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What Would Roosevelt Say?

A Moral Connection To Game

If you’re still wondering where hunting ethics come from and why they have been passed from one generation to the next, the man’s name is Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt was more than just a president who was a hunter. He not only got it, he is credited in history for inventing it and popularizing it. Roosevelt saw conservation as a duty of citizenship, on the same plain as a commitment to one’s family, religion, career and country. In riding, shooting, hunting and exploration he saw the character in what it meant to be a man; a fair man, a free man, an honest man, a straight shooter and a hard worker who commanded respect and deserved a square deal.

In the game we hunted he saw value and respect – tough survivalist that he aspired to be, yet fragile, worthy of conserving, never exploited and deserving of only an honorable death with a purpose.

His conservation, and therefore hunting ethic, arose out of an early fascination for birds and the rigors of living the hardly life of the wilderness. This was further nurtured on a buffalo hunt in Montana in 1883. TR borrowed a gun, hired a guide and for nine days rode through the rotting carcasses of commercially slaughter buffalo. He would later write, “we were never out of sight of a dead buffalo, and never in sight if a live one.”

Roosevelt formed a coalition of sportsmen in 1887 to, among other things bring and end to the commercial slaughter of wildlife, introduce a fair-chase sporting code, and nominate sportsmen as ambassadors of a new concept called conservation, with hunting as its foundation. The citizen group he founded was the Boone and Crockett Club.

We take to the woods, fields and mountains with this legacy tucked into our pouch and hunt the abundance of game we have today that is the result of a moral connection to wildlife.

Roosevelt would say, Bully for us.

Five Stages of Fair Chase

The Five Stages of the Hunter is a well-documented look at the progressions a hunter goes through as he or she ages and gains experience. As we age and our experiences accumulate, what we get from hunting and give back changes over time. What defined success, accomplishment, and purpose at age 14 can be very different at ages 24, 34, and 54. Regardless of how careers in hunting evolve, there are some aspects of hunting that remain constant. Doing the right thing is one of them.

Just as there are five stages of the hunter, there are five stages of the fair-chase hunter. Fair chase represents both a personal ethic, as well as that of hunters in general as a community. Fair chase is also based upon principles of how the hunting of game species is to be conducted, which is why it is also the basis of many of our game laws.


For the majority of sportsmen and sportswomen, the choice to be a hunter begins at an early age and grows from a curiosity and fascination for animals. Learning about, seeing, and being close to wildlife satisfies this curiosity. With curiosity comes a sense of appreciation and respect, which are the cornerstones of a hunting ethic. When we care about wildlife, ethical decisions come naturally.


Acquiring the skill and the experience to be a successful and ethical hunter is an ongoing process. The game we hunt is neither helpless nor helpful, which requires us to develop skills. In addition to the skill in knowing animal behavior, where they live, what they eat, how they interact with one another and respond to human presence, skills also include proficiency with hunting methods and weapons. Practice, being proficient with and knowing the capabilities of one’s firearm or bow as well as knowing one’s own capabilities are not only the responsibility for every hunter, they are also the basis of a fair-chase approach.


Having early success is important. A young hunter might shoot his or her first wild turkey resting on a branch, or a duck off the water, or pheasant off the ground. Although not considered in the spirit of the chase, these actions are not illegal, and can be appropriate for a hunter just starting out until they acquire patience and skills. In time, early success like these give way to wanting to experience the challenge of harvesting game a more sporting way.


Having a moral connection to the game we hunt means hunting with a purpose. Success is still the point, but thinking about, planning and preparing to go hunting begins to become more important. Being with family and friends in the outdoors and bringing home healthy, organic protein to share defines a purpose that moves the act of hunting itself above simply killing game. While the reasons for hunting are personal and can vary, they all include a purpose. This purpose helps us achieve the experience we seek. Purpose also includes challenge.

