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Has Hunter Ethics become an Oxymoron?

The way we behave does not always match the way we talk...

(WARNING: this article contains elements of truth that may offend some readers)

Photo credit: Joshua Sciara

It seems these days that all hunters claim they are ethical, but the way many of us treat fellow hunters proves otherwise. I wrote a blog about this when Wild Game Innovations founder Bill Busbice was caught poaching, and we witnessed the subsequent online crucifixion (read here). Now, we have allegations with Chris Brackett, another hunting celebrity potentially caught in an illegal harvest, and yes, that's all we see on social media: bashing, and a lot of self-righteous hunters “taking a stand” on a no-brainer issue. I don't want to talk about those specific instances here, but rather about hunter ethics in general, and how our widely touted "highly ethical" demographic actually treats fellow hunters.

As a hunter who grew up in Michigan, I'm used to high competition for a very limited resource. There are more tags issued than harvestable deer in my home state (the gross mismanagement of our state's resource by the DNR will be another blog, another time), and run-ins are inevitable to say the least in this high-stakes environment. The last few years I've done more public land hunting than ever, and seen more of this unethical behavior than ever. I will say there are some good guys/gals out there that are respectful of other hunters, but there are also many that aren't. This blog is going to focus on the ethics side of hunting related to the respect and courtesy hunters show each other.

Let me describe just a few instances of hunters not showing courtesy and respect to other hunters that I've experienced the last few years. Three years ago I scouted a spot on public land back in a swamp that was away from other hunters, and that showed a lot of promise. It was a large area, but there was only one trail feasible for entering the swamp. At the parking lot of this particular area was a man with a trailer/camp established. After spending the afternoon scouting and prepping a spot, I was confronted by this individual in a very aggressive manner. He was very confrontational, and made it known that it was his hunting spot, had been for 35 years, and that I shouldn't be hunting there. I attempted to tell him where I was hunting, and see where he was so I could stay away from him, however he just told me to F-off. I debated hunting there after this encounter, but not wanting to be intimidated, hunted the spot that night. When I returned to my truck, I found dog feces (he had a dog) were smeared/crammed under all my door handles. This led to a call to the police and DNR, and an unpleasant day in the woods to say the least . This individual apparently thought he owned a part of the public land, or at least had more right to hunt it than me. I've had countless other encounters with other people very similar.. aggressive demeanor, a statement of how long they've been hunting there, and a strong insinuation that that I should leave.

Another scenario happened just this week. I was prepping a stand for gun opener (public) when 2 guys (one with a climber on his back) walked up to me and asked if I'd be there for opener. I said yes, to which his reply was "shoot, I've been hunting here for the last 8 years." He acted nice enough and said he'd look elsewhere, however proceeded to climb and prep a tree 100 yards behind a rifle zone. Opening morning I was there early, but yes, the other hunter did return making an incredibly amount of noise with his climber as he crashed through the brush and climbed the tree he prepared (to which I had a clear shot). Upon leaving at 11 AM, instead of returning the way he came, he walked even closer to me through the brush for some reason, making plenty of noise.

I could go on with similar encounters, including stands and trail cameras being stolen, and so could many readers, I'm sure. Maybe this is preaching to the choir, but I do want to speak very frankly to hunters about ethics, and a few things we must return to in hunting.

1. Put others first: When it comes to where we hunt, and how we treat others and their gear, we need to start using some common courtesy. Is it beyond us to put ourselves in someone else's shoes, and apply the golden rule to situations (do unto others as you would have them do unto you.)? If all hunters would do this, there would literally be no negative encounters with hunters and when hunting. We'd actually be tripping over each other being nice, and trying to help out our fellow hunters. Wow, what a difference that would make! Instead of high competition, win at all costs attitude many have that lead to neighbor feuds and confrontations, we'd actually like others to do well, and run-ins would be accidental and cordial (sure we may get disappointed when someone is hunting where we wanted to, but we wouldn’t treat them with disrespect). There definitely wouldn't be stolen gear, poop under door handles, people setting up 100 yards away in rifle season just to stick it to you, and I wouldn't feel the need to feel for my gun on occasion because of aggressive encounters. It may not be the most natural inclination, or easiest thing, but it’s time to start thinking of others and following the golden rule in hunting and with fellow hunters.

2. Don't be a hypocrite: Another way to say this is don't apply standards to others that you don't apply to yourself. For example, if I immediately come back at someone when they say, "I've been hunting here 35 years," (implied: you can't hunt here due to the length of time I’ve hunted here) with, "oh yeah, I've been hunting here 40 years, guess that means you should leave," I am sure none of these hunters would leave. They are being hypocrites, and are not playing by the same “rules” they try to apply to others (rules made up by themselves, not rule of law I might add). If you wouldn't like someone knowingly hunting 100 yards, or 200 yards, or X yards away from you, then don't do it to someone else. If you don't like it when neighbors hunt right on the property line, then don't do it yourself (This is an issue many private land hunters have, and my father deals with a lot. The neighbor hunts right on the property line, but throws a fit if he puts a stand near it). It’s time to realize hunting isn't just about us, and to stop being hypocrites when it comes to our hunting, and other people’s hunting rights.

3. Respect other's rights: This might be just another way to say the above, but think it needs to be explained further. Respect means I value the rights others have, as much or more than mine. Do you feel you have more a right to the state's resources because of X, Y, or Z? Do you feel that someone that is a first-time hunter, doesn't have as cool of gear, etc., or who has only hunted a few years vs. your decades, has less rights than you? These attitudes lead to disrespect, an entitlement mentality, and yes acts violating hunter ethics often times. Fact is, everyone has the same hunting rights, and they should be treated so. Other hunters should not be treated as second class citizens or like they must earn your respect by hunting for X years (or whatever convoluted reason/system you've concocted in your mind to make you feel more entitled than them). We need to respect the hunting rights of others (given by the law), land rights of others, property/gear rights of others, period, ...regardless of why we don't like where they are hunting, why they are hunting, how they are hunting(legally), or if we feel they'll shoot "our deer" (again irrational entitlement mentality).

4. Extend some grace: When another hunter screws up, makes a mistake, or knowingly breaks the law, are you happy? Do you get a thrill, or feeling of how “good” you are when sharing how “bad” someone else is on social media or around the water cooler? This reveals a whole lot more about your character than theirs. It’s called being self-righteous, and is probably the worst part of all this. It’s the basic mentality that “I’m better than him or her, cause I haven’t done anything THAT bad,” and is an attempt to make ourselves feel better for more “minor” offenses we’ve been part of (these could be small or large, and if you think you’ve never made a mistake, please refer to #2 above). Grace, on the other hand, is extending the benefit of the doubt, or “unmerited favor” to someone else, and basically wishing the best for our fellow man regardless of the path/offense he has trod. It’s a mark of maturity, and reflects the truth that we all have been, or will be in need of some grace at some point in our lives (because we are human). It doesn’t think that I am the judge and jury in a case involving someone else, but leaves that up to the proper officials. It’s needed among hunters, and it’s time we extend some grace to fellow hunters (including celebrities).

Simply, let’s take a long look in the mirror, and put the ethics back in hunting. There’s a lot more than just shooting a deer that matters!

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