Category Archives: hunting ethics

And They Call It…Progress?

I’ve been absent, I know, but with good reason.
You see I’ve been jetting all over North America these last few weeks, with stops in Halifax, Calgary, Phoenix, Charlotte, and Chicago.  No, my ears have not returned to normal just yet, and yes, I am a whiz at airport security now.
So what have I had time to do in those intervening weeks, you might ask?
Mostly I’ve been staring at works projects and completing late night drives home from Pearson International Airport…seriously why does every flight seem to come into Pearson after 10pm?  I did some writing on a side project I’m working on while heading from Chicago to Scottsdale.  But I’ve also been thinking about you my devoted reader, specifically about some way to bring you into my wandering experiences that also lines up with the hunting-specific content of this blog. 
And I think I’ve come up with it…but please be patient, there’s some lead up.  I’ve also been dreaming of turkey hunting in May, but that’s another post.
On my most recent flight from Charlotte, NC into Toronto I looked around the plane.  I was reading a copy of Outdoor Life I had picked up at the Charlotte Airport and I also had a well-worn copy of Stephen King’s Night Shift in my carry-on.  I am not above exaggerating normally, but I speak the truth when I say that those two pieces of publishing were the only traditional forms of reading material brought by passengers that I could see on that entire flight.  Every other soul had a Kindle or a KOBO, or a Playbook or an iPad or some other piece of technological flotsam that they were using to read or otherwise entertain themselves.  I’m not above technology, even though my iPod is seven years old and is about the size of a brick, but this troubled me.  I love books and magazines both from a content perspective and from a tactile angle, and I fear that we’re careening down some bumpy Fahrenheit 451-esque path where paper books and print in general will suffer the same (metaphorical) fate as the dodo.  At least that’s the irrationally paranoid approach I take when I have not slept in fourteen hours, crossed four times zones, and find myself circling Lake Ontario at 20,000 feet at 11:47pm while waiting to land at Pearson Airport.
So is it positive progress?  Since I have never used an e-reader, I cannot pass definitive judgment, but I do see a parallel between the way that technology has changed something as humdrum as reading and the lamentations that I see in almost all of the hunting magazines that I subscribe to or purchase for in-flight reading (and believe me, I buy a lot of them…I may just be keeping that whole industry afloat.)
There are worried rumblings among the hunting community (or at least the segment of the hunting community that writes letters to the editors of these various magazines) that technology is changing the beloved hunting tradition in a way that may not be for the best.  The editors, likewise, seem to be on the warpath against (some) technology because there are now dozens of editorial columns devoted to how widespread technocracy in the hunting community is irreversibly altering the hunting ethic and experience.  It is a hot-button issue right now, but I’m not going to wade in with my opinion…because that would be the antithesis of my efforts to keep this forum from getting too preachy, at least I’ll try not to sermonize.  But I will highlight some trends I’ve seen, and at least add some fuel to the debate.
Advances in optics, rifle accuracy, and ballistics have now made guns capable of being consistently and accurately lethal (in practiced hands) to distances in excess of a kilometer.  Yes I said kilometer…as in 1000 meters.  That is well beyond the limits of the visual acuity and olfactory prowess that serve as the defense mechanisms of most of the big game here in North America.  Shotgunners and archers are also using cutting edge technology and cutting edge equipment to extend the range of their weapons of choice to well beyond the traditional 40 yard marker…a distance that at one time seemed almost religiously enforced as a stretch to the limit of lethality for waterfowlers, turkey hunters, and bowhunters.  But now there are dozens of websites, television shows, products, advertisements, and magazine columns devoted to extended-range shooting.  I don’t think it is a fad…I think it is going to stick around.  I remember a time when in the hunting media and in my circle of friends and hunting companions where the litmus test of hunting abilities was how close one could get to game…and not how far away your equipment allowed you to be lethal from.  Is it a positive change?  Is it universal?  I don’t know because I’m not involved in that subculture of the hunting experience.  I’m going to focus on shooting straight first of all before I look to extend my range.
