By Bradley Carleton | Contributor
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not an accomplished bass fisherman. I know that the intense explosion of a largemouth on a popper in the weeds is as dramatic as anything you might experience in the outdoor world, but with so many different pursuits it is truly difficult to master them all.
Guys (and gals) who consistently shoot big-racked bucks are rarely fly fishers. Turkey hunters and ice fishermen are often two different breeds. Those who take the journey down to the Merrimac River for stripers or bluefish are not commonly the same people who prefer to hunt squirrels or hares in the winter.
Here in Vermont, we are blessed with so many options to hunt and fish that even the catch and release trout fishermen often snub those who choose to eat what they catch. We all have our passions. Mine is waterfowling for ducks and geese. I started fly fishing when I was just eight years old—too young to appreciate the intricate details of a handsome tight looped back cast and too innocent to know that it wasn’t appropriate to take all the fish out of one pool when I figured out what fly was working.
I’ve heard it said that the difference between laws and ethics is that ethics are something we practice when we know no one is looking. It is the decision not to take a shot at a duck that might be a mallard/black hybrid when you know the limit on mallards is four birds, and the limit on black ducks is one, and you’ve already got one black duck in the bag. Ethics is knowing that the limit on brook trout is 12 per day, but choosing to only take enough for tonight’s dinner. It is the definition and implementation of “Fair Chase,” as described by Jim Posewitz in his book by the same name, which we are given at the end of a Hunter’s Education Course.
Fair chase means that the animal has a reasonable chance of escape and that the choice to pull a trigger is one that is an action laden with respect for the animal.
This year the Vermont Fish & Wildlife passed a law that allows hunters over 50 years of age to use a crossbow to hunt deer. This is a good law because many men and women whose bodies may no longer be able to pull a 50 pound draw compound or recurve bow, may use a crossbow that loads a shorter arrow (called a “bolt”) using mechanical drawing devices. This is a bad law in that it may increase the number of poachers that can now shoot a crossbow through the window of their vehicle without making a sound like that of a rifle. It will take greater judgmental restraint for someone who seeks to take the “easy way” to shoot a deer.
My thought is that if you’re not working hard for your shot (with the exception of the luck that sometimes happens when you’re in the right spot at the right time), if you haven’t done your scouting, haven’t managed to sneak into the perfect hide, patterned your prey and learned about its habits, you’re not hunting. You’re just shooting to brag about it.
Contrary to public belief, most hunters are very ethical, considerate stewards of the land and the habitat. They are the greatest conservationists in the entire population. The Pittman Robertson tax on all firearms, ammunition and license sales has saved the white-tailed deer, wild turkey and wood ducks from near extinction. Since its inception in 1937, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims that it has raised over $2 billion which it returns to each state for habitat restoration and conservation.
In 1937, during one of worst droughts in the Midwest, Ducks Unlimited was founded. This organization has managed to conserve 5,239,393 acres of land in the U.S. and another 8 million acres in Canada and Mexico. Ducks Unlimited has over 603,000 adult members and 44,954 youth members who annually raise money for further habitat restoration. From 2014 to 2015, members raised over $238 million to fund habitat and restoration projects. Only 3% of this money went to administration.
My point is this; the next time you see a hunter, don’t stereotype him or her as one of those Elmer Fudd characters—ignorant, gun-toting, law-breaking, low-lifes. We know that they are out there. We know who they are.
Just as terrorists are not all from one religion, neither are outdoorsmen all from the Wild West.
Bradley Carleton is Executive Director of Sacred Hunter.org, a non-profit that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature and raises funds for Traditions Outdoor Mentoring.org, which mentors at-risk young men in outdoor pursuits.