December 1, 2022

The Things That Form Our Hunting Ethics

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I sat in the sun just on the edge of the clearing that ran for several hundred miles, mostly in a north and south direction. The day began crisp with a heavy frost but as the sun crept slowly higher into the sky, anywhere the sun struck the white frost it wasn’t long before the white turned to wet and eventually evaporated. The air remained cool enough to hang on to the frost in the shade of some of the trees.

I was sitting on a power line. We see this many times in our travels and there happens to be one that runs through the area where our hunting camp is that I have been going to for over 30 years. We use the power line as a strategic advantage in hunting deer. We have learned over the years where deer like to cross it. Under the right circumstances, one of the camp attendees may take up a stand at a favorite crossing point.

It wasn’t my intention really to sit on the power line but when I got there, I decided I would for awhile. It was still cold and I looked for a place to sit in the sun. I spotted a stump about the size of my backside, calling to me. It was next to the edge of the clearing and completely engulfed in bright sunshine. I settled in for an undetermined amount of time.

I sat for about 30 minutes processing many thoughts as they entered my mind, not really paying as much attention to the task I had come there to do. I even took out my journal that I carry in my pack in case I want to record an event I fear I would forget.

As quickly as I glanced down at the ground and back up to the space in front of me, a young buck, a “crotch horn” as we liked to call them, stood only a few yards in front of me. He was as unaware of me as I was of him but I had the advantage because he walked out in front of me and not behind me.

I didn’t move. I gazed at the animal wondering how long it would be that he would stand there, vulnerable at a time when deer are the most in danger. I wondered if being so close he would smell me. I could smell myself after spending a few days at camp. My clothes reeked of wood smoke and bacon grease and who knows what all else.

We were at impasse. I eyed him as he eyed the opening he was considering crossing. My .308 laid across my lap. Any moment I knew he would bound through the opening and into the woods on the other side. But he seemed in little hurry to do that. Once I had had enough of playing games with this young buck, I spoke to him and told him to be on his way. I surprised him and I hope I also taught him to be a bit more wary if he planned on living another year.

To let the deer pass was my choice. The reasons I chose to let him go were varied but nonetheless they were my choices. I can tell you that none of my reasons were based on ethics. Some hunters wouldn’t have shot the deer because he was too young or that it was earlier in the hunting season. And yes, some hunters would have considered sitting where I was waiting for deer to reveal themselves in an opening as unethical. That’s their choice and I have exercised mine.

Nothing I had done was illegal, it was only a matter of my own preferences. I chose not to take that buck. My choice left me that season without any venison but I had no regrets. My choice!

We all make choices pertaining to the methods we choose to hunt. Hopefully those choices are all within the laws written but I’ve been around long enough to know that doesn’t always happen. Excepting those incidents, our choices are really based on hunting ethics and usually these are formed growing up. Circumstances can often determine whether a person will stray from their own ethics. Perhaps I can give an example.

I know my limitations with a hunting rifle. When I was younger, I used to hunt with a British .303. My father bought that gun for me when I was in high school for $15.00. I didn’t think much about it at the time but back in the late 1960s, $15.00 was a lot of money for my Dad.

The rifle had a peep site on it and I shot it often at the gravel pit. I got so I was comfortable enough that I would shoot at a deer up to 200 yards, if one was standing. One late fall day, I was hunting near the top of a mountain in Grafton Notch in Maine. It had snowed a lot at the higher elevations and I was wading through a good foot and a half of snow. I stood beneath a large hemlock tree that was heavily laden with a blanket of snow on its branches.

I looked uphill and through a narrow gap between trees I spotted what I thought was a deer. As unusual as it is in Maine to see deer more than 50-75 yards in the woods, I estimated after the fact, that this deer was stretching the 250 yard mark. I shouldered my .303 and my front site completely covered the deer. I would have no idea what part of the deer I was aiming at. I looked over the top of my sites and that’s when I saw there were two deer. One was a very large buck sporting a brush pile on top of his head.

Thoughts of where I was going to aim and how I was going to be able to locate a lethal shot vanished. As soon as I had deer in my sites, I squeezed the trigger. Both deer lived to see another day. Most of what transpired that day was driven by inexperience and excitement but I somewhat compromised my ethics because it was a big buck that I wanted to bring down. Did I break the law? Absolutely not but I could have just as easily wounded one or both of those deer and never found them. I realize this happens at times with hunting but a good ethical hunter will do all that they can to minimize that risk.

Where we grow up and what the laws are that govern hunting is the main influence on individual hunting ethics. I have discussed these issues before. The bottom line really comes down to gaining a better understanding of how others learn to hunt, the laws that govern their state and respecting their methods and tactics.

Should we chose to travel to other regions around the country to hunt, we have to become knowledgeable about the local hunting laws. We then try to find a balance with local laws and our own hunting ethics. For example, if I went to Louisiana where they have a season to hunt deer using dogs, more than likely I would not participate. I never grew up hunting deer with dogs and the laws in Maine prohibited it, so it became part of my ethics package. As long as the state of Louisiana believes that hunting deer with dogs is an acceptable practice, I’ll respect that but it would be pushing my envelope to compromise my ethics to do it.

Should I lobby to end the practice of hunting with dogs? It is my right as an American to do that but I wouldn’t do it simply because I didn’t agree with it. First of all, I’ve never done it so I can’t tell you what it entails. It would be irresponsible of me to propose ending the hunt without first completely understanding it and basing my decisions to fight it on grounds other than I don’t agree with it.

Ethics is a personal thing. I respect another’s ethics but I will not tolerate breaking the law.

Tom Remington