Walking The Walk, Or Just Talking The Talk?
August 16, 2013
Here’s a topic to take into the weekend… and a break from the flurry of press releases and links to other people’s work.
Over the course of some recent blog reading, commentary, and mental drifting, I got to thinking about how so many hunters present these extraordinarily ethical positions in public discourse, and how poorly that lines up with my experiences in the field… or even in private conversations.
Am I just spending my “Real Time” with Hunting’s problem children?
Of course not. But I’m also clearly aware that we’re not all perfect. In fact, when it comes time to pull a trigger or loose an arrow, perfection is often the last thing on our minds.
To me, it’s a question of the practical versus the theoretical. I always take the comments on blogs and social networks with a grain of salt, because I recognize that anonymity can make anyone an expert on anything. People can make any number of outrageous claims without fear of being found out as frauds. No one knows what you really do out there… We have only the face you present.
In some ways, there’s an interesting parallel to what Jose Ortega y Gassett and Aldo Leopold have both said in regards to hunting ethics. The thing that makes the sportsman special is that we have no witnesses to our actions in the field. The thing that really matters is what we do when no one is watching.
I’m not claiming that the moment we step into the woods we become poachers, game hogs, or simple slobs. I’ve hunted with a whole bunch of folks, from all over the country, and I can say with no hesitation that most of these guys are above-board, law-abiding, and safe. But what I’ve also learned is that, when it comes to some commonly discussed ethical “norms”, there are no absolutes in the field.
For example, a current discussion over at one of the Field and Stream blogs is centered on acceptable bowhunting shot angles. The blog post challenges the rejection of the “quartering to” angle on big game, and makes the argument that not only is the shot reasonably viable, but it’s a good option. In the comments I read a consistent thread of debate that centers on how an ethical hunter should never take that sort of shot. At the same time, there’s a cadre of hunters who argue that the shot is perfectly ethical. Others, with telling honesty, write about how they used to think it was a bad shot until they tried it… successfully, of course. In light of these comments and my own experience, I can’t help thinking that the folks who are so absolutely opposed are either not being honest, or they actually have very little (or no) hunting experience.
I’ve had similar discussions right here on the Hog Blog as well. For example, the recurrent topic about head shots or debates about long-range hunting often see comments running toward the absolute with tones of, “I would never…” or “an ethical hunter would never…”
I’ve had clients sit in camp with me preparing for the hunt who tell me over and over that they wouldn’t consider a shot over 200 yards, but then I find myself restraining them when the big buck (or boar) appears at 500.
But then we get into the woods. A shot that’s a little longer than we ever thought we would try presents itself. With typical, human aplomb, we rationalize that it looks do-able. We’ve got a good rest. The animal is calm and unaware. And suddenly we’re launching a bullet over three or four football fields.
Or it’s almost dark, in that strange little zone when our reason tells us it’s too dark to shoot but the clock says we still have a quarter hour of legal time. We really can’t make out individual trees on the far side of the shooting lane. How would we expect to get a reasonable sight picture? But then the shadowy form appears. The dusk lights up with muzzle flash.
Or here’s a simpler one (that isn’t really simple at all). We loudly and proudly extoll the virtues of making every effort to humanely and cleanly kill our quarry. And then we go wingshooting.
This isn’t intended as any kind of condemnation, or even an indictment. I recognize that ideals don’t always line up with reality. It’s how we are, not just as hunters but as human beings. I think we’re often honest when we first set the bar, but I think we’re still being just as honest when we adjust it under field conditions. Is that even possible?
So how about it? For all the folks who take the high road in conversations, blog comments, or social media feedback… how often do you catch yourself fudging your own rules when there’s no one there to see you?
And how much fudging is too much?