The “no guarantees” nature of hunting is one of its most powerful attractions. Success is built upon success, but in this stage the hunter begins to test his or her experience and skills against more challenging game and conditions. The purposes for hunting have already been established, but now how we hunt begins to matter more. Some choose to heighten the challenge by limiting themselves. Taking up archery hunting is a good example. Being more selective and holding out for a more mature animal—a trophy—can enhance the challenge and a sense of accomplishment.


Just being outdoors, in the woods, fields and wilderness, in camp and on the chase now has a satisfaction all its own, whether game is taken or not. Some would call this this the sportsmen’s or mentoring stage. This is where seeing or helping others get their game replaces one’s own hunt. This is also where feeling the need to give back to the wildlife and hunting itself becomes stronger. Passing on skills and knowledge to others or the next generation is now a reward in itself. Passing on how you do things is also how fair chase and a conservation ethic gets passed on from generation to generation.

Fair chase is a code. It's a contract we make with ourselves. We are both born with it, and we learn it from others and our own experiences. The parts of it we are born with trace all the way back to man being an animal himself. The rest we learn in stages, and then pass on.


A Right or a Privilege?

"In the United States, while the right to keep and bear arms is constitutionally assured, hunting is a privilege to be repeatedly earned, year after year, by those who hunt. It is well for hunters to remember that in a democracy, privileges, which include hunting, are maintained through the approval of the public at large. Hunting must be conducted under both laws and ethical guidelines in order to ensure this approval."Jack Ward Thomas, 13th Chief of the U.S. Forest Service

Fourteen states have passed amendments to their constitutions making it a right for their citizens to hunt, fish and trap. It seems unnecessary that it would come to legislative action to protect these age-old outdoor traditions, but it has. Even the voters in a rural, hunting, fishing and trapping state like Montana are considering taking this same action. Why?

The game has changed. More people are making it known that they don’t like other people using, killing, or managing wildlife. These beliefs have been making their way onto state voter ballot initiatives to ban activities such as trapping on public land, the use of bait and dogs in bear and cougar hunting, or the outright ban of the hunting of these and other species altogether. A big question that remains is, will these constitutional amendments end these attacks on hunting and wildlife management, or are they just speed bumps for those looking to do away with hunting and trapping? The danger lies in believing hunting is a right that is constitutionally assured. If this were true, anti-hunting groups would have been out of business long ago.

Whether a right or a privilege where you live, we should all keep in mind that public perceptions in respect to hunting and hunters will continue to play a critical role in our future. If we—and our traditions—are viewed in a positive light, we can expect approval from others. Just as importantly, when someone is asked to vote for or against hunting or trapping, we should have our best foot forward.

Is hunting a right or a privilege?
Please watch before you comment, and share if you agree.
Posted by Boone and Crockett Club on Thursday, October 4, 2018


Origins of Fair Chase

"In a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen.”―Theodore Roosevelt, founder Boone and Crockett Club

An ethical code of conduct, that which was viewed as the right way to approach hunting, was a concept that originally developed in Europe. This did not, however, carry over with the settlers to the New World. America was the land of abundance and opportunity. A life of independence, free from servitude and filled with promise, was there for the taking. All one had to do is be resourceful and take. How we hunted did not matter back then. There was no need or room for an ethical approach to hunting. Game was plentiful and hunting was not for sport, but for survival and profit.

In time, when enough land was cleared for reliable food crops and domesticated livestock, food security became less of an issue for those living in more populated areas. These same human developments and decades of overharvesting had left wildlife population in scarce supply. Hunters had to venture further and further into the wilderness to bag their game. The concept of hunting for sport began to develop at this time, as did the need to restrict the amount of game taken so it could replenish and there would be game to hunt tomorrow. This is when the notion of conservation first began to appear, and along with it an ethical approach to hunting that showed restraint.

By the late 1800s, unregulated sport and commercial market hunting had taken its toll. Wildlife was no longer abundant or even present in all but the furthest reaches of remaining wilderness. Sportsmen already knew what was happening, but the broader public was just beginning to take notice of the extinction of some species and the near extinction of others. The logical solution was preservation and protection, which included an end to hunting. Those closest to the situation had a different idea.

