Category Archives: hunting ethics

Piles Makes Smiles…Or Do They?

We shot a lot of geese the other weekend, or as they say in the current vernacular we “made a pile”. In fact, that’s precisely what we did.  In the tradition of almost every successful waterfowler since time immemorial we made a pile of dead geese, and we took a photo of it.  It is without a doubt a common practice to take such a picture, in fact there are pictures of hunters and dead waterfowl going back for as long as there are photographs. I’ve heard people make a connection between ancient cave paintings of hunting and the act of taking photos, arguing that they share a common ancestry; I’ve always considered that to be a bit of a “reach”.

Regardless, in my advancing age, I’ve developed an increasingly tactful approach with my ‘pile pictures’ in the age of social media.  In a pre-social media age, pictures of hunters grinning behind some stacked up mallards or a row of belly-up geese lived in print photo albums, pulled out for the occasional trip down memory lane, and then tucked safely and inoffensively away until the next time.  But with the culture of sharing (and some might argue, over-sharing) prevalent, I’ve opted not to subject my non-hunting friends, coworkers, and acquaintances with big body counts on their Facebook, Twitter, and other news feeds. If they want to see that sort of thing, they’ll follow the website pages, and not my personal page.  Which leads me to the handful of social media hunting forums I frequent, where I felt I was among brethren.  It was there I posted an evening photo showing a tailgate-bending pile of sixty-two geese for their perusal. Just eight birds shy of our 14-man limit, we’d had a truly unforgettable hunt and I was generally, if not a little naively, certain that if there was feedback it would be positive, after all I really enjoy seeing other waterfowlers having success and I’m not shy with my Facebook ‘likes’.

I was more or less right, but one hunter took exception.  He likened the photo to ‘market-hunting days’, labelled it disrespectful and twice called the character of myself and my friends (total strangers to him mind you) into passive-aggressive question.  He said (I’m paraphrasing) that only through those kinds of interactions could waterfowlers “get better”.  Now, it was certainly not metaphorically a mountain nor was it a molehill of chastising on his part, and since I really try not to argue with anyone on the internet I just kindly thanked him for his feedback and apologized in true Canuck fashion for my misreading of his sensibilities. Other hunters had the expected feedback, defending the photo, the hunt, and my responses, which was an unexpectedly pleasant outcome.  In the end though, even that it all ended in a surprisingly respectful fashion, it did give me extensive pause for thought.

Because although I won’t stop shooting piles of geese, nor will I likely stop taking pictures of those piles of geese, objective self-assessment is healthy so here’s what I came up with.

The offending photo.

First off, waterfowlers ceasing their ‘pile pictures’ or ‘grip and grins’ or ‘hero shots’ or whatever you want to call them would only be constitute the situation getting “better” if you take as fact this anonymous commentator’s opinion that we are currently in a state that needs some manner of improvement…and I’m not so sure we are in that situation. After all it would certainly not be a faulty argument to state that ‘pile pictures’ give a nod to conservation.  There was a time not too long ago when seeing 100 geese in a whole season would have been unthinkable, never mind shooting almost 100 in a weekend. To be certain there are several contributing factors to the current plentiful state of goose populations, and the efforts of hunters and other conservationists are surely part of that equation, so why not reap the bounty?  All our geese get processed and eaten, and several recipes have graced this website previously (and more are coming) which would put us on the vanguard of field-to-table culture, and we have introduced many young kids to the tradition, future conservationists and hunters with awe in their eyes while hundreds of geese trade the skies and whirlwind into the decoys.  So, excuse my ‘pile photo’ if it offends you, but sorry I’m not really that sorry.

That said, I’m not so pedantic to think that we as hunters should not temper our pride or prowess with an understanding that a whole lot of people don’t like to look at heaps of dead animals.  I just hadn’t experienced it with and from other hunters. But such is the world we live in now. After all, just what are we exactly celebrating in this photo? We almost shot a limit, so do pile photos illustrate restraint, proof that we stayed under the legal maximum? Were there hints of vanity or an air of dominance of man over flying beast? Objectively, there probably is a sense of “Look at us and what we did!”, and in the submission to my peers I’d be lying if I said there was not validation sought and gained.

