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Hunting Ethics: Do We Need Them? by PSE’s Emily Anderson


By Emily Anderson

How is ethics related to the world of hunting, and why as hunters is it valuable to incorporate into our way of thinking?

Let’s first discuss the HOW.

To understand how hunting ethics affect the hunter, let’s consider the definition.  According to Webster, “ethics” can be defined as follows:

 A system of moral principles; the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.

There are not only written but unwritten rules of conduct recognized by the hunting community, which all play a role in the moral principles of hunting. The written laws are clearly outlined in each state’s rules and regulations and if they are broken there are obvious consequences, e.g., shoot something out of season with the wrong piece of equipment, and you may find yourself losing your license, paying a hefty fine, and wearing a new name of “poacher.”

Where the lines tend to blur and become a little gray is when we cross over and begin discussing the unwritten hunting ethics.  Sure, you may not be doing anything labeled illegal; however there still may be consequences.  It is this unwritten code of conduct that I actually think has a bigger impact on the hunting community if not taken seriously and ultimately can give a bad impression to the non-hunting community as well.
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Most of us as hunters have encountered a situation while out in the field that makes us a little uncomfortable, and we question whether what we just observed was ethical.  Deep down we know it may be wrong and it may simply be a battle to bite our tongue, move on and do the right thing.  For example, while hunting public land there is an unwritten code to not hunt on top of other hunters.  I understand that this may vary slightly depending on where you are hunting and how pressured a piece of public land is.

In my experience, I’m typically hunting in the mountains where there are plenty of entry / access points and not one trail head into an area.  Therefore, if you’ve gotten up early and beat everyone to a certain spot on the mountain or in the woods, you’ve earned the right to hunt that location.  Now you may be saying, “wait a minute…it’s public land and we all have the right to be there.”  Yes, I agree.  However, when there is an entire mountainside with several entry points, I’m not sure why you would park right next to someone and hike in on top of them.  It’s just rude. I understand that you might have heard a bugle and it sounded like a real elk, but it might be good to consider that either 1) it is the hunter in the truck you just parked next to, or 2) they are working a real bull and you just stepped into someone’s hunt.

Obviously there will always be exceptions and times when you simply can’t avoid bumping into other hunters in the field.  I would encourage us all to be aware of our surroundings, and if you notice you’ve crossed into someone’s hunt, back out graciously.  It is the ethical thing to do.
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As mentioned earlier, the unwritten hunting code of ethics can also spill over and have a negative effect on the non-hunting community if not taken seriously.  My challenge to all hunters is to always conduct themselves in a respectful manner while out in the field.  It means not leaving trash behind, respecting the animal by taking ethical well-placed shots, and even taking all your meat out of the field.  The list goes on.

I can attest that always striving to take an ethical shot can be challenging at times.  When you have an elk staring you down at 30 yards away and the shot presented is not ideal, it is decision time.  It takes every fiber in your being to make the choice of whether to shoot or not to shoot, and then you are left wondering after the moment passes whether you made the right one.

The #ELKTOUR DVD Season 1 has just been released which I was honored to be a part of last fall.  I was privileged to be able to preview the DVD in advance and got to relive the close encounters I had with elk last season.  While it was fun to watch and see our past hunt play out again before my eyes, I also had to witness one of these “moments.”  I made the decision to not shoot at the time through a small grove of aspens and after watching the video I found myself yelling at the screen, “SHOOT!”  However, the reality is I feel comfortable with my decision in the field.  Ultimately if the shot doesn’t feel right and I’m not comfortable taking it, bottom line is that I’m not going to release an arrow.  (If you watch this hunt, I bet you will have fun yelling “SHOOT!” right along with me.)

After digesting all of this, I’m left with the second half of my question – WHY is it important to incorporate hunting ethics into our way of thinking?

Ultimately, I think it is simply this … incorporating ethics into our hunting lifestyle reveals a portion of who we are as individuals and as a hunting community as a whole.  It encourages us to promote hunting in a positive light, realizing that our actions affect ourselves, fellow hunters, and the non-hunting community.  If we realize as hunters the importance of holding each other accountable to a higher standard, the idea of toeing the line somehow becomes less enticing.  My challenge to all of as hunters is to raise the bar to incorporate the best practice of ethical hunting into each hunt we embark on.

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Emily Anderson’s hunting journey began shortly after she got married. She enjoys the passions for the outdoors, hunting and fishing as a team with her husband. She established www.FromTheDraw.com as a way to share her stories as a female hunter. Emily lives in Colorado which allows her to hunt elk each September in the Rocky Mountains. She is now a PSE Staff Blogger and will be posting daily about her experiences and views on archery and hunting.

Keep your eye out for the #elktour DVD over on huntography.com! Watch PSE’s Emily Anderson and Dustin Jones hunt elk DIY style on our amazing public lands in the Western United States. Huntography also films a deer hunting DVD called #deertour which you will be able to watch PSE’s Will Jenkins hunt whitetails. Huntography…filming America’s hunters, one at a time!

To learn more about PSE’s top quality bows and bowhunting accessories, click here.

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