In the same vein, there is a vocal segment of the hunting populace that is vigorously opposed to the A-R platforms of what is now being marketed as the “modern sporting rifle”.  That name is firmly in the world of what is referred to as ‘spin’ or as I prefer to call it the tradition of putting lipstick on a pig.  I will admit my bias openly here: I am of that group that is not comfortable with the new platforms.  But it is not because I am a reactionary old purist who thinks we should all go back to using flintlocks, or Damascus-barreled antiques, or longbows…because I’m not.  It is not because I think those guns are unsafe; they are no more or less safe than any other firearm.  It is not because I think they don’t work; they work fine and do have some benefits in terms of reduced recoil and accuracy (they do after all leverage military technology…and who knows more about killing than the military?)  And I do fully understand a latent hypocrisy in my stance in that many of the rifles and shotguns built in the 1950’s through to the 1980’s (arguably the heyday of rifle, shotgun, and bullet design) sprang from WWII military platforms or leveraged Vietnam War-era operating and ballistic techniques.  But those guns did not look intentionally like combat equipment—as this new generation does, and the marketability and image of anything that looks that “military” is going to draw attention from those who are looking for a reason to denigrate hunting, which is a headache that I don’t think we need (we have enough of that already, thank you very much).  For my American readers, I understand that my stance also draws in a constitutional aspect to the debate that thankfully I do not have to deal with here in Canada.  It certainly brings the matter of ‘rights’ into the development and ownership of this type of weapon, and rest assured I have no interest in removing or impinging on anyone’s constitutionally guaranteed lifestyle…because as a Canadian (and not an American or a constitutional historian) I simply do not understand it.  Ultimately for me, at its very root, I like the classic lines, curves, and aesthetic of glossy hardwood and blued steel.  If only I could afford more of it in my gun cabinet.  Again, is the proliferation of A-R platformed sporting arms a good thing?  Make up your own mind.
The use of optics, specifically rifle scopes, have long been at the center of a swirling maelstrom of ethical debate, but increasingly shotgun mounted ‘quickbeads’ have been the target of persecution too.  In a lot of ways it is a ‘new school’ versus ‘old school’ kind of thing, and having been on both sides of the equipment debate I can vouch for the benefits of both on a situational basis.  No one would sensibly argue that they would rather have iron sights for a 200 yard shot at a coyote or mule deer, just as very few people would likely choose even a moderately-powered scope when hunting dense bush for rabbits where shot selection is going to be inside of 30 yards. But what of the new breed of scope that not only magnifies the target, but also takes the wind, your ballistics, and caliber into account, as well as acts as a range finder and puts the reticle just where it needs to be based on all those factors?  I have never thought of mounting a $1000 computer/videogame shooting aide to my .243WIN, but apparently that’s the age we live in now.  If used properly I have no doubt that such a scope increases humanely lethal kills, just as I have no doubt that if used improperly it also gives people without the shooting skill a confidence to shoot at and wound game that they have no business even thinking of taking a poke at.  As Hamlet would say “Ay! There’s the rub.” The only qualification necessary to have such a scope is having the prerequisite funds available to buy one.  Sadly, nothing is as priceless as good judgment during shot selection…or seemingly as rare.
There’s a special spot in my heart for game calls.  If some law passed making it illegal to ever hunt with a gun again, I’d still be out there in camo with a camera and my calls.  But even my beloved calls, those bells, whistles, trinkets, and toys that make me what I am in the woods are not exempt from being included in the technological shit-storm of debate over what defines fair chase and how advances in technology and manufacturing processes are blurring that line.  If it were a contest, those select few hunters who can mouth call game with nothing but their own voice would win.  I can do it for turkeys but not much else.  Everything else we’ve manufactured to fool game: from aboriginal turkey wingbone calls, to the first hunter who blew through a cane reed duck call or scratched two pieces of wood together to yelp up a gobbler, to the machinist hand turning space-age materials on a lathe to make a short-reed goose call, right up to the tech expert who is creating digital downloads of cottontail distress calls to market to coyote and predator hunters through their smartphones, is all (depending on who you ask in both the hunting and non-hunting communities) deception and an act that cheats nature a little bit.  I’m not in for making judgments or gradations in that ladder, because it is pointless: calling and hutning are inextricably linked.  Camouflage is the same way.  Should we all go back to smearing mud and dead leaves on ourselves in an effort to remain concealed or are we okay with using state of the art digitally designed camouflage that makes a hunter nearly invisible provided they can sit still?  Regardless, a hunter still has to make the shot.  And I don’t think it is an arms race…simply because the animals aren’t evolving as fast as we can come up with new ways to fool them.  Yet still most of us fail more than we succeed.  So what do you do?  I guess you make a choice.
The further into writing this I’ve gotten….and it is now well past midnight and I’m sleepy so I suppose I’ll have to proofread this again before I post it (probably on Monday sometime)…the more I have realized two things.  The first is that it all seems so hopeless, this meaningless hypothetical conjecture.  There are so many of us doing so many different things in the field that coming to a standard conclusion about how best to reconcile modernity with such a timeless tradition as hunting is futile, and more importantly, it is likely to earn me many enemies in the hunting community…including some of my own friends and family, but whatever.  And the second is that it is very hard for me to keep my opinions to myself, as I’m sure my tone and style betrays my feelings to a degree.  Sorry if anyone took offense…it is the internet after all, so please don’t feel you have to read this again.  But before I close, and despite what I said above about futility, I guess I’ll put out this little nugget for what it is worth at this late hour.