Influential sportsmen who valued the game they sought and the spirit of the chase stepped forward; most notably was Theodore Roosevelt. He formed a group of his friends into the Boone and Crockett Club in 1887 to address the rapid decline of big game populations on a national scale. Their solution was to promote a new system of natural resource use they called “conservation,” and they promoted regulated hunting as the foundation for this new system.

The earliest recorded usage of the term “Fair Chase” is in the fifth article Boone and Crockett Club’s constitution, adopted in February of 1888. At this time in history there were no laws governing the talking of game for food or for sport. Water-killing deer (driving deer with hounds or pushers into lakes where shooters waited in boats to either shot, club or cut the throats of deer) was also a widespread practice, especially in the Adirondacks.

Article X of the Club’s constitution declared that the killing of game while swimming was an “offense” for which a member may be suspended or expelled from the Club. Later writings by Club members Theodore Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell, and Aldo Leopold articulated the term “fair chase” to the public through books and magazine articles. Most notable of these where the Club’s Acorn book series on hunting (1893 – 1933), Leopold’s Sand Country Almanac, and Grinnell’s Forest and Stream magazine – now Field & Stream.

Conservation was based on the fact that people need and will use natural resources, including wildlife, but this use would now have to be regulated and guided by science. For society to accept this new idea over complete protection, Roosevelt and the Club began to promote another new concept: one called fair chase.

If hunting was going to be allowed to continue, how it was being conducted and the character of the hunter now mattered. Fair chase became a matter of pride and status. It separated those who hunted for personal reasons from those who hunted for profit, ie., the commercial market hunters who had no code of honor.

Fair chase became a part of an overall conservation ethic. It defined a true sportsman as one who could kill game, yet use self-restraint and stand guard to ensure that wildlife populations would never be threatened again. It didn’t mean hunting was a sport like other contests, but rather its participants used a “sporting” approach. Fair chase defined the rules of engagement that elevated sportsmen to being highly respected members of the community, both for their skill as woodsman and providers, but also for their commitment to something greater than themselves.

Five Stages of the Hunter

Regardless of our motivations for hunting, studies show that all sportsmen evolve through, or are currently in one of five identified stages in their hunting careers. As we age and our experiences accumulate, what we give and get back from hunting changes over time. What defined success or accomplishment at age 14 can be very different at ages 24, 34, and 54. As careers in hunting evolve, so too are the hunter’s attitudes and commitments to conservation.


For many who are introduced to hunting at an early age, our satisfaction can be as simple as just being able to see game and get a shot. Our skills in the woods, recognizing and interpreting sign, and knowing game behavior, when and where are just developing. Seeing game and getting shots are what matters most, and misses are of little concern. Our skills are being tested and refined, including field shooting skills and whether or not to take a shot. The number of shots taken or opportunities missed can be the measure of a good day.


The satisfaction of just seeing game and getting a shot is now not enough reward. These are replaced with the need to bring home game, and not just one, but a limit of birds or filling a tag. Limiting out is in the conversation as hunt stories are told. This stage is very much more than just being a hunter, and more about proving oneself as a skilled hunter who get his or her game every time out.


Shooting opportunity and quantity of game are replaced by a self-imposed selectivity in the pursuit, and the quality of game taken begins to trump quantity. Prior successes tell us we can get game, but what kind of game has become more important. Mature male specimens—“trophies”—are fewer in number and harder to come by. More planning, preparation, skill, patience, and persistence are required to be successful.

The notion of conservation enters one’s thinking. We have seen enough and hunted enough to now realize wildlife, and quality-hunting experiences don’t happen by chance. Trophies in particular are a result of age, good genetics, and a life spent on quality habitat. Finding a trophy therefore begins with hunting where proper wildlife and land management are taking place—where older age-class animals exist. This takes purpose, and being part of this purpose is now also important to the hunter. Getting involved with conservation organizations and being vocal about issues offers it own rewards, as giving back and caring for the resource now adds to the hunting experience. Thought is now given to, “If I take this animal, how will he be replaced so I can hunt here again next year?”


