Hunting has two kinds of law. One is the written law that is enforced by the game warden. The other is unwritten. It is an ethical code or code of honour that the true sportsman places on himself.
Most hunters obey the game laws, but that alone isn’t enough. Without ethics, a man can be a licensed, law abiding hunter and still be a poor sportsman.
There is nothing illegal about shooting a running buck over 600 metres away, or trying to down a duck winging 100 metres high. But it is certainly unethical and only a poor sportsman would try it.
The ethical hunter knows both the limits of his gun and of his shooting ability and always tries for a clean kill.
In addition to the game laws, the ethical sportsman obeys all laws when hunting. He acts as a goodwill ambassador for his sport and for all other hunters.
He knows that the town whose road signs are used for target practice quickly removes the welcome mat for hunters and that the farmer whose property or live-stock are abused will post his land and forbid further hunting.
A real sportsman does all he can to grow in hunting skills. If he is not a crack shot, he works hard at his shooting and gets all the practice he can. He learns about the game he hunts and how it lives. He studies the game range in which he hunts.
In other words, he has respect for his quarry and hunts it only in fair and sporting ways. As an ethical hunter, a real hunter, he believes in “fair chase” and he never takes unfair advantage of the game he hunts. This principle of fair chase is often part of the law. For instance, it is unlawful to shoot buck by spotlight or to hunt from an aeroplane. On the other hand, it may not be against the law to shoot a pheasant on the ground or a duck swimming in the water but the ethical sportsman will never do it.
A man who takes pride in his hunting and in himself as a hunter always hunts in such a way that neither he nor the game he hunts is ever shamed. He treats his quarry with respect, both before and after he shoots it.
This is why the ethical bird-hunter, if he can possibly afford to keep one, uses a trained bird dog. He has the dog not just to find birds but to recover them after they are downed.
The big game hunter also makes every possible effort to avoid wounding game and if he does, he stops further hunting and combs the countryside to find it. He will always abandon his own hunting to help another hunter find wounded game.
A real trophy hunter may take a long and costly hunting trip and never fire a shot. His opportunities for legally taking game may have been many but the ethical trophy hunter exercises strong and selective restraint. His code demands that he shoot only a fully mature specimen and he knows that the removal from the herd of such an animal, almost always a bull or buck beyond breeding age, benefits others of the species in the area.
The ethical hunter never takes more than his limit. But more important still, he never takes more game than he can use. His game is cleaned quickly and skilfully and he brings it to the kitchen in prime condition. It is never wasted and he takes real pride in this because it is a sure sign of his skill and knowledge. It also shows that respect for game is part of his self-respect as a seasoned hunter.
There are two main kinds of people in the world, the givers and the takes. The ethical hunter is a giver. The unethical hunter - the poacher, the man who breaks the game laws and sets no standard for his conduct as a hunter - is a taker.
It is the ethical hunter who is most apt to give generously of his time and outdoor
knowledge to introduce a youngster to the enjoyment of the hunting experience.
The unethical hunter, the taker, never gives his companion an even break. He is the claimer who brags about his success when he fills his limit and makes excuses if he does not. He will hunt private property without permission and show no respect for the land on which he trespasses. His concern is never HOW he hunts, only for HOW MUCH game he can shoot.
Abusing the hospitality of landowners and rousing the anger of the public, the unethical hunter risks not only his own chances for hunting but those of all other hunters and of future generations as well. He is one of the greatest enemies of hunting today, posing a threat to the sport equal to that of any anti-hunting movement.
While even the ethical hunter may never enjoy the full approval of the non-hunting public, the public may at least tolerate him and as public awareness of the hunter’s significant role in conservation increases, anti-hunting sentiments may recede.
But the public will no longer tolerate the unethical hunter and as long as he is allowed to remain on the scene, ethical sportsmen will suffer by association.
Conservation laws and hunting ethics are two sides of the same coin. Do away with either and we will do away with hunting.