The one thing I will stake my name on in this post is that no matter what you think about the way that technology has impacted hunting, we must also be aware that technology now makes us as hunters that much more scrutinized as well.  The non-hunting public (which as I’ve alluded to before has as much to do with our continued existence as hunters as do our actions on their own merits) now has access through social media and widespread video to a lot of information and visual evidence of what happens in the field.  If all we show is hunters whooping it up as geese and ducks careen out of the sky, or bow kills that decapitate a turkey and send it flopping about as the shooter giggles, or mile long rifle kills that strike down a mountain goat like a lightning bolt thrown by almighty Zeus himself, then what are the people that we rely on for legislative support going to think and do?  That is to say nothing about the idiots who post photos and video of wantonly cruel or illegal acts on the internet…non-hunters lump us in with those nitwits too in case you were wondering.  Don’t believe me?  Ask around.  Killing is a part of the game, but it is not the only part and depending on who you speak with, it is not even the most important part.

But aside from that whole debate, the bottom line is if we don’t police ourselves and make well-meaning, informed, and justified decisions about how we use technology in the field and how we use it to market ourselves in the public, someone else is going to take it upon themselves to make that decision for us.  If that happens we might as well all get a Kindle and read some classic hunting stories from the likes of Hill, MacQuarrie, and O’Connor, because by then it may be increasingly difficult for us to make our own new tales of hunting adventure.

Taboo of the Day: Stay In and Go Hunting?

I received some very pleasant emails the last week or so congratulating me on my return to blogging after a self-imposed hiatus, and for the couple of people who said they like my “lighter writing” (that’s a direct quote by the way) I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this is going to be lacking in frivolity.

I was sitting at home nursing a sore ankle that I earned in a soccer collision this week, when a commercial came on for Cabela’s Big Game Hunter video game platform.  Now I’ve played these games (or similar ones before) and before anyone calls me a hypocrite or a Scrooge, or whatever else gamers call people who pointedly disagree with something videogame-related, let me state that I appreciate that this is a game, and I have no fundamental opposition to this game’s existence.  I don’t think first-person-shooter games make people psychotic or desensitized to violence.  Please don’t call me a nerf-herder or something like that (how behind-the-times does that make me sound?)
Now, onto my point, or more accurately, points.  Call me an irrepressible optimist if you will, but I tend to think that marketing has the ability to reinforce positive messages.  Sadly in the commercial I saw, no positive messages were to be had.  In this commercial, a taxidermy deer has been rigged to appear to be playing the game, and with each pull of the trigger it snickers gleefully at “killing” another deer.  The deer shoots four or five I think.  The acts are calculated and methodical, with nothing but a smug, ruthless efficiency being portrayed as the dominant (nay, only) emotions associated with it.  Which I guess is fundamentally okay because it is just a game, or so the argument would be from gamers, advertisers, Activision, and likely Cabela’s.  Again this is okay because I have the ability to delineate between reality and fantasy, as do most other hunters I believe.  Based on the online reviews of the game though, it looks like a gaming public thinks that this is at least a modest portrayal of what hunting is actually all about, which is kind of frightening. 
My first gripe (because let’s not mince words) is that for those not initiated in the tradition of hunting there may not be any realization that hunting is just not like that, period.  But beyond that I made a few other observations that I thought I would lay out more as bullet points to prompt discussion than as arguments in general.  The following items should probably be thought about as we think about digital re-creations of the hunting experience.
·         Hunting involves really killing something, a fact that I bet the vast majority of participants in this game have no stomach, appreciation, or potentially the will for.
·         The video game doesn’t show the work side of hunting (i.e. field-dressing, skinning, transporting game, etc), it just shows the killing and presumably, leaving the animals in the field.
·         There actually are (and I would argue, always should be) a complex network of emotions that a hunter is forced to deal with when they succeed in taking an animal’s life.  The callousness and nonchalance in the product marketing with regards to the simulated ‘deaths’ in the game is somewhat disconcerting to say the least.
·         The pretend killing in this commercial is admittedly “messed up”, but no alternative interpretation of hunting is offered, leaving the public to potentially think that hunters take a “messed up” approach (i.e. remorseless) approach to the act of killing game animals.  But then again I have an almost paranoid concern about hunter representation in the media, so maybe I’m over-reacting….I didn’t really like that sketch on the Muppet Show where the trigger-happy, red-neck hunter stereotypes chased an adorable rabbit around as the rabbit and his woodland friends sang Buffalo Springfield’s “Stop, Hey What’s That Sound” either.  Maybe I don’t have any sense of humour?  I thought I did.