While a trophy may still be the benchmark, “how taken” has become more important than “what taken.” With all the technology at a hunter’s disposal, what is really necessary to be successful is employed, and what is not necessary is left behind. Self-restriction now adds to the challenge and rewarding aspects of the hunt. An example of a hunter within this stage is the handicapping of his or her affective range by hunting with short-range weapons such as a handgun, muzzleloader, or bow and arrow. In some instances the mechanical advantage of a compound bow is left behind for the simplicity of a recurve or longbow. These methods take practice and discipline, and both are cherished as part of the process.

The chase and a lasting experience move to the forefront over just taking game or only a trophy. The easy route to a quick kill means much less than a hard-fought, tough pursuit. Going home without game increases in frequency and is understood and accepted. The reward now becomes very much proportionate to the challenge and effort expended. An animal taken by more skill than a technological advantage becomes a memorable trophy, regardless of size.


All stages are remembered fondly, but the urgency to take game or a trophy fades to the background as the total hunting experience now offers its highest rewards. Planning, practicing, and honing skills are still important, but just being outdoors, reconnecting with family and friends, and taking the time to “soak it all in” happen more and more. Filling a limit or a tag means the hunt is over, as is the experience. Photo memories now include more than just that of game taken. Camp, scenery, old buildings, and other wildlife now appear in the portfolio. Macro becomes micro as every aspect of the hunt is cherished. Trophies taken in the past mean more and are converted from a prize for the wall into memories for a lifetime.

By now, activity in conservation is at its peak. Mentoring young sportsmen, seeing that they enjoy and experience what you have experienced, can replace even your own opportunity at taking game. For many, this the greatest reward in hunting.

Not all hunters experience each stage completely or necessarily in this order. Some may enter motivated by the trophy stage. Some are completely satisfied stopping at any one of these stages, and some progress all the way through. There is no right or wrong.

It is also true that many sportsmen seek to experience the hunting of different species in different locations and habitats. This can either lead to reverting back or jumping forward in stages depending on the species or hunt itself. For example, knowing that a hunter may only have the chance to hunt for one particular species in their lifetime, a trophy stage hunter may choose to take a younger animal he or she might not have taken otherwise, or a bowhunter might opt for a rifle for a particular hunt.

Regardless of the hunting stages, what originally brings most hunters to hunting remains a constant—an appreciation and fascination for wildlife. Even within the earliest of these stages, all sportsmen are participating in conservation because of their participation in hunting. Thankfully, for many the minimal commitment to conservation from the purchase of licenses, tags, and supplies extends much further.


Which stage are you?

Talking About Why We Hunt

As hunters, we all will inevitably be put in a position to explain, either in person or online, why we hunt. Sometimes this will be in response to someone who is simply curious. Other times we could be confronted by someone who has already made up his or her mind that they oppose hunting in general, or some form of it, and is just interested in winning an argument. How we respond individually and collectively will have a significant influence on how we, and hunting in general, are viewed and then accepted or rejected.

So, how do you answer this question: Why do you hunt?

It’s good advice to first gauge who you’re speaking with. Since people who are dug in against hunting are not going to change their minds over a truthful and sincere response, sometimes the best play is to not play at all, rather than swinging at low pitches in the dirt. Others who are sincere in their curiosity are simply that—curious. Neither person should be considered the enemy. If we immediately jump to the defensive, things typically don’t go well from there. It is therefore always a good idea to be prepared and know, if possible, who you are talking to.

As hunters, in answering the question of why do we hunt, we need to be honest—not just truthful.

It’s true—hunting is a significant mechanism for conservation and game management. But getting up at 4:00 in the morning, slinging on a backpack, and venturing out into the cold to participate in wildlife management is not why we hunt. It is not conservation calling when that alarm goes off. It is also true that conservation and wildlife management is funded in large part by sportsmen’s dollars, but paying into this system is a benefit from hunting, not why we hunt.

