By Mark Kenyon

It is said that in a single day, Daniel Boone once killed 11 black bears before breakfast.

During the height of the buffalo hunting boom, there were reports of hunters who had killed 100 to 200 buffalo in a single hour.

At one time, this kind of hunting at a mass scale was acceptable. Today, of course, it is not. Why is that?

Simply, because things change. And when circumstances change, the code of ethics that governs how hunters participate with nature changes along with it. It must.

The Taboo

Ethics and hunting. They are two things that must go together hand in hand, but inevitably a discussion of the topic gets a rise out of people. Bring up ethics in a room full of hunters and you’re likely to be accused of at least one of two things; 1) trying to divide hunters, or 2) helping anti-hunters.

But why does a conversation on hunting ethics need to be so taboo?

In my opinion, it does not. In fact I believe the much more dangerous practice would be to sweep these conversations under the rug and ignore ethics and how they pertain to hunting. This is something that truly will help anti-hunters.

When circumstances change, whether it be the environment, wildlife populations, culture or technology, it is our duty to examine how we interact with nature as hunters. To forget that, in my opinion, would spell the doom of our hunting way of life. Still though, debates or stances on hunting ethics are derided.

Of course, we’ll never all agree on all hunting ethics related issues – and that’s ok. We’ll all draw different lines in the sand. But what’s most important, I believe, is that these conversations are being had. It’s important that we are taking the time to look within ourselves as hunters and asking, are we doing right by nature? Are we doing right by these animals? Are we doing right by our ancestors?

It’s a conversation we need to have as a community and as individuals.

Why Do Ethics Matter?

Recently, the Boone & Crockett Club has found itself the target of criticism due to this exact issue. Specifically, it’s been derided because of a recently announced stance on hunting ethics related to long distance shooting.

In response to these criticisms the B&C club released what I believe is a truly terrific explanation of why a serious discussion of hunting ethics is necessary in today’s world. I think it perfectly explains many of the points I would like to emphasize to all of you about the importance of at least examining our ethics as hunters, rather than hiding behind the way things always have been.

I’ve copied a portion of their explanation below, but to read the whole statement as well as some clarifying points on their long-distance shooting stance click here.

All significant human activities, sooner or later, are conducted under a code, or set of guidelines, that direct appropriate behavior. Without this order there would simply be chaos and the activity would become unacceptable. Consequently, ethics apply in everything we do, from our personal relationships and how we treat our fellow man to business and recreational activities. Hunting too is conducted under a code, or set of ethics, that direct appropriate behavior. As such, a conversation about ethics in hunting is a conversation about values and continuance.

Values in hunting are more important today than at any time in history. Why?  A hunter’s values –  what motivates us and how we conduct ourselves – shapes society’s opinion of hunting. In any democracy, society decides what stays and what goes. Today, hunters make up a minority of society, and therefore hunting traditions are potentially at risk if the majority of citizens develop a negative perception of hunting, whether justified or not.

Ninety percent of our population does not hunt, but eighty percent still support hunting as long as it is seen as:

1)    Not wasteful – the game taken is used for food.

2)    Ethical – guided by rules and values that honor the tradition and the animals hunted.

3)    The activity is in service to conservation – not overwhelming, but using wildlife resources in a sustainable way.

Today, more people are voicing their opinions about how wildlife is to be used, managed, and cared for than ever before. How hunting is being conducted is therefore of utmost relevance.

Clearly we need never apologize for something that provides as much as hunting does for society and for the natural environment. Having rules, laws and personal ethics to govern and guide our hunting practices is about respect, for the wildlife we pursue, for the landscapes in which those creatures thrive – and for ourselves as hunters.

Certainly we should also acknowledge that our society rightly expects, and deserves, an ethical approach to the use of any public resource and especially toward any living creature.  The truth is, we are hunting today because the majority of sportsmen over the past century have held themselves to a high ethical standard. The concern of many sportsmen today is what they were taught was unacceptable is now being shown as acceptable to our next generation of hunters. Unfortunately, times and circumstances are changing moving the line between what was once unthinkable to something now less troubling.

History has proven that our society will eliminate or at least greatly diminish those activities seen as unethical. Therefore society at large must be assured that hunting is something more than killing and that hunting does not risk – but rather ensures – the survival of the hunted.  Through the concept of fair chase and the hunting ethic, hunting transcends mere killing and becomes something more – much more.  That “something more” is a combination of the expectations of society, coupled with a binding contract on the part of the hunter to behave in a manner that honors both hunting and the animals pursued. The result will be a continuing social relevance for hunting in a modern world and the continued survival of the hunted in the wild state.

The values hunters carry should be the envy of everyone who cares about the land and wildlife.

I urge you to keep these words in mind. Examine your hunting ethics. And be open to conversation, debate and the occasional disagreement.

We might never all draw the same lines in the sand when it comes to hunting ethics, but if we hope to continue this cherished way of life, we do need to walk a line.

That lines runs a sometimes wavy course, weaving in and out of culture, society, history and technology, balancing many people’s goals, hopes, fears and desires. It’s a winding road, but in the end it leads to a dark timber, a thick oak, a stand perched high in the branches, and a perfect evening filled with the steady crunch of an approaching animal.

Some things change, but others will always stay the same.