Does Talking About Ethics Only Divide Hunters?

Whether you have seen it before or not, it’s been prevalent through this Hunt Right; Hunt Fair Chase initiative. Some folks feel that any talk about hunting ethics or hunter behavior only divides hunters when we should be united. Others think we do need to talk more about ethics to get more people pointed on the right path to protect the image of hunting. This “divide” belief warrants a closer look.

A conversation about ethics in any human activity can spark controversy because someone inevitably is going to be offended if they find themselves swimming against the current. Others will be offended by those acting inappropriately, giving everyone a bad rap.

The most common viewpoints in opposition to a conversation on ethics, hunter behavior, and fair chase have been:
• hunters are too few to be divided among ourselves over something as trivial as how someone else chooses to hunt;
• that such debates provide anti-hunters with ammunition to use against hunters and hunting;
• fair chase is nothing more than making apologies, and we should never apologize for hunting, and
• if it’s legal, why should anyone care who is doing what?

It’s true, hunters are in the minority, and we do live in a country where the opinion of the majority matters. Concern over being divided shows we have already accepted the fact that others are watching what we do and can have an influence on the future of hunting, good and bad. This is a good thing because it accepts a reality that is one of the primary purposes of the Hunt Right effort; that our image matters and some things are tarnishing this image. Since we are concerned with what others think about hunting and the influence they can have, an obvious question is what the better approach is? Is it better to be keeping our heads down or looking the other way, or be seen talking about our ethics and proactively policing our image and ourselves?

The next question is, are we leaving any ammunition behind for anti-hunters to use against us by talking about our ethics and what guides hunting beyond the laws? The anti-hunter establishment already has a full magazine of ammo to choose from among the headlines some hunters and hunting is making, both real and contrived. Why wouldn’t we want to get more of our own people on board with a positive image and putting our best foot forward? Nobody likes to be judged unless you end up smelling like a rose, but that’s the nature of ethics. Once you get out of your lane, people will let you know about it. If anything the ammunition we should not be leaving behind is proof of hunters behaving poorly, which unfortunately in today’s world of instant access and social media are not hard to find. Hunters following the law and a code of ethics, and policing themselves is not something the antis are running around putting on billboards, but maybe we should.

There is something to be said for standing our ground over an activity that has done so much for wildlife conservation and so many people. But ethics and fair chase as some sort of an apology, guilt trip, or cave-in? It’s hard to imagine anyone viewing what the NFL is doing about domestic violence among its players as being an apology, guilt trip, or cave-in. It’s just the right thing to do, and they are protecting their brand in the process.

We know that something may be legal in one state and not another, but that’s not the argument behind, “if it’s legal, why should anyone care?” What is and what isn’t legal is determined by local traditions, the type of game being hunted and under what conditions, and state wildlife officials needing to increase success rates or limit harvest. Using what’s legal or not legal in different states as pushback against a discussion about ethics misses the bigger picture: our game laws are not solely based on ethics, which would dismiss the fact that wildlife sciences and management are involved. Case in point; it is illegal to hunt mountain lions in California, but that does not mean ethically hunting them in another state is now impossible or should be illegal as well. This was a decision not based on science or what was necessarily the best for lions or their prey base. The voters in this state considered hunters’ being allowed to kill mountain lions as socially unacceptable, and they made it illegal. What we should be more concerned with is how others are intentionally misrepresenting illegal (as always about ethics, not about science or management goals) to sway public opinion. In other words, “If lion hunting in California is illegal, it should be illegal everywhere, right?”

“All you’re doing is dividing hunters when hunters should be united.” An interesting position, but one that doesn’t hold much water, especially if you understand the reasons for having ethics in the first place. In any human activity, ethics are the guiding principles people agree upon that are the right approach. Talking about them actually does the exact opposite—it unites like-minded people behind a common belief or practice. Our ethics and principles like fair chase are what makes hunting a fulfilling, honorable, credible, and defensible experience, which also makes hunting acceptable and good for everyone, even to those who might questions its legitimacy. The answer to the thought behind this position might just lie elsewhere. Either people don’t believe the image of hunters, and therefore hunting is at risk, or it’s a cover for unethical behavior itself.

Updated: 12/20/17