Repeatedly quoting how much money is funneled into wildlife conservation from hunting as a justification for hunting can actually do more harm than good, especially when confronted by someone who already thinks hunting is all about ego worship and paying a high price to kill something.

Supporting wildlife management and helping fund these efforts are part of the bigger picture we need never apologize for when and if we have the time to tell the whole story to a willing listener. People asking why “you” hunt is a more personal question that requires a more personal answer.


The truth is, there are many reasons why we hunt, and any one of them would suffice. One reason that should resonate with everyone is, in a word, freedom.

There is nothing more personal than freedom, and everyone understands what freedom means, or should. One of the greatest benefits compelling us as hunters is exercising our freedom to hunt, which is not a freedom for everyone in many countries. Just as game species may be the truest indicators of quality, natural environments, hunting is an indicator of quality natural freedoms. In a very real sense, public hunting is a very American way of viewing natural resources like wildlife.

The hunter is probably as free as it’s possible to be in this fast-paced, instant information overload, techno-society of ours. Free, not because we abandon civilized codes and restraints when we go afield, but because we can transport out of and beyond the commonplace, and insert ourselves into a quieter, deeper, wilder and older world from whence we came.

I was in a hunting camp several years back. The day had been successful; three of our party had filled their deer tags, and sprits were high. After the game had been cared for and supper was digesting in our bellies, the scene was alive with talk, stories, laughter and anticipation of the next day. As I watched this group of hunters engage with each other, it dawned on me. These men were free.

Our freedom has arched the trajectory of human existence across all time. It was freedom from oppression and servitude that loaded the ships destined for the New World and a new life. It was freedom that endured the hardships of carving a new nation out of the wilderness. It was the belief that all men are created equal and should be free that eliminated slavery. It was freedom that sends our troops into combat. Freedom is therefore not only an American ideal but a human one.

“Hunting exercises, expands, and enhances my freedom.” Tell them that.


There Has To Be An Enemy

It’s hard not to be preoccupied with the siege against hunters and hunting being put forth by the anti-hunter establishment. Their rhetoric and outright lies have gone on unchecked for too long. But lets be realistic about two things.

Just as we, the hunting community, need to up our game and not stand idly by while these groups vie for social change with their lies, misinformation, and junk science, we should also not stand idly by thinking they are our only problem. How much ammunition are we as sportsmen leaving around for them to pick up and use against us?

The anti-hunter agenda is to portray hunters as social outcast, bloodsport thugs looking for thrills at the expense of defenseless animals and who celebrate over a lifeless carcass with chest-thumping, dancing and high-fives. Have you seen anything on television or the Internet lately that would support such ridiculous claims? It could be that putting something as personal as hunting on televisions and making it appear to be only about who kills what is the worst thing we could have done for hunting, especially when it seems the entertainment factor is who can do the best death dance for the camera, something our youth now emulate as being the norm.

As hunters, we are respectful on many levels, with the game, the land we hunt on, and each other. This includes operating under the notion of, “Don’t mess with the other guy.” Our nature of just going about our own business and shying away from calling out how others go about their business may just be our own Achilles’ heal.

If we must believe there has to be an enemy, then we must too believe that these marauders will pick up what scraps we leave for them. We best stop making their job any easier.

Related News: Public opinion ends grizzly hunt


If Only Antis Told The Truth

It would be tough for anyone who hunts not to be disturbed by the rhetoric being put forth by anti-hunting groups. They’re that 10% of the population who not only does not hunt, but are busy trying to make a living out of ending all hunting by getting others to drink their Kool-Aid.

This vocal minority can no doubt stir up trouble by never seeming to let the facts get in the way of a good argument. They are also just that, a minority no different in the sense that hunters are a minority. This vocal minority is partly responsible for non-hunters turning away their support for hunting. The question is, what to do about them?