Of course, with every piece of technology now a camera, is it time we re-assess what hunting photos even are anymore.  The old saying “photos or it never happened” seems haggard and overused, and more than once I’ve rued the requirement to accumulate images and engagements and that oh-so elusive “content”. There are so many of them, I don’t think I’m out of line to ask if all hunting photos are even celebrations anymore or are they just becoming the perfunctory and ubiquitous by-product of our time?

If I put myself in the mind of this commenter, I have even further questions.  For example, in that individual’s eyes what would be the acceptable number of geese or ducks to show in a photo? Would it be zero?  If it were to be zero, would that in some way sanitize the hunt or show some elevated level of respect for the birds? As much as I respect the non-hunter viewpoint when expressed rationally and respectfully, at the root of things to hunt is to kill. If we take the kill out of the medium and narrative, why take photos of anything? Why tell any stories? Nay, why hunt? Why anything at all?

Okay, so it got absurdly nihilist there for a moment but I’m back.

This all boils down to the theory I’ve had for years, and written about here clumsily, around what I call the Hypocrisy Line; that nebulous and elusive stage where the things you could reasonably participate in cross the line into the things you find offensive when others do them, but are still okay for you to do for no other reason than that you yourself are doing them and can use rational gymnastics to justify the act. It is the hunting embodiment of “Do as I say, not as I (might) do.”

There absolutely are hunting photos I find distasteful. I once saw a harvested wild turkey in close-up with half of its face blown clean off. That wasn’t for me. I found a photo of a legally-hunted rhino draped in an American flag. I had reservations and a few questions. There has always been something a little off to my eye about shooting and then posing with a lion or a giraffe or a leopard, but that’s a bias of my upbringing more than any deep-seated objection to the act.  But in all those scenarios, and the sporadic others I see now and then, I’ve never been so incensed that I took it public with another hunter and their posting.

Because sometimes that’s hunting, warts and all.  Also, I refer you to my earlier remark about not arguing with people on the internet.

Anyhow, I debated a bit about the ‘offending photo’ and whether I’d leave it up in the social media group.  In the end I did, and I’ve put it in this post too, because if you’re reading this far you’re either very generous with your time for my rambling, or you’re in consensus with me.  And if you’re not, that’s fine too; shout at me on the internet if you want.

I’ll probably not engage in the banter though.

Wasted Gifts

I was doing laundry and taking stock of my equipment for the upcoming second round of my rifle season for deer here in Ontario when the storm broke on all of my social media platforms. Another “TV hunter” or “hunting-industry celebrity” or “outdoors personality” or whatever term is in style right now was allegedly caught poaching deer. I was instantly depressed, but I had to know more.

The case in question is of one Chris Brackett, host of “Fear No Evil”. Video surfaced yesterday of what is allegedly him shooting two deer in Indiana, when he was only licensed for one. There is also the nature of the killings, which I’ll touch more on below, and the aftermath which I’ll also delve into, but what I want to primarily focus on here is the alleged act.

Never mind that this person has a litany of detractors for his personality and how he generally comports himself; I can excuse being a bad person to a degree because there are a lot of bad people all over the place in the world. I do not really expect a man or woman to be a good person just because they hunt too.

This video has apparently been suppressed frequently in the past 36 hours, and the most recent place where I can still find it as at http://whackstarhunters.com/chris-brackett-accused-poaching/ so check it out for yourself, but know that it is not pretty and for sensitive viewers there is some language and some cringe-worthy visuals.

