Thursday, November 3, 2011

On The Ethics Of Hunting...

After writing my previous post I realized that I was due for a little introspective analysis of my hunting values and ethics before I head back to the field. As stated, it’s been quite some time since I’ve engaged in a hunt. I’m a different guy now in many respects and the world is certainly different as well. Hence my ethics as a hunter necessarily bear thoughtful examination prior to re-entry into the act of hunting.

There are a lot of very articulate and thoughtful examinations of broader issues with regard to hunting and how it’s regarded by hunters and non-hunters alike. One of the most compelling issues is that of how we answer the ambiguous question of “why?” The analysis of calling the practice “sport hunting” vs “meat hunting” is far better articulated by these two fine blogs than I ever could:

Both are very compelling reading and if you are interested at all in the topic I strongly recommend you give them a read. I agree whole-heartedly with their take and as such I shant examine the topic further here. In short; “What they said.”

With that out of the way, I’ll go through what works for me and why.

1) With the exception of vermin species, I won’t harvest an animal that I don’t intend to eat.

This necessarily eliminates for me, the practice of trophy hunting. Hence, the practice of “African style safari hunting” or “high fence game reserve” hunting holds no attraction at all for me. I’ve no interest in mounting an Impala head on my wall and I’m pretty darn sure Kathy wouldn’t dig the idea either. I understand that the meat from those hunts is usually distributed to local tribes or underprivileged locals and if that works for you, fine. But I cannot justify the taking of a life, and let’s be clear - that is what we are talking about here - if the meat is not to be consumed by me and my family.

Further, I eliminate from my possible hunts most, if not all, predators. I once worked with a guy who was an avid bow hunter and ~20yrs ago I accompanied him on a bear hunt in Southern Washington. The hunt itself was spectacular. We tracked a large bear for over 6 hours through dense forests, across and around clear cuts and covered miles of terrain. We eventually stalked the bear to within reasonable bow range and he made his shot putting an arrow soundly into the bear and off it went crashing through the bush. After tracking it again for about 45min we found it sitting with its back against a tree staring at us as we approached. The sound it was making sounded exactly like a grown man sobbing and the way it looked at us just about killed me. I had to turn away as my boss finished him.

Only time in my life that I have ever mourned a game animal.

While I enjoyed the hunt, the kill was too much for me. Hunting bear and other predators is not for me. Mr. Cerulli said it well on his blog with the statement, “Fellow creatures about whom I care too much to eat.” Bear and other predators are among that list. I understand that some folks do engage in hunting the aforementioned species. I’m not going to judge them or their ethics. I’ll just politely decline the invite if asked along.

As mentioned elsewhere in my blog, I think it’s important that people are more closely connected to where their food comes from. We need to be mindful that eating meat requires the killing of an animal be it by our hand or by the hand of another. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s just something many folks fail to recognize. Meat does not come from Safeway, it comes from living things. Every slice of bacon requires a dead pig and every Fillet Mignon requires a dead cow. I don’t consider it cruel to humanely harvest a game animal. I find the treatment of domestic animals such as cows, pigs & chickens far less humane. A deer or boar lives a far better life and is usually dispatched with far more care, honor and consideration than the cattle at the Harris Ranch along I-5.

2) I won’t take a shot unless it’s safe to do so.

By “safe” I mean not only safe for fellow hunters, non-hunters and property but also a “safe” assumption that a clean and ethical kill will result from the shot. It’s this simple; Once the trigger is pulled one cannot recall the bullet as if it were an errant “reply-all” email. I mentioned before that I wouldn’t judge others on what they hunt but with regard to how we hunt I think there is a definite right and wrong.

The first element is addressed in that I ensure that I am aware of what is between me and my target and what is beyond it. Taking quick shots at running game without familiarity of the surrounding terrain is irresponsible and sometimes results in Vice Presidents shooting their friends in the face. Taking a shot at an animal that is silhouetted atop a ridge is equally foolish. Every hunter will occasionally miss and in the practice of wing-shooting it’s often rather than occasional. I've a responsibility first to the safety of fellow hunters and second to the practice itself to ensure the result of a miss is carefully examined before my shot is sent down range. I’ve abandoned hunts when I’ve seen unsafe or irresponsible practices in those in my party or others. I wouldn’t hesitate to do so again.

The second element is ensuring a clean, humane and ethical kill. There is no delicate way of stating it; the intent beyond enjoying time in the outdoors is to kill an animal I intend to eat. I feel that I have to limit myself to only those shots that I can make and that allow me to hit the animal in such a way as to mitigate its suffering to the best of my ability. If my intent is to harvest an animal for the purpose of eating it, it is incumbent on me to do so in a way that does not damage the meat excessively or expose it to contamination by hitting the entrails rather than vital organs.

I know my limitations as a marksman and I won’t exceed them. I let that last point get away from me once in taking an ill-advised shot at an Antelope. I’m certain I hit it, though I don’t know where. We searched for over 8hrs without finding the animal. I pray that the wound was superficial and the Antelope survived, but I’ve never discussed the topic of hunting where this memory didn’t come rushing back to me and fill me with guilt. This was the first and last time I’ll ever push a shot beyond a range I am comfortable with.

3) I will, at all times, observe the hunting regulations of the area in which I hunt.

This means that whether I agree with the requirement for non-lead ammunition in the California Condor Zone or not I will abide by those regulations. I fear that we might be opening ourselves to a new set of unintended consequences with these regulations but be that as it may it is currently the law of the land and like other regulations must be followed.

There are other parts of the country where practices such as driving deer with dogs, use of feeders or mineral attractants or night hunting with artificial light are not only legal but considered moral or ethical methods of taking game. Personally, I wouldn’t engage in any of the above, but neither will I stand in judgment of those who do...where legal. But those practices are not legal in California so it’s not an option anyway.

There was a time in California when the populace was small enough and game plentiful enough that there wasn’t a requirement for a limit on take. There are photos in family scrapbooks of my grandfather with an old green Coleman cooler absolutely full of trout, there are photos of my step-father and his brothers with 75-80 dove. Those days are long gone. The resources must be conserved (not preserved) and managed if the herds & flocks are to remain healthy and the ecosystems in which they reside are to remain in balance. Non-native, invasive species not withstanding, particularly boar, I think that take limits are fair and reasonable and while I intend to hunt for the purposed of bringing meat home, that shall not supersede the necessity to ensure the future of the game species in pursuit.

I’ll add to this with follow-up posts as things occur to me via further experience or introspection but for now this is it for this post. Please feel free to comment but I ask you to do so in a manner that is respectful to others.

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