Deer Hunter Ethics
Larry Castle, White-tailed Deer CoordinatorHunter ethics is an important issue that deer hunters must consider. The future of our sport may ultimately depend on it. Granted, ethics are not directly a biological issue, but a growing number of ethical topics are influencing the non-hunting public's opinion of hunters.
In the Magnolia State, hunters must remember one fact: Most Mississippians don't hunt. Less than 15 percent of Mississippians participate in hunting. This is one reason that negative non-hunter opinion can lead to legislation which could curtail our privileges as hunters.
There is a difference between poor hunter ethics and what is illegal. Ethics are your personal code of what is right and wrong. Your code may not match your neighbor's. Moses did not come down from Mount Sinai with the 10 commandments of ethical hunting. What you do legally in private is, for the most part, your business and not the state's concern. Consequently, "your hunt is your hunt". One hunter may consider it unethical to use a compound bow, while another hunter may have given the issue considerable thought and determined that a compound bow is certainly an ethical weapon for him.
Hunting practices that violate the law are unethical. Hunters who violate existing laws are in the minority in our state. However, this small percentage gives all hunters a bad reputation in the opinion of the non-hunting public. Trespassing and general disregard for the rights of landowners lead the list of illegal practices.
More than 70 percent of the land in Mississippi is privately owned. Most of the success in wildlife restoration as well as current hunting opportunities are the result of private landowners cooperating with hunters and the state wildlife department. Therefore, hunting opportunities would be greatly reduced without the support of private landowners, most of whom are non-hunters.
A matter of serious concern to hunters and non-hunters is the problem of haphazardly disposing of deer carcasses. Already, this issue has led to legislation. Many hunters who have harvested a deer have indiscriminately dumped carcasses in creeks, on roadsides and in areas where the remains are visible to the public. This is unethical, senseless, and offensive to many people. Failing to properly dispose of a deer carcass causes all hunters to lose further respect and support from the non-hunting public. An ethical hunter and ethical groups of hunters make provisions to properly dispose of deer remains where they cannot be viewed by the public.
Hunters who hunt deer with dogs must realize their position in hunter ethics. While it is quite perspicuous that human trespass is illegal, what about the dogs? There are landowners who have a zero tolerance to humans and dogs trespassing on their property. This is a valid conviction on their part.
The worn out adage that "dogs can't read posted signs" no longer justifies hunting dogs running on lands where they are unwelcome by the landowner. This is one reason why hunting deer with dogs is one of the hunting traditions that is potentially in the greatest danger of negative legislation due to unethical activity by dog owners. While there is only a small percent of this hunting group involved in the unethical behavior, the perception is that all dog hunters have no regard for private property rights. All hunters lose support from the non-hunting public when dogs are released in areas where they will eventually cause problems on private property.
Mississippians have grown up with a hunting heritage. We have fathers, wives, grandfathers, uncles, other relatives and friends who hunt. This is a great tradition, a privilege which we cherish. These relatives and friends have shared the joys of our hunt. They want to hear about our hunt, see our trophies and are genuinely proud of us. During the hunting season 20 or 30 years ago, local newspapers were replete with harvested deer pictures and the smiling faces of successful hunters. The entire community looked favorably on hunters.
But times have changed. You will only find an occasional picture of a hunter standing beside his deer in newspapers today. Our close friends and relatives still look favorably on our hunting activities. The difference is that a growing number of the general public no longer look on the flagrant display of hunting as positive. Most of these people do not care if we hunt, they simply do not want us to flaunt our privileges nor successes in front of them.
Groups of hunters gathered along roadsides are offensive to some people. Your harvested deer, tied on your ATV in the back of your four-wheel-drive truck is offensive to some people. When public display of your harvested deer is necessary, think about the amount of visible blood. Consider how something as innocuous to us as an exposed tongue is received by a non-hunter.
Hunter fragmentation or the division of hunters as a group, is an issue of it's own but we as hunters must remain united and we can do that only when our hunting is ethical. Your hunt is still your hunt. Just remember that however you pursue deer - whether it's by archery, primitive weapons, gun-dog or gun-still - poor ethics on your part affects all deer hunters. The bottom line is that our actions as deer hunters must continue to keep non-hunters positive toward our sport. If we alienate these people and turn them into anti-hunters because of poor ethics on our part, we have failed. Hunt safe AND ethical.