The short version of the story has it that while hunting in Indiana with a muzzleloader a few years ago, Chris Brackett was instructed by a landowner to shoot a 10-point buck on the landowner’s property, but to pass on a younger, tall-racked 8-point buck, which the landowner wanted to continue maturing. Video has surfaced with purports to contain Chris Brackett not only defying the landowner request and making what clearly looks like a fatal shot on the 8-pointer, but then (with no cutaway and on the same reel of film, if you will) making a critically wounding shot on the 10-pointer. The 10-pointer is obviously paralyzed from being hit in the rear of the spine (which is commonly known as a “Texas Heart Shot”, and in my strictly personal opinion is an absolutely unacceptable shot to take on any deer, let alone a huge trophy whitetail) and it crawls and struggles off frame, with no documented follow-up finishing shot. The accusation continues that the 8-pointer was never recovered, and the 10-pointer was recovered quite some time after the shot, so I can presume that trophy animal suffered a very painful and unpleasant death. Audio on the video even states that someone (either the cameraman or the shooter) has no idea where the 8-pointer ran off to.

So, two dead deer, one tag, one hunter disobeying a landlord request, one arguably unethical and cruelly wounding shot later, here we find ourselves.  It is tough to watch.  Without hyperbole, I can say I was legitimately sick to my stomach watching it all unfold, especially after the hunter cripples an absolutely huge and beautiful deer.

Apparently, the video is surfacing now because the cameraman had been struggling with his conscience, the landowner was also looking to go public with footage, etc, etc. Again, these are likely all valid reasons, but they are corollary to the actual allegations of poaching.

Now this video quality isn’t great, and defenders of all sorts are saying that it proves nothing other than ‘someone’ shot two deer (one very badly) and then at the very least did not document any recovery efforts. I’ll grant that, but there are apparently also supporting statements from the cameraman and the landowner to back up the allegation, and the Chris Brackett camp has been suspiciously quiet. All social media for the accused has either gone silent or has been shut down, no official defending statements have come out, and his television sponsors in the industry are either making ominous statements or dropping him outright.

I believe in “innocent until proven guilty”, but the internet and corporate sponsors are not necessarily of the same mind. It is a big, unpleasant mess to say the least.

So, what are we, the hunting laity, to do? Does it matter if a handful of us stop watching his show? Are product or network boycotts effective? Or have we become so jaded to this that it just meets our expectations of what televised hunting is?

Because the real issue here is that the public-facing arm of the hunting tradition, which is no doubt an ‘industry’ and as such is tasked with making content, selling advertising, and generally being profitable is more and more often being exposed to the public as a field littered with questionable characters that are not really conservationists, or stewards of the resources, or anything other than opportunists interested in fame and growing nominally wealthy via hunting.

They have been given the gift of being able to live out their lives hunting beautiful wild game in beautiful places for hundreds of thousands of viewers, and time and again these gifts are wasted, not only at their personal cost, but at the cost of another public black-eye for the hunting tradition. It’s truly upsetting and although I do not in any way doubt their ‘love’ of hunting, which I honestly believe is the same love you and I have for the outdoors, I do doubt their character, and will keep doubting it until I see compelling reasons to stop.

Are these celebrity hunters ‘under the microscope’ or subject to greater scrutiny? Probably and that’s a good thing.  It is a common theme on this forum and it bears repeating again, even if I do sometimes feel like the lone voice crying in the night.

How hunting is popularly represented is far more important than what hunting truly is.

Like it or not, the violations committed on camera and the dodgy ethical decisions made by a Bill Busbice or a Chris Brackett or a Ted Nugent, or a Warren Spann, or whomever inevitably comes next are the demons we’ll have to fight with. These things become the fodder for anti-hunters and they poison the opinions of the neutrals.

Let there be no doubt about it, we need the ‘neutrals’ more than anything.

So, in all it has been an unpleasant 36 hours or so for me and my mindset on ‘the industry’, but hey, at least I’m back in the woods in a day-and-a-half, which will ease some of the pain. Maybe I’ll put some venison in the freezer this week…stranger things have happened after all.

Likewise, I’m sure (even if he arguably does not deserve any sympathy) it has been a real shit-kicking for Chris Brackett the past day or so.  If anything positive can come out of this wasteful, morally ambiguous situation unfolding in the public sphere, it is that we will all hold these heroes and celebrities to the highest standards, and perhaps those heroes and celebrities will take notice and hold themselves to the same level. But sadly, I’m not hopeful.

