Friday, November 26, 2010

Shooting or Hunting: An Ethical Question

© 2009, 2010 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
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Hello Everyone! Once again this is work in progress. We will continue to modify, add, and refine as the conversation continues. You will notice that I have added permanent links somewhere over there to the right.

Last week we delved into the High Fence and Preserve Hunting question. Again I wanted to thank all of you for participating so enthusiastically and professionally. You do all sportsmen a great honor and service.

After carefully reading the post and comments, the impression is that the real question is about the ethics of shooting behind fences or enclosures. Is it ethical to shoot an animal in an enclosure and still call it hunting? Several comments were made questioning the ethics of doing so. But careful review of the conversation yielded no reasons for questioning the ethics of the activity. I might venture to say that it is reasonable to say that one man's ethics are another's moral morass.

At this point ethics and morals seem to be intertwined so tightly as to be indistinguishable. The easiest way to separate them is to define them. Morals are something that we all agree upon ie: killing for the sake of killing is wrong; broad general ideas. Whereas ethics are our method for assuring a moral outcome to any of our actions, or how we define our values. Those of you that are philosophy majors or philosophers please feel free to correct my definitions.

I propose that we dissect what transpires when we pull the trigger. At what point do we have to consciously make a decision as to whether the shot is righteous or not. Is there an ethical checklist that one must complete if and when he is to pull the trigger? Does it matter if you are feeding your family or killing for horns and antlers. What are the objective values that we need in order to make an ethical kill.

Much of it is subjective. Do you consciously decide if pulling the trigger will be ethical when it's a rat? Most will strive to humanely end the rodent' s life by shooting carefully and with purpose. Some would be satisfied with any thing that will end the creatures life now or later, as long a sit dies.

It becomes stickier when the competitive nature of the human race comes into play. You've paid $4500 for a three day guided Mule Deer hunt. You brought the wife along, and she's been fawning over the rugged, broad shouldered guide. You know that your comfort zone is inside of 125 yards. Your guide gets you to just inside of 270 yards on a broad racked 4X4. He puts down his laser range finder and tells you it is 270 yards. He says it's big and tells you to take the shot. He puts his 10X Stetson down for your rifle to rest on for God's sake.

What do you do?

That would be determined by your definition of right or wrong, your ethics.

Is it a 30/30 or 300 Winchester Magnum.
Your knowledge of the ballistics table.
Have you any experience at 300 yards
Can you whip the guide if you mess it up and he chortles about it up at the lodge.
In front of the other hunters... and your wife.

Well maybe that last one doesn't count, but I sure as hell would add it to my equation.

I don't care how big the deer is, if I had a Winchester 94 in thirty-thirty I wouldn't shoot. That's the extent of my decision making process on that particular scenario. I know what I'm capable of and I leave it at that. Whereas with my Weatherby 30/06 I might consider the shot determined by the particular scenario.

Now, if I am in an enclosed property, it would depend upon my perception of whether I earned that deer ; did I work for it. First thing, why am I there? In my particular case, it wouldn't be for a magnificent specimen of that species. No, I would either be shooting culls for meat, or hunting a representative example of the species.

If I was shooting for meat I wouldn't take the shot. I'm there for meat not a big deer. If I was there for antlers, I would take the shot assuming in this case that I had fulfilled my personal criteria for an acceptable hunting experience, and I was comfortable with the probability of that shot.

"A Trophy is a Trophy is a Trophy, and to each his own." Adds Mike Riddle of Native Hunt. "My Trophy might not make P&Y or B&C or S.C.I. books but, it will always remain "MY" Trophy each and every time I look upon it, and reflect on that particular hunt while reliving the most vivid of memories which are conjured up from that hunt."

My primary game species is the feral hog. Most of the time hogs are baited, but in my particular case, I ambush them on their way to the bait, that's what I prefer. I've also ridden in doorless vehicles, four wheelers, and on horseback in pursuit of them, and chased them with dogs. Many of these hunts are less than an hour long from start to finish, but they are hunting expeditions none the less. Personally I have never shot an animal from a vehicle moving vehicle. But I have dismounted and stalked into position to take a killing shot.

Traditions also play an important factor in what we consider ethical. In the south, you chase deer with dogs. When I moved here I was aghast! Up north you shoot dogs that chase deer! But after consideration of the effect, the traditions, and the sport, I concluded that it was just another method of hunting. Interestingly enough I consider hunting hog, bear, or lions with hounds the height of hunting. Well, the height would be wild boar, hounds, horses and lances, but you get what I mean.

