Ah, spring! The weather warms, the robins return, the crocuses poke their little heads up through the soil. The cycle of life begins anew and all thoughts turn to … hunting ethics.
Every hunter I know believes it is a hunter’s responsibility to kill an animal cleanly. Ideally, you drop it with one shot. If you hit an animal but don’t kill it, it’s your job to track it and finish the job.
Although even the most conscientious hunter will sometimes lose a wounded animal, I think it’s fair to say that making that happen as infrequently as possible is the single most important guiding principle of hunting. (Okay, there’s don’t shoot people, but that’s a little different.)
Yet deeply ingrained in the loose collection of principles that is hunting ethics we have the concept of “fair chase.”
Different people have different definitions, but it boils down to giving an animal a sporting chance. Many hunters frown on shooting a duck in the water, taking a turkey off a roost, or luring a deer in with bait. What it boils down to is that those strategies most likely to yield a clean kill are considered off limits to the “ethical” hunter.
I have no objection to going into the thickest part of the woods and pitting your wits against a deer by trying to get it to come into range. Making hunting difficult is not incompatible with a commitment to a clean kill. But what, exactly, is the objection to making hunting easier?
It’s not sporting, it’s not fair, it somehow violates a fundamental sense of justice to take an animal that’s sleeping, stunned by sudden light, or baited.
As Holly at NorCal Cazadora has pointed out, if you’re concerned about having an unfair advantage over an animal, what’s with the gun? Seems to me that firearms irrevocably tipped the scales in favor of humans as predators. If you really want to give your deer a sporting chance, go into the woods unarmed and see how well you do with a pointy stick.
The problem with “fair chase” is that the more you level the playing field, the more likely you are to wound an animal. There’s evidence that the deer wounding rate for archery is higher than that for firearms, yet I have heard bowhunters talk about the authenticity of the experience and the satisfaction of taking a deer without a firearm.
And I understand that. To be perfectly clear, I do not oppose bowhunting, or any strategy that makes hunting more difficult. I just think that, the more likely your hunting method is to wound, the more committed you have to be to developing your skills and the more careful you have to be about deciding which shots to take. Responsible bowhunters are very skilled and very careful, and their feeling of accomplishment when they take an animal successfully must be commensurate.
I respect skill. I know some very experienced, responsible, successful hunters, hunters who wouldn’t dream of baiting a deer, and my hat is off to them for having gotten good at something difficult. I hope to learn from them and become more skillful myself.
My point here (and I do have one) is that what’s “sporting” is arbitrary. And I think a commitment to a clean kill trumps any consideration of fair chase. While I appreciate the challenge of hunting, the need to understand an animal in order to get close enough to it to kill it, and the connection to wildlife that many hunters feel, the primary reason I hunt is for food. If I can take an animal easily, I will.
The deer doesn’t care whether you shoot it over a feeder or you take it in the wild. The deer does care that you kill it in such a way as to minimize its suffering. Anything that makes that more likely is okay in my book.