In the meantime, I’ll see you in the woods everyone.

In Defense of a Hard 40 Yards

It is the doldrums of winter here and in the midst of February I cannot recall the last time I saw sunshine.  Dreary grey days followed by gloomy nights followed by more dreary gray days have become the norm as we hit the mid-point of winter.

To pass the time and to give myself the illusion that spring is really coming I have taken to the internet in search of turkey hunting equipment.  I do not really require anything in this area, but it is nice to look and fantasize about guns, turkey calls, vests, and ammunition; in undertaking this exercise I can say with some certainty that there is an absolute glut of frivolous gear on the market.

But two items that have become ubiquitous in modern turkey hunting are the ‘turkey-specific” choke tube and specialized ‘turkey loads’.  I’m completely fine with these pieces of equipment because they ‘tick all the boxes’ I look for in effective pieces of gear.  A choke is generally easy to install, both pieces are simple to use in tandem, and they promote clean ethical kills when used in appropriate situations.

However it is that last caveat that, ironically, makes an ideal tool for some modern turkey hunters an absolute nightmare in the hands of others.

Are extra-full, aftermarket turkey chokes and super-charged shells mandatory equipment to kill gobblers? Of course they aren’t.  Many gobblers have fallen to hunters in the years before custom chokes were de rigueur, and countless hunters in the modern age shoot fixed-choke shotguns by necessity or personal choice.  The broad, bronze tailfans of many, many wily gobblers adorn my father’s garage walls alone, and he has only ever shot them with simple copper-plated lead from the improved cylinder choke in his glossy, 1960’s vintage Remington 1100.   For him it is at least, in part, a fundamental belief that he does not need to buy species-specific shotguns.  I’m sure he’s not alone in this.

Hunters on a budget or with a traditionalist aesthetic aside, new loads and chokes are effective, without a doubt. At extended ranges (a nebulous concept I’ll attempt to define below) they deliver more shot on a turkey’s head and neck, and thus by extension more opportunity for a quick, ethical kill with minimal suffering to the bird.

I’m all for that.

But what of the nonsense I’m now seeing about regular and consistent 70 yard kills?  I saw someone online actually admit to killing a turkey at 110 yards using a certain choke/ammo combination; a feat made all the more miraculous given that this person was fortunate enough to actually witness a gobbler having a massive stroke simultaneous to their shot, because that is the only way I can connect the two events which are so obviously unrelated.

Or this person is a stinking, filthy liar.  The hunting community has its share of those too.

But overall that seems to be the mantra now.  Longer is better.  Take the long shot.  If he hangs up, bust him. Extend your capabilities, yada, yada, yada.  At the risk of being more unpopular than I already am, this is a generally stupid and occasionally dangerous.  Of course the entities marketing this all have their own disclaimers either stated explicitly or through their sponsored mouthpieces in the industry.

“Know your gun’s capabilities and practice often.”

“Know your ranges accurately.”

“If you’re unsure, don’t take the shot.”

“Don’t take borderline or risky shots.”

And other palliative pabulums meant to absolve them from any liability for actually manufacturing a product that emboldens hunters everywhere to practice less, take longer shots, and rely less on accurate ranging of their birds.

Now, I’m far from perfect and I’m well aware that errors in judgment happen, we are all fallible beings after all.  I once underestimated my range on a hard-gobbling jake by more than ten yards and without a doubt having an extra full choke bought me the margin for error that made that bird flop.  But my self-imposed threshold was 35 yards, when I paced off 44 steps I quietly swore at myself for having made an error.  Likewise, I was thankful for the wiggle room afforded me by the shotgun’s extra-tight constriction and the swarm of lead #6 pellets that went downrange.

But super-full aftermarket chokes and ultra-long range loads are not being marketed as ‘insurance’ against misjudged distances.  They are being actively sold and touted as a way to kill gobblers once considered hung-up, henned up, or stubborn.  All this to the detriment, in my mind, of the concept of ethical distances and ethical kills.

