"Sport" Hunting

The term “sport hunting,” emerged at a time in history when our society had awoken to the plight of wildlife, and commercial market hunting was rightfully being rejected. Sport hunting was used to describe hunting for personal reasons and not for profit; a form of hunting with an honor code that defined the rules of engagement based on the quality of the hunt, not the quantity of game taken. The “sport” in sport hunting, was never intended to imply hunting was a sport. It meant only a sporting approach to hunting, a way to distinguish the true hunter from the market hunter.

A sporting approach recognizes the advantage of human capabilities, including technologies, and represents a desire to constrain ourselves by limiting our advantage to give the animals we pursue a legitimate chance to escape. It supports the no-guarantees nature of hunting, which is the hallmark of a sportsman; one who carries with him or her a sporting approach.

A Shot Too Far

“If there is a sacred moment in the ethical pursuit of game, it is the moment you release the arrow or touch off the fatal shot.”―Jim Posewitz

Long-range shooting, extreme long-range shooting, sniper hunting—call it what you will, but there is no denying this trend is pushing the limits of ethical hunting and fair chase, leaving us with more questions than answers. The first is, why should we care?

The simple and obvious answer is, as sportsmen, we have a responsibility to hunt ethically and that includes quick, assured, humane kills. Extreme shot distance bends this probability curve exponentially.

Our firearms have long had the capability of sending bullets downrange to distances over a mile. Technology has improved to more reliably know where these bullets will hit. Neither of these things are in question. What is in question is where does hunting end and shooting begin?

Any study of this question leads to the fact that the answer cannot be measured in yards. What’s too far for one person is within the comfort range of someone else. This is to say each of us have our own comfort zone, or our maximum effective range. But there are other variables: prevailing conditions such as wind, elevation, barometer, shot angle and the body size of the game we’re hunting. Then there is the degree of skill, experience and practice each of us has. There is also what each of us seeks from our hunting experiences. Some like the chase, the chess match; engaging the animal and getting in close, even if well within their maximum effective range.

Increasingly, more people—regardless of their skills—who choose to test their marksmanship on game animals are posing unforeseen issues: shooting over the heads of unseen hunters who are downrange, for example, and the undetected wounding of distant animals. Back to our question: Where does hunting end and shooting begin when everyone involved believes they are hunting in the first place?

If we know this can’t be answered in yards, then the answer lies in intent. If your intent is to hunt the animal, get as close as possible for a sure shot within your maximum-effective range, with a concern for a high-probability, safe shot, you’re hunting. If your intent is to see how far you can hit a live target and/or best your last performance, you’re shooting. There is nothing illegal about extreme long-range shooting. There’s nothing in the hunting regulations about maximum allowable distance, but this is a website on hunting ethics.

Athletes Who Hunt

Bo knows hunting. So do the rest of us.

We’re athletes by birth and by culture. Our ancestors were athletes, if for no other reason than they had to catch their food and avoid being eaten themselves. Next to “mama,” “ball” was the first word out of our mouth for most of us. Neighborhood pickup games led to elementary schools sports, then middle school, high school, college for some, and the pros for even fewer. We don’t shake our athletic roots easily.

Many of the sports we played as youngsters we don’t play that much later in life. There are a few exceptions like golf, tennis, and swimming. One physical activity we do carry forward is hunting.

The physical challenge of hunting has been one of its powerful attractions for generations. Lungs filled with crisp, clear air, sometimes burning; aching, tired and sore muscles tell us a good effort was involved. These are badges of honor for hunters. Sometimes—more often than not, for many of us—that’s all we come home with. We put ourselves to the test mentally and physically in uncomfortable, sometimes outright miserable conditions. And we do it on purpose.

Naturally some hunts are more physically challenging and demanding than others, and those mountains get taller as the years pass. This is the good stuff only a hunter knows. So why are we talking about this on a website dedicated to hunter ethics and fair chase? It’s because the prevailing public perception of hunting is that it is easy; you just go out and shoot wildlife. Attached to this misconception that hunting is easy is the belief that we bag our game every time out; those animals don’t stand a chance, and pretty soon there will be no animals left. These misconceptions have the potential for more people to therefore oppose hunting.

Hunting hard with effort has its own rewards. It will help in the image we project by talking about and demonstrating such things as effort and the physical preparedness and fitness that come with hunting. If our stories and the images we share only depict a final result, what we have taken, we may just be advancing this notion that hunting is easy and is less about the effort and pursuit that we do cherish.

Illegal Hunting

Yes, people do make mistakes, but there is no such thing as illegal hunting; only poaching.

Poaching is the illegal take of wildlife by kill or capture. Poaching is often defined as unlawful hunting, as if some kind of subset of hunting, which it is not. Poaching is a crime. Poachers are not hunters, nor conservationists. They are thieves.

There are four things that govern or direct hunting:

  • Laws which define legal and illegal
  • Personal ethics such as fair chase
  • Our peers and the standards of a group to which we belong, and
  • The expectations of society

Game laws have been established to protect game from over-harvest, and to an extent, to protect public safety and property. These laws can be knowingly or accidentally broken, but calling these actions “illegal hunting” is a disservice to hunting.