·         Cabela’s likely only endorsed this for market-share purposes.  At least I hope they did; if not they have a heavily skewed view of the type of hunting their generally good corporate name is being attached to, an equally frightening proposition.
So there you have it.  Go ahead, shout “Bah!  Humbug!” at me if you will.  Tell me I missed the point; call me a pedantic reactionary with no sense of humour.  Do whatever you want, I guess.  But maybe, just maybe, instead of buying a game console and this game, spend some money instead on taking a hunter safety class and buying a hunting license.  And rather than sitting in a basement in front of a flat screen with a miniature assault rifle in your hands shooting at pixelated deer, invest your time by seeking out a mentor that will teach how to really hunt and how to actually conduct yourself when faced with even the imaginary prospect of pointing a firearm with deadly intent at a big-game animal.  Because in the end, fresh air is better than recycled mid-winter household air, walking through a forest or field is much more enjoyable when done for real, and shooting a deer, grouse, bear, turkey, or whatever else you are out hunting is more rewarding when the actual legwork is put in.
That said, I’m still not hopeful that many will choose real hunting over videogames this Christmas.  But for those of you that do, you’ve got a willing supporter in this crotchety old curmudgeon, and I hope your days afield are all as good as mine are.

Taboo of the Day: A Limit on “The Limit”?

A subscriber from the mid-Western United States emailed me the other day inquiring about why I had not posted anything recently on “Taboo of the Day”; it was a politely worded letter with good humour, they even remarked (jokingly, I suspect) that they hoped that I hadn’t “gotten soft” on challenging issues.
So with that in mind, I’ll now try to excrete out a few words on what I feel is the most challenging issue: bag limits.
“Bag limit”, in my definition,  is a catch all term referring to the maximum number of game animals of a given species that a hunter can harvest in a given period (day, season, and so on).  There are also possession bag limits referring to how many harvested animals an individual can have in their general possession (i.e. in their freezer or on their general person).  Of course I’m sure this is far from a definitive interpretation and you would all do well to clarify any questions you may have about what defines the periodic and possession bag limits for anything you plan on hunting with a qualified local professional (i.e. a state or provincial game warden or conservation officer).
I’m not going to go into the biological or economic aspects of this debate: reams of paper have been written about this by writers and professionals with far, far more expertise than I.  There are certainly many factors at play when it comes to balancing the economic benefits provided by hunting with the obvious necessities of wildlife conservation and management.  (yes, hunters are customers too, and we spend a whole pile of money on conservation through private donation and through the purchase of hunting licenses and game seals, not to mention capital invested in private enterprise in the form of hunting lodges, equipment manufacturers, restaurants and the like) Like I said, I have an empirical grounding in that field (my dear old Dad was a 30 year employee of Ducks Unlimited Canada and, coincidentally, a passionate hunter and conservationist so by the default process of osmosis I picked up a smattering of basic knowledge when it comes to general wildlife biology/ecology) but my professional training in things like carrying capacity, population density, reproductive responses to increased mortality, and the like is basically non-existent so instead of crunching numbers, I’m going to speak instead about the more nebulous philosophical and historical applications of the concept of “limiting out”.  This I know a fair deal about.  A warning off the hop; get ready.  This is going to be pretty long and chances are you’re going to disagree with at least a few of my thoughts.  The important thing is that we’re having this dialogue.
There were heady days in the past when there was no such thing as a bag limit.  Market hunting was a lucrative and widespread practice and the sheer volume of death that professional gunners rained down on all game species was, to a modern perception, staggering.  To paraphrase a far too often cited colloquialism; it was what it was.  When you made your living and fed your family off the money you made hunting it was a matter of course that you be exceedingly efficient.  Again, numerous grainy black and white photos show old salts of the Eastern Seaboard with daily kill number in the high dozens and into the hundreds. Even the most ardent historical apologist cringes at the thought of what that kind of sustained pressure would do the resource.  Not surprisingly, populations of some species at the time were very near to total collapse.  Of course market hunters were not the only factor in depletion; hunters from all areas of the spectrum (from wealthy club owners to subsistence hunters) and from coast to coast were more or less policing themselves.  I have an anthology of hunting stories where in one article an author of that era (i.e. late 19th or early 20th Century) mentions shooting a hawk (or an owl?  I can’t exactly recall) while out duck hunting; presumably because hawks have been known to kill ducks and it was perfectly acceptable at that time to not only shoot any other natural predators of the game you were pursuing but to write about your proficiency in doing so.  Of course the dwindling of the hunting resources could not all be laid at the feet of market and recreational sportsmen; people who had never set foot in a marsh or forest were (and still are for a large part of it) at the very least equally responsible for wildlife destruction through unabated habitat drainage and deforestation, urban sprawl, and general environmental deterioration in the form of pollution and human expansion into rural or wilderness areas, with the wild places almost always coming out for the worse.
