair chase, ethical hunting (sportsmanship)both appear early in hunting’s history, very nearly the same time as when subsistence hunting was replaced by animal husbandry. The notion was that since there was no need to kill the animal for food then the animal should be provided with every opportunity to employ its every nature to escape the hunter. Here’s the kicker---AND the hunter should employ his (her) every skill to quickly kill the animal. These teachings, which predate the Greek and Persian thinking on sport hunting, were focused on the hunter’s skill and the animal’s nature being fully employed. As subsequent civilizations developed (and disappeared) these two principles remained ab origine and are the root of outdoor’s hunting philosophy, regardless of the philosopher.
So, my argument is that the hunter must allow the animal the opportunity to employ its nature to escape while also employing his (or her) skill as a hunter to insure as quick and clean a kill as is possible. Does this apply to the subsistence hunter? Interestingly, most peoples who still rely on true subsistence hunting strive for the quick kill (quick can be by slow poison, but the animal never panics) to preserve the quality of the meat and reduce the amount of distance the meat, hide and other parts must be returned to the village or family group. But, in essence, we should probably say no, it does not apply, but in truth the careful subsistence hunter wants the quick kill for other reasons.
That said I’ll maintain that the line in the sand has been drawn and it returns to the hunter. I personally enjoy hunting waterfowl from a permanent blind, whether it is built on stilts over the marshland or is a pit in the ground. I also derive a great deal of satisfaction from setting up a block of decoys on a slough then hiding in the cattails. I can also see deer and other big game hunts in my own future in which I will be hunting from a blind or hide and some of them will be over waterholes. I’ll also hunt from a tree stand when the need arises. But the question is whether I the hunter will employ both sides of the ethical equation—hunter’s skill, game’s nature. Does the use of the blind over a food plot provide for the animal’s nature? I am not so sure it does but that does not mean I cannot be convinced. In the case of the blind on a marshland where the birds return to the same area day after day—the birds are not stupid so if they persist in flying near the blinds where they are shot at something else must be at work. Is it hunter’s skill, the weather, or a combination in which case the skill may be reading the weather’s influence and how to set the block of decoys. Is the hunting of planted birds unethical? Planted birds that are properly raised can humble a confident hunter as quickly as a neophyte. What about driven hunts? It isn’t uncommon for the birds in driven hunts to be pen raised birds and the survivors are called back to the pen at the end of the day. Still, some of my most memorable bird hunts were for planted birds.
These are the questions and the issues that have dogged sport hunting since husbandry made subsistence hunting unnecessary. So, is hunting unnecessary? I maintain that hunting is necessary. But that’s another question.
You see, guys, what I am offering is the question and then reaching behind the question to the next question. The only question for which I maintain there is an answer is the question of hunter ethics and that is because I believe that this question was answered thousands of years ago—hunter’s skill, quarry’s nature. Because this is the foundational premise of hunting then even the high fence hunt, if it answers the second part, and the hunter employs the first part, can be ethical. The hunt for planted pheasants can be ethical provided both sides are employed. I do not believe this is a difficult answer to reach although there are times when the questions which lead to it are complex and demand difficult answers.
Another historical notation, but please don’t ask me to reach for it right now, is in my pile of research papers and that is a translation of some early Persian writings in which “fair chase” when hunting is discussed as being important to the sporting hunt. In that instance fair chase was making reference to not employing so many hunters on the chase of a single animal that the animal could not employ its natural defenses. It was believed that the king could not ascertain which of his young men were not brave hunters when they were not being fair to the chase; thus he could not weigh each young man’s value as a soldier. This is an early reference to the martial side of hunting.
Thus, both fair chase and ethical hunting, which we want to believe are more recent innovations, are actually ancient concepts. Our problem today is figuring out how these principles apply in contemporary hunting and through the application of these principles we can overcome some of the negatives that are dogging us and improve the quality of hunting.
It is to these problems that I am proposing the thinking symposium.
10 months ago