Our wildlife laws are not arbitrary. They are grounded in principles of conservation and social well-being. Modern hunting regulations safeguard sustainable use, fair chase, fair access, and appropriate use of species designated and managed as game. Quotas, limits, and conditions are heavily informed by science to ensure the human influence on hunted species does not adversely affect their populations in the wild. Legal and regulatory decisions, though they vary in specifics throughout the world, are the basis of an important social contract which defines the technical aspects of legal, respectful, and sustainable hunting.

By circumventing the laws and regulations, poachers act in complete disregard of the well-being of wildlife populations, placing “thrill killing” or profits above all else. Poachers are acting outside of the conservation measures established by science and our society. Arguably, they cause an even greater harm by destroying public trust and tarnishing the reputation of law-abiding and conservation-minded hunters, most of whom feel a very personal responsibility toward the protection of wildlife and wilderness.


Fresh (wild) or Canned?

"Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance."Theodore Roosevelt, founder Boone and Crockett Club

Throughout history, hunting has meant the pursuit of wild game. Over time, artificial barriers, such as high fences, began to be used to restrict the movements of game in and out of properties. In some extreme cases wild game were domesticated and offered up in private or commercial hunting operations. The term “free ranging” was added to differentiate between the hunting of wild game as opposed to confined or domesticated animals. In time, the term “canned hunt” began to be used by animal rights and anti-hunting groups as a generic description of all “high fence” hunting. The majority of hunters abhor this style of hunting as well. The term “canned shoot” better defines the practice as it truly does not have any semblance to actual hunting.

A canned shoot is the practice of pursuing any big game animal kept in or released from captivity to be killed in an artificial or bogus hunting situation where a kill is virtually guaranteed. In a canned shoot, the game lacks the equivalent chance afforded free-ranging animals to escape. In some cases, over-handling wild game domesticates these animals, removing their natural instincts to avoid detection and their fear of man. The intent of a canned shoot is to set up a certain or unrealistically favorable chance of a kill. To distance this activity from hunting the hunting community began using the term “canned shoot."

At a minimum, canned shoots are an affront to fair-chase hunting, if not the traditions of hunting wild game in general. Hunting has always been more and has meant more than just killing. All hunters should be concerned with canned shoots. Their acceptance says a lot about what our community thinks of itself and hunting. Outside of our community, the non-hunting public often mistakenly believes that this practice is representative of all hunting, which is a gross misconception. The reality is people won’t know this is a gross misrepresentation unless the hunting community is actively taking steps to distance itself from these types of unsportsmanlike activities immediately by saying this is wrong, this is not hunting, and doing something about it. Otherwise, we take our chances by allowing these commercial interests and their customers to define hunting for all of us.


"A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than by a mob of onlookers. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact."Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

While professional sports leagues continue making tweaks to their refereeing system and booth-review processes, it makes one wonder if hunting has had it right all along: We police ourselves and call our own shots.

To be fair, hunting is not a field or a team sport with a long list of participant rules that need enforcement administered by impartial referees or umpires to keep the play safe and fair. Hunting has game laws of course, but the rest of the rules in hunting are either personal or part of a group to which we belong.

A group of friends who share a hunting lease may decide everyone must shoot a doe before taking their buck, or that bucks under 2½ years are off-limits. If you break one of these rules, you might be looking for anew place to hunt next year. On the personal side, we have our own standards by which we live and hunt. These are not written down, and we don’t hand this book to someone and say, “Watch me.” We referee ourselves. It’s one of the special natures of hunting. We’re the ones who have to live with the consequences of taking a shortcut or making a bad call; that is, until this reflects negatively on all hunters and hunting. That’s when we are called upon to be a referee.

The Measure of Success

The measure of a hunt is a measure of ourselves.

If we think about it, this is true in everything we do. In hunting, getting our game is the purpose, but not the only purpose. If this is true, filling our tag is a measure of success, but not the only one. If it were the only measure we would be disappointed most times and likely find something else to do.

How much of the hunting experience is thinking about going hunting, practicing, honing skills, scouting, setting stands and preparing? How much of it is the chase, the strategies, the physical and mental effort, the uncomfortable conditions; the challenges overcome?

One of the many benefits about hunting is that it teaches and never stops teaching. It forces us to learn, prepare, acquire skills, and solve problems. In other words, it teaches life skills and character. If we rest everything upon a kill, something very special about hunting will be lost. You.

Technology Unchained

It’s personal and it’s public.

Hunting confronts us with many choices. It both teaches and challenges us, which is why it is such a unique and deeply rooted tradition. There are many things that challenge the notion of fair chase, and the use of new technologies is one of them.