So that’s a brief (and wholly glib) historical primer of what life was like before bag limits.  This contributed to the reduction or outright extirpation of many species in North America.  There’s so much more information on this subject, but that is for another time.  I have to get where I’m going with this. 
Now we have (for almost every hunted species) a bag limit.  That is to say that we have a government-agency-imposed maximum on how exactly what and how many of something we can kill.  And that is good.  Some consider that to be a gross over-involvement of the authorities in the hunter’s own personal freedoms and choices.  Others quibble over the specific criteria of what data should contribute to defining a bag limit.  Others ignore them outright.  These points are what I’m here to talk about.  Those and what we as hunters at large can do with and about bag limits.
The first thing we can do with a bag limit is respect it.  It is there, if for nothing else, to err on the side of caution when it comes to hunting.  Bag limits are designed for conservation, and if anything every hunter in North America (if not globally) should be intensely focused on conservation efforts above all else.   Respecting a bag limit means many things.
It means having a plan.  Some bag limits are difficult to shoot over, unless of course you intend to shoot over it. For example, if you have a tag to shoot one moose in a given season and you go out and shoot two, you’ve done something wrong.  Ditto when it comes to gender-specificity in tags.  If your licence says “one bearded turkey” and you shoot one without a beard, the onus is on you.  I won’t even begin to go into the mind-boggling idiocy that must exist out there that requires the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to require a primer on the physical identification of the differences between a moose, a white-tailed deer, and an elk (the latter being recently restored to Ontario for limited hunting).  But I digress; back to having a plan.  Other limits are a bit tricky.  If you’re party hunting waterfowl, thing can get a bit interesting as you approach a bag limit.  After all, shotguns have been known on occasion to take multiple birds with one shot and sometimes not everyone is clear on how many birds have actually come to hand.  This is where being rational and exercising some judgment can be indispensable.  The best way to avoid over-shooting a limit (especially in a group situation) is to put your weapon away when you have personally hit the individual bag limit.  That is simple enough, but it does not control others from going over, and by default putting your whole party into illegal territory.  Another approach to think about is to stop and do a physical count.  Works every time, but it too requires a plan.  Count how many ducks and/or geese you have shot and see how close to the limit you are.  If you are three or fewer birds from a limit, put a plan in place.  Some hunters I’ve talked to just pack it in there (more on that in a minute) and thus avoid even the slightest risk of over-shooting.  That’s a very effective plan.  Others institute an order and volume in which hunters can shoot; this generally works too.  For example, if a group has three birds left until they limit out they may institute a “singles only” approach where groups of birds that number more than three are not shot at.  They may say only one person at a time can shoot at the waterfowl, and so on.  The act of being aware of the limit is a good defense to staying within it.  Sometimes even planning can be tricky, in the case of party hunting pheasants, rabbits, or even deer.  For this reason some (my deer-hunting group for example) use short wave radios to stay in touch.  For my group, if we only have one antlerless deer tag, we want to let everyone in the party know if one is down.  Short wave radios tuned to a private channel achieves this more or less seamlessly.
But as I mentioned above, why even risk it sometimes?  Think about this for a second.  In fact let’s do a brief thought experiment.
In Ontario, limits on Canada geese are ‘liberal’ to say the least.  In some periods of the season (in certain parts of the province) you can kill ten geese a day per person, up to a one-person possession limit of twenty-four birds.  For snow geese the limit is twenty a day up to a possession of sixty.  I don’t care who you are, either way that’s a stack of goose meat.  Now on any given day I’m usually out goose hunting with at least three other hunters (it is just that labour intensive that going alone is usually too much of a baffling ordeal, what with blinds, decoys, and other paraphernalia).  So let’s just say the four of us go out and we can shoot ten Canada geese each (for the sake of using round numbers).  Max limit is forty for the day.  A couple of hours later we’re sitting with 36 birds.  No one has individually limited out, and things have slowed down.  Then a group of geese appears as a thin line on the horizon, before we know it they are barreling into the setup, well within range.  We haven’t spoken at all about a plan of attack.  If you’re with me, do we shoot them and go for the limit, or do we stand up, spook them off and just pack it in?
