The Ethical Hunter

WVL“A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than by a mob of onlookers. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact.”   Aldo Leopold

Chances are, if you have spent any time hunting around others you have observed some unethical behavior. Most of these acts are illegal and therefore are easily filed into the “things to avoid” category. It doesn’t become problematic until you realize that one can act unethically and still abide by the law. Incorporate this into how a hunter’s attitude towards fellow hunters can negatively influence hunting experiences, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Many hunting clubs have tag out boards that indicate what particular stand a hunter will be occupying that day. This was the case in a club I hunted a few years back. We could also establish one personal stand that wasn’t to be hunted by other members, which also had to be marked on the board. Due to my time spent scouting I had two nice bucks patterned, and the pictures to prove it. I later harvested a 4.5 year old 10 point buck from my personal stand. I was surprised to see that many of the hunters in the club were not only upset about the buck being killed, but also rude about the outcome of my hunt. I had hunted with these guys for a few years and they understood it was one of my larger bucks at the time. Even more surprising was the fact that the buck met all harvest criteria…their bitterness derived from the fact I harvested a mature buck they had set their sights on. I later won the “big buck contest” and many of the hunters barely said a word to me about my accomplishment. They didn’t owe me anything, but why would a hunter act such a way to another fellow hunter for doing what he himself wanted to do? This is a perfect example of a hunter acting foolish and diminishing the spirit and memory of a successful hunt. Of course they broke no law, but their actions were inexcusable.

Other acts of unethical behavior include stealing portable stands and trail cameras, and even tampering with another hunter’s stand locations. This seems to more of a problem than many hunters like to admit. Actually, I have talked to numerous hunters who are members in various clubs that have experienced some sort of similar immoral behavior being exhibited. After the large 10 point buck was harvested I began to notice disturbances in the immediate vicinity of my favorite public stand. I later found cigarettes and other objects around my stand used to keep deer away. Of course not all clubs experience behavior quite like this but similar things do happen. In most instances the fellow club members aren’t trying to ruin a hunter’s setup, they are trying to hunt it. For example, everyone has a right to hunt land that they paid to lease or own, but some hunters take scouting information gained by other hunters and use that to help them shoot a buck they knew nothing about, in an area they originally had no intentions of hunting. Sound familiar? I bet it does. Once again…legal? Yes. Ethical? You decide.

Sadly, the ethics of hunting are made out to be complicated when in reality they are more simplistic than the law itself. How you treat another hunter when they harvest a deer will be remembered as a part of the hunt. Therefore it is your responsibility to act in manner that will be positively remembered. Simply put, do what you were taught in elementary school and treat others as you would like to be treated. People may forget what you said but they won’t forget how you made them feel. So if a fellow hunter shoots a buck that may not meet your personal harvest criteria, or it happens to be the particular buck you were after, let them enjoy it.

Andrew Walters