September 23, 2023

The Hunt For Hunting Ethics

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I have read many times the definition of ethics as “what you do when no one is watching”. What do you do when people are watching?

Hunting is a controversial activity. There are those who think that any form of hunting, fishing or trapping is wrong and unethical. To date, I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of Americans view hunting as an acceptible thing to do in our society. Hunting is an extremely useful and effective tool for wildlife management, it puts food on the table, is a good clean family activity, is a boon to our economies, to name only a few.

The hunting community spends a lot of valuable time and money defending its sport. Anti-hunting and animal rights groups are well financed and are active in fighting what we do.

Ethics has played a huge role in the defense of hunting, fishing and trapping. Those organizations who want to stop the practice, say that killing defenseless animals is wrong. Pro hunting groups point out that the alternatives to an unmanaged wildlife, is much more cruel.

So, how do we define ethics? We can probably define it about as easily as we define what a sin is. There is a ton of gray area when it comes to ethics. We use general terms to describe what might be classified as an ethical hunt – fair chase, conventional methods, etc.

Hunters are divided in this debate. There are a few things that they can agree quite easily about. For example, almost all hunters don’t enjoy watching any animal suffer. Therefore, they work extremely hard and make every attempt to make a kill quick so that the game does not suffer.

Is this debate over hunting ethics a divisive tool or does it work to ensure that the majority of people, hunters or not, see that the sport is a good one? I guess I would choose to take the outlook of the latter scenario. Presenting a good image of a hunter is important. Like with anything, whether it be hunting, fishing or stock car driving, often the public focuses on the bad things while overlooking the good.

It is easy to sit here and say that hunting and hunters are often on the defense. What if they go on the offense? There are organizations scattered all over the United States that do a world of good for the promotion of outdoor sports including hunting, fishing and trapping. What happens when an organization is formed that wants to take the sport of hunting to a new level?

David Farbman, whose family owns a big real estate company in the Detroit area, has founded the World Hunting Association. In short, his new organization plans to begin a series of hunts for deer with large payoffs – a professional deer hunting association if you will.

The hunts will take place in fenced in deer preserves using tranquilizer guns instead of bullets. Some have said that Farbman’s plan is to make WHA to hunting what bass tournaments has done for fishing.

With this comes the ethics debate. Once again hunters are divided but at this juncture, it doesn’t appear to be an equal split. Clearly the majority finds this plan a bad one and bad for the image of hunting.

The anti-hunters and animal rights groups are remaining uncharacteristically quiet about this announcement of a professional hunt league. Maybe they are seeing that this effort will work in their favor to tarnish the hunting image and further divide hunters in general.

Farbman believes strongly in what he is persuing. He thinks this organization will help to generate more interest in the sport and boost the number of youth and women hunters as well. This is what he had to say in a recent interview about how he perceives his new organization.

“I believe the World Hunting Association is God’s vision,” he said. “Now our job, with the awesome team I’m working with, is to execute and make this a reality.”

This sounds like the dream of a person who is a hunting fanatic but has the rest of the hunting world jumped on Farbman’s bandwagon? It appears not. Many of his biggest sponsors, including Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops, have bailed on him. Several hunting and outdoor groups are denouncing his club as unethical.

This all brings us back to the hunt for hunting ethics. What is right and what is wrong? I guess it lies in the eyes of the beholder. The first question that should be asked is if hunting itself is an ethical practice? If you can get beyond that, then is hunting on a high-fenced hunting preserve ethical?

The debate about hunting preserves has gone on for some time. Some flatly rebuke it while others state parameters.

What about using tranquilizers instead of bullets? Is this somehow more ethical? Are the deer subject to harm from the use of tranquilizers or the effects of the drug? Are we then exploiting deer simply for large sums of money? Is televising the hunts on national TV a good idea?

These are all good questions that we as individuals need to answer. While deciding where you line up on this issue, also ask yourself if hunting image is real or imagined. Will events like this smear a delicate image? Will the public become desensitized to professional deer hunting with tranquilizers? Does any of this even matter? Are we making a mountain out of a mole hill?

There will never be consensus on hunting ethics because we all have different backgrounds and have been raised to view issues of this nature from totally different perspectives.

We live in a progressive society. Many social issues have evolved over decades. We are witness to changing views on basic human decency issues. What once was viewed as socially unacceptible is now readily accepted and in some cases encouraged.

The progressive movement has had some effect on hunting but fortunately I don’t believe it has infiltrated it to the same extent as other social issues have. I have my reasons for believing this, which is probably better left to a whole new blog.

Ethics is more than “what you do when no one is watching”. It is complex and delves into the core of our personal beliefs and up-bringing. It cannot be easily defined. What helps in maintaining a strong image about hunting is the promotion of hunting heritage. A clear understanding of how hunting has played a role in the backbone of the history and strength of our nation has been instrumental in keeping our sport in the image we all enjoy.

Maybe professional hunting of deer in a fenced-in patch of woods, using tranquilizer guns, collecting big money purses and broadcasting the event around the globe, isn’t recognized as part of our hunting heritage. Perhaps it is stepping too far outside the envelope.

Tom Remington