I know my answer.  My gun would have been cased long before we reached thirty birds, and that is because I don’t require the validation of “limiting out” to define successful hunting.  I think you’d be hard pressed to find a rational person out there who would consider forty dead geese a more successful hunt than thirty-six( or even twenty for that matter), and I’m both not interested in risking going over the limit and not fulfilled by any chest-slapping machismo associated with shooting the highest legal number of geese available to me.  It does not make me a better or worse hunter, or person in general, and I hold no negative judgment for anyone who needs or wants to shoot the limit.  All I’m questioning is the necessity of that act.  But go over the limit, and I definitely have a problem with that.
Likewise (and again I’m using Ontario examples here) a hunter can, in some areas, purchase additional white-tailed deer tags above the one provided with your licence purchase.  At one time (I don’t hunt in one of these areas, so I’m not certain what it is currently) hunters could shoot six (!) additional white-tailed deer.  That means seven white-tailed deer in total for those of you who (like me) are intermittently math-impaired.  Which again begs the question, is this really necessary?
Now I know that bag limits are effective both in species conservation and in species control, and this glut of tags (like the high bag limits on Canada and snow geese) fall more on the “population control” side of the equation, but when I first heard about the multiple deer tags years ago, and subsequently read some of the reports and comments from hunters who had actually taken multiple deer I was disappointed to say the least.  Some people are just ‘yee-haw’ hunters (as I call them) who really had no interest in doing anything other than killing…one said in a chat room that he didn’t even really care for the taste of venison; this in a caption below a photo of his garage where five gutted deer hung from a cross-beam.  Others, notably a couple I speak to regularly, shot multiple deer and rather sheepishly confessed that they ended up throwing out venison by the summertime because it had become freezer-burnt.  They literally shot more than they could eat.  I wonder despairingly how many bungs of goose sausage or vacuum-sealed bags of moose pepperettes meet the same fate across the nation?  Not to mention game animals that are killed and left simply to rot by wasteful, irresponsible, clumsy, or scared hunters.  And I’m not being an alarmist or a pessimist; I’ve seen it reported and I’ve seen evidence of it in the field.
High bag limits offer limitless good; they provide opportunities afield, they allow more people to access and fall in love with the tradition of hunting, and they are a sign of wildlife abundance that gives credence and validation to the good work and conservation efforts of millions of men and women nationwide.  In almost all cases the ecology is closely monitored to ensure that it can sustain the pressure exerted by hunting, so high bag limits or no bag limits in the case of some super-abundant species (like coyotes in some areas of Ontario, for example) do not pose a threat to the existence of any animal species. 
But what I’ve outlined above is the ugly side of high bag limits, and we have to look at it and discuss it.  A head buried in the sand or immediate, irrational, and violently defensive reactions both seem exponentially counter-productive.  But even more than dialogue about it, in my mind, is that we have to synthesize a remedy for it.
That is because we as hunters, more than any other group of outdoor enthusiasts, are judged by the outcomes of our actions.  There is no ‘catch-and-release’ in hunting, and in my humble opinion, there never should be.  While we walk  many of the same trails as recreational hikers and share the land with bird-watchers and equestrian enthusiasts, we are permanently and perhaps justifiably labeled as some of the only true human ‘consumers’ of the wilderness resources.  For every fellow-hunter who is impressed by the photo of the limit of mallards you and your friends managed to take, there is another person who wishes to abolish hunting outright using your example as an evidence of excess.  It seems that this is just the way of things in this age, and that is fine, but that ultimately means that we have a responsibility to ensure that the outcomes of our actions align with our goals.  If the goal that we are aiming for, and telling the non-hunting world that we stand for, is truly resource conservation, protection, and long-term hunting opportunities for all, whether it is for self-interested reasons or for the goal of population rejuvenation, we have to behave responsibly.  I don’t want lower bag limits; I want common sense (in some cases the rarest of things) to occasionally intervene. 
We had once shot a six man limit of Canada geese, on a day when the limit was only three birds each (two weeks earlier it had been eight birds each and we had not even come close to half a limit).  It was a perfect day.  Day broke sunny and cool (but not too cold) in the east, and we had great flights of geese coming from all directions and almost all were dropping in to our spread as if they had never seen decoys so real or heard calling so sweet.  We reached the limit in 45 minutes and the birds were so keen on our set up that they were cartwheeling out of the sky and trying to land around us while we picked up decoys and took pictures.  I’d never seen anything like it before, and I haven’t seen it since.  It was truly a memorable day and looking around I could tell that a small part of all of us just wanted to keep gunning.  I personally could have eaten more than three geese in short order (i.e. two weeks or less) and my freezer could have held more.  But of course, we packed it in.  It had been a good day, and taking even one bird too many would have been a blemish on the stories, whether we got caught or not.  We laughed, made some remarks about the rarity of days like the one we had just experienced, and then went and had a hot breakfast where we re-lived the whole morning.  We could have gone on shooting and it is likely that no one would have known.  But we’d have known and it would have made it a bad experience.  And that is the sacrifice it takes to not be part of the over-shooting minority whose actions can tarnish the good name of the majority.
