In the Eyes of the Hunted, There’s No Such Thing as an “Ethical Hunter”

President, C.A.S.H.

Enough of this championing one type of hunter over the other already! It just helps perpetuate the myth of the “ethical hunter.” You’re more likely to see a UFO land in the middle of a crop circle than to meet a hunter who is truly ethical to the animals he kills. How can tracking down an inoffensive creature and blasting it out of existence ever really be ethical anyway? No matter how a hunter may rationalize, or claim to give thanks to the animal’s spirit, the dying will never see their killer’s acts as the least bit honorable.

I’m sure Ted Nugent considers himself an ethical hunter. Hell, Ted Bundy likely thought himself an ethical serial killer. But to their victims they’re just murderous slobs. Likewise, Teddy Roosevelt—who, in his two-volume African Game Trails, lovingly muses over shooting elephants, hippos, buffaloes, lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes, zebras, hartebeest, impalas, pigs, the not-so-formidable 30-pound steenbok and even a mother ostrich on her nest—considered himself an exceedingly ethical hunter.

All hunters, whether they call it an act of sport or subsistence, eat what they kill (or at least give the meat away to others). Would Jeffrey Dahmer be considered ethical just because he ate those he murdered? Though some get more pleasure out of the dirty deed of killing than others, no hunter would even be out there doing it if they didn’t get some joy out of the act of stalking and “bagging” their prey. But there are less destructive ways to get your kicks and healthier, less costly sources of nourishment than cholesterol-laden, carcinogenic rotting flesh.

Though they may not take trophies or photographs of themselves with their kill, nearly everyone who hunts gets some kind of a thrill when boasting about their conquest or sharing the spoils at the neighborhood barbeque.

In the book, Exposing the Big Game, I quote Farley Mowat, the sagacious naturalist and author of the 1963 trendsetter, Never Cry Wolf, whose firsthand insight into the hunter mindset should lay to rest the myth of the “ethical hunter:”

“Almost all young children have a natural affinity for other animals…When I was a boy growing up on the Saskatchewan prairies, that feeling of affinity persisted—but it became perverted. Under my father’s tutelage I was taught to be a hunter; taught that ‘communion with nature’ could be achieved over the barrel of a gun; taught that killing wild animals for sport establishes a mystic bond, ‘an ancient pact’ between them and us.

“I learned first how to handle a BB gun, then a .22 rifle and finally a shotgun. With these I killed ‘vermin’—sparrows, gophers, crows and hawks. Having served that bloody apprenticeship, I began killing ‘game’—prairie chicken, ruffed grouse, and ducks. By the time I was fourteen, I had been fully indoctrinated with the sportsman’s view of wildlife as objects to be exploited for pleasure.

“Then I experienced a revelation…” 

Farley Mowat, is his eloquent and sometimes verbose way, goes on to tell of wounding a goose who yearns to join her fast disappearing flock. You can read the entire piece in my book or in his foreword to Captain Paul Watson’s Ocean Warrior, but to make a long, sad story short, he ends with:

“Driving home to Saskatoon that night I felt a sick repugnance for what we had done…I never hunted again.”

Now that’s what I call an ethical hunter.

Hunter “Etiquette” [?]

Publication Number: P3366

View as PDF: P3366.pdf

Text file for accessibility: File p3366_accessible.docx

Hunting is an enjoyable pastime for many Mississippians, but some situations can be annoying or even dangerous. Practicing good hunting etiquette can help prevent problems with landowners, law enforcement officers, other hunters, and nonhunters.

Sometimes hunters, especially on public land, tend to be possessive of certain areas. If they have hunted an area for an extended period of time, they begin to think of it as “theirs.” Some hunters have the attitude of “if I can’t have it (turkey, deer, duck, etc.), then no one will.” These hunters will intentionally ruin a hunt for another person by coming into the hunting area when they know someone else is already there. They may even fire a gun in order to scare the game away.

These are examples of extremely poor sportsmanship. If you are hunting public land, remember that it is just that—open to the public. You have no more ownership of where you are standing than the next person.

Another problem hunters sometimes experience is having their personal property vandalized. Deer stands can be damaged, trail cameras stolen, vehicles broken into, tires slashed, boat plugs removed, and decoys stolen. When your property is vandalized, it can be easy to feel that retaliation is justified. However, remember the old saying “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Use lawful means to report vandalism, and let the appropriate authorities handle the situation.

Confrontation is something that most people don’t enjoy, especially when they are outdoors hunting. Emotions and firearms are not a good combination, so it is important to keep a cool head to avoid an escalation in the situation. The number one thing to remember is, when you see an opportunity to leave the situation, do so. You are the only one who is in control of your response, and your reaction to the situation should focus on keeping everyone safe.

As in any situation, if you come in contact with anyone, be sure to identify yourself in a kind, friendly manner. It is always good to know who you are talking to. You should also know the laws of your state as it pertains to your rights and actions that could be taken against trespassers. Be sure to document conversations you have. This will be helpful if a trespassing issue escalates into a legal matter.

If you are not the primary landowner, you may find that you do not have permission to interact with other hunters about their behavior. Educate yourself on your rights and the rights of others.

Whatever the case, safety is always the most important consideration. Do not get into a heated argument with another hunter or anyone else. If a conversation turns into a war of words, step away and leave. A calm temperament is always best!

The great outdoors is there for everyone, so take it easy and enjoy it!

Publication 3366 (POD-06-19)

By John Long, PhD, Assistant Extension Professor, 4-H Youth Development.

Copyright 2019 by Mississippi State University.