One solution has been right there in front of us all the time—fair chase. Hunting being conducted under laws and game management guided by science that are established to ensure the well-being of game species is an inconvenient truth for the anti-hunting agenda. Their work around is to ignore this fact, or bring their own junk science to the table to refute real science. But what they can’t work around is this truth, that beyond game laws, the overwhelming majority of hunters limit themselves for the benefit of wildlife by choosing to hunt under the highest of ethical standards, working with and not against the principles of conservation.

Fair chase is the anti-hunting boogey man. It says hunters are not the uncaring, blood sport thugs with no honor or values they often try and portray hunters to be. Fair Chase is the shield their anti-hunting arrows bounce off of. Each one of us has this shield. If we all use it, that’s what to do about the anti-hunting noise.


What About Trophies?

The first rule in solving any problem is admitting you have one.

If the conversation is about the public image and perception of hunters, which is a conversation about continuance, we can no long ignore the fact that the word “trophy” now plays a significant role in what people think about hunting.

Simply put, the notion of trophy hunting carries a negative stigma of killing and wasting wildlife solely for ego embellishment—a head for the wall. Consequently, without the ability to discern one “form” of hunting from another, more people are criticizing and rejecting big game hunting in general. We don’t need more public opinion surveys to tell us this. They have already been done and the results are disturbing. The question is, is their any truth to this and what can be done about this growing PR mess?

It would be a shortsighted if we tried to hang this situation solely on anti-hunter and animal rights groups who are doing nothing more than cashing in on an opportunity. Their own surveys have them zeroed in on the fact that the thought of killing wildlife for their head is a huge turnoff for the same people they are trying to bring on board to support their attempts to end all hunting. All they have to do is put the word “trophy” in front of any animal and they have the knife to twist. You never see their headlines read bear, grizzly, elk or deer hunting. It’s now always “Stop Trophy Bear, Grizzly, Elk and Deer Hunting.”

It will be equally costly to just dismiss the whole thing because we know there are laws against just taking the head and leaving the meat to waste; that we still hunt for the meat regardless; that a trophy is in the eye of the beholder; that a trophy is a cherished memory and a tribute to an animal respected and not wasted; or that keeping mementos from the hunt is a cherished tradition, not unlike bringing home a piece of driftwood for the yard from a family vacation to the beach. The question remains, what can be done?

The answer is there is no easy answer. Trophy is burned into our culture. It's a part of our language. It’s used to sell product, hunts, and property. It’s what many work hard for, spend big dollars for, hold out for, and aspire to obtain. It’s what many of us cherish and what dreams are made of. Trophy drives the hunting economy and pushed critical conservation funding to the remotest places on the planet where no other sustaining source of funding exists. It pays for species-specific enhancement and management programs and helps keep the cost of general season licenses low.

The answer might be we just need to talk more about our values and what drives us to hunt and the rewarding personal experience we get from hunting, and a little less, “I smoked that sucker.” It would also go a long way to talk more about a wild harvest of healthy, organic protein and share our favorite recipes. The same surveys that show trophy hunting lowest on the approval scale shows hunting for food ranking the highest. Use it. The next time you post a field photo, follow up with an image of back straps on the grill. No one can mount a reasonable argument against food.

"The true trophy hunter is a self-disciplined perfectionist seeking a single animal, the ancient patriarch well past his prime that is often an outcast from his own kind... If successful, he will enshrine the trophy in a place of honor. This is a more noble and fitting end than dying on some lost and lonely ledge where the scavengers will pick his bones, and his magnificent horns will weather away and be lost forever."Elgin Gates

Another option is to start replacing the word trophy with “selective.” Selective hunting is the foundation of conservation and wildlife management, which also ranks high in public approval. We selectively hunt the male of a species for a reason. Our game laws and the principles of conservation, sustainable use, and hunting the surplus is based on this selectivity and has been for a century. It is responsible for game populations recovering to the abundance we have today. In those places now where game is too abundant, we selectively harvest females as well.

Bottom line is, we do the same, we’ll get the same and the same hasn’t been working.