No one should be lauded for just doing the right thing; unfortunately when it comes to bag limits sometimes the right thing and doing what the law says you can do are not necessarily congruent.   There are days, like the one above, where you shoot the limit and want to keep going.  There are other days when the limit is an unattainable goal.  And then there are days when you have to take that approach that just because something is allowed, it does not mean you need to do it.  Which sometimes means putting the gun or the bow away and only taking what you can reasonably consume, and sometimes it means taking even less than that.  Go ahead and shoot the limit if you want to, but do so after some consideration.  Thinking only takes a few seconds, and you may conclude that today you just a little meat for the larder, and not a full limit.  Other times you may feel the limit is not enough and you complain that it should be higher.  It happens, and you have to make a decision.  Only you, and sometimes a warden, can determine if you made the right one.
I’m fairly confident that we are not going to wake up tomorrow and find all of our historical rights and privileges wiped out.  No agency, in North America at least, would do to dispense with the literally billions of dollars that hunters pour out of their wallets and into conservation and ancillary businesses; there is strength in our numbers in this respect.  Because of this, for you and I there will be other days to hunt.  But a little self-control when it comes to shooting the limit will only go to ensuring that there may always be ‘other days to hunt’.

Taboo of the Day: Hunting for Fun?

I’ve been an avid soccer player for over 25 years, and have played the game at a reasonably competitive level since I was about nine years old.  I’ve played on regional travel teams, in provincial and international tournaments, and was once even judged to be skilled and fit enough (which is hard for some to believe now) that I was once considered as a varsity athlete by some universities in both Canada and the United States.  Of course, like most young athletes, my ambitions and my dreams overreached my body’s durability and a combination of injury and just not having as much tangible skill as I thought I did relative to others that I was competing against relegated me to the bench, and ultimately out of varsity sports.
Now this is not some sort of lamentation about missed opportunities, far from it.  Soccer (or football, as I and my European readers prefer to call it) made me dozens of long-term friends, provided me with hundreds of memories, taught me how to cope with failure and loss, showed me how to properly behave in victory, and ultimately became an inextricable part of who I am as a person.  In this way, my soccer experiences mimic my hunting experiences in many ways.  Hunting has given me perspective on my place in the natural order of the world, taught me respect for the wilderness and the importance of hard work and diligence, and most importantly has imbued my life with memories and camaraderie that I would not of otherwise had.  Not to be too clichéd but in this respect, playing soccer and participating in hunting have legitimately been blessings in my life.
So once more we are led to the question of where am I going with this?
My son is not yet two years old but in my neck of the woods there is a program called Tiny Tots Soccer where two and three year old boys and girls get to come together, chase soccer balls around aimlessly, learn a modicum of teamwork and sharing, and generally get some exercise.  All these are good things and those with the vision to implement this program at Cambridge Youth Soccer deserve some kudos.  My son certainly seemed to have a fun time last Saturday, and the key philosophy of the program is for kids to have fun and get positive reinforcement for participating.  All things I can certainly be supportive of.
But on my way out I saw something that seemed hypocritical in all this.  On a large whiteboard directly inside the entrance to the facility (as this first session was indoors at a soccer fieldhouse) was a large capitalized message regarding tryouts for youth soccer teams.  I can’t quote it directly, so to paraphrase the message, it ran something along the lines of:
This apparently stands in stark opposition to the “have fun and be positive” ethic of the program my son is participating in, although both programs are ostensibly run by the same organization: Cambridge Youth Soccer.  Apparently soccer is only fun up to a competitive point or age level, at which time all positive vibes and joy must be extirpated from the game so as to instill some sort of deranged ethic of austerity.  I still play at a (reasonably) competitive level, and most of the actual fun comes from performing for spectators and your team-mates, just not apparently if you want to tryout for youth teams in Cambridge.
I’m sure (or at least I hope) this is just the mandate of some deranged coach or league administrator on a Napoleonic power trip and not the stance of Cambridge Youth Soccer at large, but really?  No clapping or cheering?  No words of parental encouragement?  And this was the first thing you saw written in red ink on a five foot whiteboard upon entering the COM-DEV Soccer Dome.