There’s a grace to calling longbeards in close.  There are nuances in turkey hunting that can be learned from having birds near you.  I would argue for all my days that the thrill of having a bird at ten steps outweighs the thrill of using aerospace-grade material to smash his brains in from another (figurative) zip code.

So is it the many-headed hydra of consumerism driving this?  Is it simple laziness?  Is there an element of chest-thumping machismo at reaching out like Thor himself and hammering a gobbler dead from over half a football field away?  Is it merely a fashion trend?  In truth it is all of the above to a degree.  So what can you do, other than just piss and moan on the internet like I’m doing?

Have some integrity.  Be patient.  Watch the gobblers and call them in close.  Shooting, wounding, and possibly not recovering a bird at unheard of distances is a far worse alternative than letting him walk and hunting him another day.  Shooting, missing, and educating a bird is not much better and just makes them more prone to hanging up at extended ranges in the future, creating a vicious cycle of warier birds and the perceived requirement for even longer range ballistics.

Frustration can make a hunter prone to wishful thinking around distances, skills, and equipment capabilities.

There is nothing to lose at holding yourself to a hard 40 yard threshold.  It cannot be legislated and it cannot be mandated, but it can be idealized and celebrated.

And it should be.

The Only Thing I Like Poached are my Eggs Benedict, or Why Are We Destroying Ourselves?

It broke across my social media feed on the afternoon of September 15th:

“Sportsman Channel Suspends Hunting Show Amid Federal Poaching Allegations”

I swear I got an instant headache.

Apparently, The Syndicate, a show hosted by one Clark W. Dixon of Mississippi was alleged to have been party to over two dozen illegal acts of poaching in Alaska, some of which were later edited to appear as law-abiding hunts and were subsequently shown on the program.  The full release that I received can be found here and the Sportsman Channel’s response can be found here.

This is not the first time this has happened in the hunting industry, and unfortunately, it probably won’t be the last time.

I have no affiliation with any of the parties involved, so I only know what I’ve researched.  The production companies have commented, and the Sportsman Channel has commented.  To date, I can’t find any comments or on the record statements made by the alleged perpetrators of the illegal acts, but I don’t particularly care at this point, because there is always some form of excuse or admission of guilt bracketed by a ‘misunderstanding’, or whatever, and it makes me weary.

Sigh.  Can I just go hunting with my friends now and not have to worry about crap like this?

No, I can’t because I have a real problem with this ‘celebrity hunter, body-count, above-the-law, hero-shot’ mentality and what it does to hunting in the public perception.

The problem here is two-fold.  Of primary importance is that the non-hunting public holds these acts as their standard of what they deem hunting to be.  They presume that if a ‘professional’ hunter is poaching and hunting unethically, then all the non-professionals must be doing it too.  This is of course an incorrect stereotype of the most egregious variety, but it is a pretty natural response.  I’ve heard many hunters make the same manner of stereotype about ‘anti-hunters’ or ‘vegetarians’ or ‘environmentalists’ or anyone else that may for some reason oppose hunting.  For the irony-impaired, it is pretty hypocritical.  Still, it happens and the hunting community already has a big enough image challenge on their collective hands without public figures in their own fraternity buggering things up.  You can get all self-righteous and say “Screw the public! Hunting is my right!” but that does not help and in reality is not really a true statement anyways.

If it were your right, you would not have to buy game licenses and be subject to hunting regulations.

So instead, every time this happens that a hunting ‘celebrity’ is found on the wrong side of the state, provincial, or federal game laws (I’m looking at you Jeff Foiles, Ted Nugent, and William Spann just to name high profile cases in the last five years or so) everyday hunters have to bear the burden of public opinion and we are forced into either defending our own actions which for the most part should be pretty clean, or we have to come up with clumsy and ineffective rationalizations and explanations.  Just Google “professional hunter poaching” and the scores of articles you will find is extremely depressing.