It's a balancing act. On one hand, old-fashioned American ingenuity and innovation are what built this country. Our society normally embraces technology without question because it is seen as “for the better” and, to an extent, is a symbol of status. New gear and gadgets can be beneficial, such as those that help elderly or physically handicapped people continue hunting. Technologies that advance human safety, the recovery of game, secure eatable meat from spoilage, and make hunters better marksmen are also positive advancements. Ensuring a quick, humane death without unnecessary suffering is one of the responsibilities of every hunter.

On the other hand, new technologies can overly “tilt the scales” in favor of the hunter. When hunting becomes too easy, too predictable, and less challenging, something very special is lost. Hunting has always been more meaningful than just shooting game. The overuse, or an over-reliance on technology has the potential to reduce hunting to an unrecognizable, mechanized form of lethal shopping that is unacceptable to both hunters and non-hunters.

Advancements in technology adapted for, or made specifically for hunting can also make hunting success so easily attainable that it might result in a harvest rate beyond which some game populations can sustain. The use of such new technologies may well increase a hunter’s advantage to the point where game no longer has a reasonable chance to escape. The use of these new technologies increases a hunter’s advantage while decreasing the reasonable chance of game to escape. States and provinces sometimes establish laws to restrict the use of certain equipment in order to ensure that their use does not negatively affect the game populations for which they are responsible. These agencies also regulate hunting equipment and methods for public and environmental safety, and to uphold the principles of fair chase by limiting an unfair advantage.

“The true hunter counts his achievement in proportion to the effort involved and the fairness of the sport.” —Saxton Pope

Beyond what is legal, it is ultimately up to each person to choose how they hunt, including whether using a specific hunting technology is necessary and will still provide the type of experience they seek. Individual choices also reflect on hunters and hunting as a whole.

Traditions like hunting are supported as long as those things that make it a tradition have not been stripped away. If hunting is reduced to pushing a button on a device, it will be impossible for hunters to maintain any claim the hunting is both challenging and rewarding.


Honoring the Hunted

The overwhelming majority of hunters truly care about and respect wildlife and the game animals and birds we hunt. The question is, where does this respect come from, and more importantly is this the image we are projecting?

For most hunters it was an early fascination and curiosity for wildlife in our youth that drove us to learn more, get close, and eventually take up the hunt. Unlike the prairie, trees, or mountains, animals are mobile; they interact, they are curious and they are unpredictable. Most of us have been attracted to wildlife from an early age. We like seeing, learning about, and being with wildlife. We are drawn to them, and the places they live—and for good reason.

How could they be that smart and elusive, hard to see, find, and get close to? Their speed, eyesight and hearing is vastly superior to ours, developed over centuries as being both predator and prey. Game animals in particular are both predicable and unpredictable—and tough; survivors, yet fragile if overly pressured. It is our appreciation and respect for wildlife that ultimately lead to the need for conservation and an ethical approach to hunting them.

The more we know about, respect, and appreciate wildlife, our ethical decisions come naturally. Why? Because we care enough to hunt humanely and not inflict undo suffering. We see them as something more than targets to shoot, which is as it should be. When we are successful and the animal has fallen, our respect continues. The tasty, healthy organic protein is properly cared for, secured, and never wasted.

There is something only a hunter can understand that drives us to pack a hind quarter back to the rig, only to turn right around for another load—even if it’s by headlamp. The horns, antlers, skulls, and pelts, packed out as well, preserved as mementos of a great adventure and animal remembered, not forgotten. But when we communicate with others, especially with those who do not hunt, is this image of respect being projected?

It’s natural to share our experiences, and quick and easy for us to post images of our hunt. But the question remains: When we do, what message are we sending to our fellow hunters—and to non-hunters?


Skipping to the Last Chapter

A clean kill of a game animal is of course the hoped-for goal of a fair chase hunt. But as anyone who spends time afield knows, there’s a lot more to hunting than just the kill. Pulling the trigger is, in fact, only a small portion of a tradition where the accent has long been on conserving our natural resources and respecting the game we pursue.

Making hunting all about the kill—allowing a kill to not only define the hunt but us as hunters—passes over so much of the story it is like skipping to read the last chapter of a book. Context is lost. We don't know who the characters are, their background, experiences or what motivates them. Was there any preparation? Where there any decisions made, problems solved, or challenges overcome? Was there a hunt, any strategy involved, or did the animal just appear and stand there? Were other animals seen, but passed up? Had this animal been seen before? Was he any bigger from last year? The list of what is lost is long as well.

Making the kill the “everything” in a hunt reduces hunting to just that—the pull of a trigger or the release of a string. It can lead down a path that teaches our young hunters that if they are not successful every time out, they’re a failure. It also personally robs us of the special nature of hunting—the experiences and memories. Tough, hard-fought hunts full of adventure and experiences are valued for a reason. These are the stories that get told. The “I just showed up and there he was,” is not the edge-of-your-seat adventure we tell and relive over and over.

Holding a kill above all else also sends a message to non-hunters—and not a good one. It reduces hunting to only that which non-hunters have the most difficulty: an animal dies. We know there are more chapters to this book, but non-hunters don’t.