I try to be an ethical hunter. There. Simple statement. Notice that I did not mention Fair Chase.
The ethics are mine. The state laws are just the basic framework onto which ethics are built. Unfair advantage? Look, every time a hunter releases or pulls the trigger on a deer, it's an unfair advantage. We are well past leaping onto the animal's back and plunging our knife into their lungs.
But that was what hunters were doing in generations prior to the generation that saw the extirpation of the deer, the annihilation of the buffalo, and so on. This was the also generation that came up with the concept of Fair Chase. Daniel Boone is dead. Meshack Browning is Dead. Buffalo Bill is Dead. So is Teddy Roosevelt and Jack O'Connor. Who do we really have to turn to? Ted Nugent? The Drury Brothers? I would say ourselves, and any rework of the doctrine of Fair Chase should focus on that inner journey.
I see hunting, and specifically deer and turkey hunting as a spiritual experience and a search for one's self. If you are not thinking deeply. If all you are doing is walking into the woods and fondling your WWJBD bracelet (What would Jackie Bushman Do?) you are really not even scratching the surface. It's an expensive way to fill the freezer-- go buy a side of beef. If you hunt so you and your friends and family can share good times, leave the guns at home and put in a BBQ pit at deer camp. Trust me, it will be easier, cheaper, and you will have more time with those you hold dear. Bow hunting is a challenge? No. Golf is a challenge--never could get the hang of it. Bow hunting is a good way to get out before the gun hunters queer up the woods. I've got under 25 seasons under my belt with a bow-- don't try and peddle to the old peddler. Say what you will about hunting, but they are all excuses to mask some great ineffable that most folks can't talk about or won't or both. I have been writing on the subject for twenty years or more, and I can't come close to touching it.
What makes it so special and so important and so vital is that it's ME setting up what is right and wrong. It's me that decides whether to pull the trigger or not. It's me that has to live with the consequences. I put the ethics in hunting, and I am forced to do it mindfully every moment I am in the field. It's like Zen Buddism with safety off. I freely admit I've taken good legal deer and felt I had screwed the pooch, and I've eaten tag soup after passing on good legal deer and not regretted it. I'm sorry if that's too deep. I will crawl back into the shallow end for a bit.
Back in 2002, I was sitting out on the Friday night before season. I had my beaker of scotch in my hand. The weather was unnaturally warm. KYHillChick and I were watching the last rays of sun pass over the far pasture. All of a sudden, the biggest buck I had ever seen walked out at less than 50 yards and stood there looking at us. He would have gone 300 pounds easily, and his rack was enormous.
"Go get your gun and shoot it!" she hissed. I have to admit the thought had already crossed my mind. Now remember virtue without temptation is merely empty superstition-- at least that what the Methodist ministers in my family taught me.
"Nope." I replied.
"Why not?" she asked. "No one is going to know out here." She was right. The ridges were filled with the report of last minute sighting-in. No one would know. Yes, I had thought about that too already.
"Nope." I said. "I'd want it mounted, and then I'd have to spend the rest of my life looking at that head."
With that, I stood up and raised my beaker to the buck. KYHillChick followed my lead. We drank to the deer. The buck kind of eyed us for a bit and then trotted off. That was the last I ever saw of him. It was the only shootable buck I saw all season. I ended up having a miserable year, but I never regretted it.
Yes, there was the legal issue. I would have had a hard time explaining to Pat Taylor, the CO, if he'd driven up to say hello that night and seen me with that deer. I like Pat a lot, but I do not think Pat and I could have worked that one out easily.
Yes, KYHillChick tells everyone about her stalwart hubby and I get to puff my chest out. My sons think I'm Superman.
You could even bring in the Hunter Safety issue. Yes, I drew the line at handling firearms while under the influence. My rifles stay on the rack whenever there is alcohol about. I am a virtuous hunter or a responsible drinker or vice versa. Bunk. Bunk to all of it.
Here today, I will admit to you that the best reason for not shooting that buck was that (shhh! Don't tell KYHillchick) I hadn't had lunch. The little bit of scotch I had already tossed back during cocktail hour had gone straight to my head, and having to gut a buck while I was half in the bag was not something I would ever attempt. I'd have had to look at that darn head for the next 50 years and probably relived that episode over and over again. No thanks.
There. It is off my chest. All the other reasons were good, but deep in my heart, I know why I did not shoot that deer. Now y'all can discuss how that fits into Fair Chase and Hunter Ethics as you see fit. I'm late for lunch.
"Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me some venison;"