In some areas up north you can bait bear. That is an acceptable means of hunting for those areas. If the management goals of that area were negatively impacted by the practice then it is well within the scope of scientists in the management division to curtail the practice. It is not acceptable for others to deny the practice because they feel it is unethical.

The Hodgeman, as always, does a great job of illustrating the discussion:

"When we step outside of our culture and examine hunting traditions of other cultures the ideas get more outside our realm of experience. When I first moved to Alaska and saw some of the hunting practices in Western AK I was appalled. Shooting swimming caribou from boats, baiting bears, setnets, killing whales- among other things. It took me a while to realize this was a trip to the "store" and the people involved didn't want the experience to be "sporting" because it was their method of survival. Is it ethical- certainly. Moral- I think so. Is it for me- no."

"What passes as ethical for a resident of the Y-K delta who's surviving from nature suddenly becomes unethical if I do it- because its not ethical in the culture I exist in."

"Common practices in my culture- catch and release fishing, shooting large bulls not fit for consumption, even fair chase are looked at as disrespectful of nature from a subsistence perspective."

Hodge, thanks for helping refine the discussion.

Though I have absolutely no interest in ever (Well, the opportunity hasn't come up...) harpooning a whale, I appreciate the skill and the Inuit hunter's natural acumen when pursuing them. I also respect the scientists who determine what numbers may be taken, as long as it's science and not politics determining the numbers.

If we were to carefully analyze most situations that we commonly come into contention, we would find that in the end it is not you or I that can honestly say whether the action or activity is "hunting." Only the person in that moment, in that experience, can truly decide whether it is or isn't hunting.

My good friend and Black Powder enthusiast Rick Kratzke (Whitetail Woods ) has given some thought to how he defines his ethics.

"Ethics is a tricky word, but what I will tell you from my experience is this:
  1. I don't shoot unless I feel I can make the shot.
  2. I take pride in following the laws and regulations set forth by the state I live in.
  3. I don't harvest anything unless I intend to eat it
  4. I don't harvest anymore than I can consume in one year unless I am donating it to the homeless.
  5. I can honestly say I have passed up deer when I could have shot, but didn't, because it was not legal to do so.

Now I know everyone has there own definition of what ethics means to them, but in the end if you hunt legally and harvest humanely, (the least amount of suffering to the animal), then you have done right."

An excellent synopsis of one person's ethical criteria for squeezing the trigger.

If you don't desire to participate in a particular form of hunting, or if you disapprove of a certain practice, then you are well within your rights to discuss it with others. But to discredit it or make claims that you cannot substantiate, that is wrong. We have enough opponents without making more of them within our own ranks.

I want to close with this, an observation from Holly Heyser, our own NorcalCazadora.

"If you let people argue about methods of killing (beyond the essential mandate of avoid cruelty/excessive suffering), they forget the simple fact that 96.8 percent of American adults eat things that used to have beating hearts. Wrap yourself in complicated ethical schemes and it becomes easier to marginalize some hunters; define hunting as one method in a larger system in which humans eat animals, and suddenly you can't separate us from the non-hunters - the only remaining divide is vegetarian v. meat eater, and we WAY outnumber the vegetarians."

Among the many things that we need:
  • Scholarly works that we should all be familiar with. Holly Heyser has a post on must read texts on hunting traditions and philosophies: "Books About Hunting ..."
  • Solid science in layman's terms for all of us to be able to grasp easily and use in our own defense.
Again this is a work in progress. I'll be adding to it as the discussion builds. Thank you everyone for your participation an help!

Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch
Member: Shindand Tent Club
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

Albert Rasch,HunterThough he spends most of his time writing and keeping the world safe for democracy, Albert was actually a student of biology. Really. But after a stint as a lab tech performing repetitious and mind-numbing processes that a trained capuchin monkey could do better, he never returned to the field. Rather he became a bartender. As he once said, "Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger." He has followed the science of QDM for many years, and fancies himself an aficionado. If you have any questions, or just want to get more information, reach him via TheRaschOutdoorChronicles(at)MSN(dot)com.


Anonymous said...

I apologize for being a little behind on some of these issues, I have been a little under the weather lately.

Anyway I have to say I try to stay away from these issues not because my views might start an arguement but because I think the end result of these types would always end up being the same answer and a waste of my time.

People are going to believe what they want to believe and on average you won't change their minds.

Whitetail Woods Blog / Deer Hunting and Blackpowder Shooting at it’s best.

Albert A Rasch said...


I think you're right, but we have a responsibility to keep this discussion out in the open, and do it frequently. More important is teaching others good ethical behavior.

Again, thanks for your input, it is always a pleasure to have you here!

Best regards,
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