All significant human activities, sooner or later, are conducted under a code, or set of guidelines, that direct appropriate behavior. Without this order there would simply be chaos and the activity would become unacceptable. Consequently, ethics apply in everything we do, from our personal relationships and how we treat our fellow man to business and recreational activities. Hunting too is conducted under a code, or set of ethics, that direct appropriate behavior. As such, a conversation about ethics in hunting is a conversation about values and continuance.
Values in hunting are more important today than at any time in history. Why? A hunter's values - what motivates us and how we conduct ourselves - shapes society's opinion of hunting. In any democracy, society decides what stays and what goes. Today, hunters make up a minority of society, and therefore hunting traditions are potentially at risk if the majority of citizens develop a negative perception of hunting, whether justified or not.
Ninety percent of our population does not hunt, but eighty percent still support hunting as long as it is seen as:
1) Not wasteful - the game taken is used for food.
2) Ethical - guided by rules and values that honor the tradition and the animals hunted.
3) The activity is in service to conservation - not overwhelming, but using wildlife resources in a sustainable way.
Today, more people are voicing their opinions about how wildlife is to be used, managed, and cared for than ever before. How hunting is being conducted is therefore of utmost relevance.
Clearly we need never apologize for something that provides as much as hunting does for society and for the natural environment. Having rules, laws and personal ethics to govern and guide our hunting practices is about respect, for the wildlife we pursue, for the landscapes in which those creatures thrive - and for ourselves as hunters.
Certainly we should also acknowledge that our society rightly expects, and deserves, an ethical approach to the use of any public resource and especially toward any living creature. The truth is, we are hunting today because the majority of sportsmen over the past century have held themselves to a high ethical standard. The concern of many sportsmen today is what they were taught was unacceptable is now being shown as acceptable to our next generation of hunters. Unfortunately, times and circumstances are changing moving the line between what was once unthinkable to something now less troubling.
History has proven that our society will eliminate or at least greatly diminish those activities seen as unethical. Therefore society at large must be assured that hunting is something more than killing and that hunting does not risk - but rather ensures - the survival of the hunted. Through the concept of fair chase and the hunting ethic, hunting transcends mere killing and becomes something more - much more. That "something more" is a combination of the expectations of society, coupled with a binding contract on the part of the hunter to behave in a manner that honors both hunting and the animals pursued. The result will be a continuing social relevance for hunting in a modern world and the continued survival of the hunted in the wild state.
The values hunters carry should be the envy of everyone who cares about the land and wildlife.
Clarifying the Position Statement
By the range of discussion and comments, it's obvious a few things need cleared up. For one, the press release announcing the Club's position statement is not the position statement. We encourage everyone to read the actual position. You can find it here.
You'll notice that nowhere in our position do we state "under X yards is ethical, but over X yards is unethical, or if you went to a long range shooting school to improve your skills you're unethical. This seems to be where many want to take this conversation. What it does say is if the intent of the shooter is to transfer long range target skills into a "hunting" situation to test equipment for how far one can hit, and hopefully kill a big game animal, then the Club believes this is shooting or something else, but it is not hunting.
There's a significant difference between hunting for and locating your quarry, assessing your stalking options, getting as close as the situation will allow, and committing to a shot you've practiced and are confident in making (within you maximum affective range), versus going out specifically to position yourself only for a max-distance shot, maybe one longer than the time before for a new personal record.
The Club further believes that this activity should not be perceived by hunters and non-hunters, as representative of all hunting - "this practice is not hunting and should not be accorded the same status as hunting.:
The next question, why would the Club take such a position?
If you've read the article, How Matters the Club is concerned about the public perception of hunting. Anti-hunters are not the real issue, as many weighing in on the Club's position seem to be more concerned with. The antis will do what they're going to do - a vocal minority, but a minority nonetheless. The real concern is the majority of citizen-voters who do not hunt yet, and thankfully are still supportive of, or are neutral toward hunting.
Ask any strategist and they'll tell you not to waste your time on people whose livelihood depends on disagreeing with you. Those openly against hunting, about 10% of the population, have a fundamental objection to the killing of wildlife by those who do hunt (also 10%). To be successful in achieving their goal the antis need to convince more of the 80% of people in the middle to back their cause, in order to provide funding for influencing policies and laws.
This 80% of non-hunters has a history of voting against hunting and sound wildlife management if hunting is viewed as 1) wasteful - not using the meat, 2) unethical - not guiding by principles that show some level of respect for the life taken, and 3) not in service to conservation. Our position statement is intended to provide food for thought on #2.
The antis tactics vary, but pointing out that hunters are divided over an issue isn't one of them because it's of no value to them. In fact, hunters having a discussion among themselves about ethics is certainly not what they want non-hunters to see. "Hunters are nothing more than blood sport, rednecks with values, honor and a code of ethics," doesn't work for their campaign against hunting and won't sell them many memberships.
To be clear, Boone and Crockett is not saying that a shot taken at long range is unethical. What we are saying is that if all a person cares about is how far one can shoot to better their own personal best, or that of someone else as if this is some sort of range competition; or to test on live targets what they have been able to achieve at the range; or if their field photos have the yardage stamped on them, then they are no longer hunting and the public should not confuse this with hunting.
The bottom line is that our wildlife and the traditions of hunter-supported conservation depend on educated, engaged, and ethical sportsmen and sportswomen. The Boone and Crockett Club will continue to do what's necessary to maintain the public support of hunters and hunting, including pointing out what crosses the line when necessary.
With all this in mind, at the end of the day, we are all part of a community that embraces and practices our right to hunt. We do this for so many of the same reasons that we are bound tightly together in all the areas that matter most. As a community, we have much more common ground than disparity and we need to spend most of our time celebrating our similarities rather than debating our differences. As B&C describes the nuances of our hunt credo we do so not to exclude others, but rather to clearly express our ideals and values with the specific intent of recognizing the consequences of both good and poor choices. Our history and commitments as a conservation organization requires us to continue to preach the message of Fair Chase, but we recognize that we do not represent everyone that hunts. In the end, not everyone is going to agree on every aspect. But it would be safe to say we should all agree that we are better off if we hunt responsibly, respectfully and ultimately defensibly so as to avoid giving ammunition to those that would put our way of life down.