So to the professionals and celebrities that keep screwing up, thanks for making us regular guys who just want to hit the woods and wetlands have to work harder to keep doing what we love.  Trust me it is harder for us since we are without thousands of dollars in production values up our sleeves, and we typically do not have a team of outfitters and production companies and various sponsors backing us.

But secondarily, and of a more insidious manner, is that this brings the ‘support a fellow hunter argument’ out.  This mentality embraces a fallacy so grand that it borders on the comical, and it severely runs the risk of ‘normalizing’ breaches of hunting regulations.  I refused to weigh in on the whole ‘Cecil-mania’ of last month or so because primarily, to my eye, that simply did not involve hunting, it was poaching out and out from all accounts and it was more or less the matter of a private transaction that was on the face of it, grossly illegal.  That it became a public matter occurred in due course, but it did not start out that way, and in fact it was nearly a month after the actual poaching of the lion before the media picked it up.  It also falls well outside my bailiwick in that I have no real ties to African Safari hunting, or really trophy-hunting in general.  Much has been written on it by others more knowledgeable in the field than I about this whole sloppy mess, so I’m just going to more or less leave it alone.

But where all that nonsense in Zimbabwe dovetails nicely with the argument I’m making above is that many, particularly the most vocal, in the hunting industry felt that the Cecil issue when it occurred, as well as the current “celebrity-hunter-caught-poaching” scenario I’m referencing here should somehow be excused and that the greater hunting community at large should ‘show support’ to the perpetrators in some rally of common-cause-collectivism among sportsmen and women everywhere.

Well, to use a cliché, that dog won’t hunt.

Because, at the risk of being unpopular (which has not stopped me before) the dentist who shot that lion is no more of a hunter than the accused at The Syndicate should their allegations be proven, or any of the others named above who have been convicted.  They are by definition poachers and thus fall outside the law, to say nothing of what the greater definition of ‘hunter’ actually is or should be.  Recreational hunting at its core involves regulations and the explicitly stated adherence to those regulations. To do less constitutes an act of poaching, plain and simple and if you do it, there are consequences.

This is not a concept fraught with grey areas.  Ethics are one thing, and could (I stress, could) be subject to debates, but the law is clear in that respect.  If it is legal, you can debate the ‘ethic’.  If it is prohibited by a law and due process convicts you, then there should not be a granted chance for debates. Period, full-stop.

(That said, the Sportsman Channel’s release regarding The Syndicate’s situation stresses that they stand for “ethical practices in hunting” but they still align themselves with and praise the support of convicted poacher Nugent in this recent tweet, so maybe it really is all about ratings and marketing, and this is more nebulous than I had initially thought.)

Capture

Now there is little doubt in my mind that the public figures in hunting do genuinely love the tradition as much as you and I do.  I’m sure they are sincere in their support of conservation organizations, and they might even be decent men and women to sit down across from, crack a beer and swap stories with.  They are likeable, which is part of their draw to be certain.  But by nature of their public persona, they are almost obligated to comport themselves to a higher (and arguably, the highest) standard with regards to both those shadowy areas of ethics and fully illuminated areas of the law proper.  Many of them do it correctly, and the bad apples do not spoil the bunch out of hand.

My primary question is, why are there bad apples to begin with?  Is there no validation method or process in place to vet the people who do this for a living?  Surely some of this graft can be weeded out?

My hunting mentors repeatedly stressed to me: Don’t take a shot you can’t make.  To turn that into a metaphor for this whole messy, PR nightmare perhaps the approach of the ‘celebrity hunter’ would be to not do anything that you would not normally do if you were not being filmed.  That is to say, if the goal is to create kills on camera so that you can somehow self-aggrandize your ego, or keep your sponsors happy, or increase your ratings, which would probably also achieve the prior two desires, and you show no regard for what game laws state, then it may be best to not pull the trigger.  If you would still pull the trigger after that…then I can’t help you in re-examining what motivates you to hunt.

But rest assured, you are a bigger part of the problem than anti-hunting groups could ever hope to be.