Fine, I guess.  When it comes time for my son (if he chooses) to try out for rep soccer, I’ll take him half-an-hour out of the way to play in Guelph…I’ve had exposure to that league as well and at least they seem to put participant enjoyment ahead of competition.  I really can’t think of a reasonable explanation for this policy, so I’m just going to cease my business with CYS (after this year, I’ve already paid and can’t get a refund…believe me I asked) and put it out of my mind after that.
But seeing this drivel posted publicly at the entrance to a youth soccer centre did give me pause to think about my other passion, which is of course hunting.
Unlike soccer, hunting actually does have a “life and death” aspect to it, and in a lot of ways it carries more gravity than a kid’s soccer game.  After all, weapons are designed to kill and the purpose of the hunt is to take game for consumption as food.  Perhaps soccer would be more interesting to the North American audience if the losing teams were eaten…but I digress.
But still, in every commercial hunting DVD, every television show on the subject, and in innumerable hunting camps, cabins, farms, fields, forests, and marshes men and women are having fun hunting.  That is to say, there is a sense of joy associated with a pastime that has the ultimate intent to take an animal life as prey.
Are we sick?  Maladjusted?  Psychotic?  Should the concept of “fun” actually be one that is used when describing hunting wild game?  Surely this is gravely serious business.
The answer in my eyes, and in opposition to much of the more virulent, unsubstantiated, and flawed impromptu psychoanalysis posited by those opposed to hunting, is that no we’re not the potential serial killers with a nasty streak of animal cruelty that some would have us made out to be.  I think this because I have not met many hunters who actually relished in the act of killing.  Sure I’ve met some who had no respect for the game they just took the life of, that had vile names to call the animals they hunted, or showed no deference or respect to wildlife at large, but I can say they were an unsavoury minority.
Most understand (without too much moralizing) that to hunt for your food means that at some point you’ll have to pull the trigger and take a life.  It is a granular, dirty-hands approach to being carnivorous and it is a sight better in this observer’s opinion than just getting the antiseptic, flavourless stuff that is wrapped in plastic at the grocery store.  So in that respect, yes, hunting is serious business.  But in knowing this, most hunters (while they may be excited at a successful outcome to a hunt) don’t actually triumph or whoop up the act of the kill.
I’ll admit that the first time I shot a wild turkey I was excited and yes, I cheered out loud.  This immediately gave way to calmness where I thought reflectively about the life I’d just taken.  When I first harvested a whitetail deer, all those years ago in 1995, I likewise pumped my fist and grinned, but I also had to look pensively with a sense of sadness at the body of an animal that mere moments before was living and breathing but that now was destined ultimately for the freezer in my parent’s basement.  Even animals that were considered pests and varmints (think groundhogs or coyotes) or that were, or have become so abundant as to be commonplace and accepted as generally simple to hunt (Canada Geese for example) were still to be viewed in terms of something that had a life of its own and that life should be given respect if a hunter takes it away.
I can’t help but feel strongly about this.  It was how I was raised.  My father, uncles, and grandfather were very firm that I have a respect and an understanding for all of the visceral and emotional aspects of being a hunter, and I consider myself very fortunate to have had that upbringing, even if sometimes in my own hunting excitement I need to be reminded of it.  I also consider myself fortunate to be able to share this opinion with you the reader, and hopefully in a few years, to be able to teach it to my son.
Many aspects of hunting could be defined as “fun” on their own esoteric value.  Observing game at close range, pursuing wildlife on their own terms where all the advantages of nature and evolution are stacked in the animal’s favour, actually “talking” to animals through the medium of game calls and observing their reaction, and ultimately sharing the small and large intricacies of the natural world independently or with family and friends are all moments that measured individually would be more than enjoyable.  The fact that the kill is the inevitable conclusion to some hunts is, while important, not the defining aspect of what it is to be a hunter.
To combine them all together through the hunting experience is nothing short of being (and, again, this is just me) the simplest and purest way to experience all of the tragedy and, yes, all the joy and exultation of being a participant in the natural world.  It is no wonder that emblazoned on the huntsman’s shield in the medieval age were the Latin words “In Venatio Veritas” translated (as my limited knowledge of Latin would have it) as “In hunting is truth”.  There is just so much to experience as a hunter, both empirically and emotionally that to simply be glum or grave the whole time seems to be silly at best and pompously arrogant at the worst.
Having fun while you’re out hunting is okay, really.  Laugh, tell a joke, share with your friends, and enjoy being alive.  But with that in mind, just don’t lose sight of the life that the game animal has when you call yourself a hunter.  Show some respect and for the love of God don’t be one of those slob yahoos that the rest of us are constantly apologizing for.
And lastly and most seriously…cheer for your kids at their sports tryouts, no matter what sport it is and regardless of what the coaches writing on the whiteboards try to tell you.