Category Archives: taboo of the day

Two Types of Attention, or, What a Kindergarten Teacher, Twitter, and Media Studies Have Taught me About Hunting

I took a long time writing this post, partly because it is over 2500 words long, but primarily because I was agonizing (okay, not agonizing, but certainly having second thoughts) over what these words were going to do to my “image”.  Now I’m not referring to my image on this blog, or on Twitter, or in the vast real estate of the internet, because frankly I have no reputation there worth sneezing at.  I was mostly worried about what guys I hunt with that read this blog would think.  This kind of personal confessional is not really in keeping with this forum’s Mission Statement, but in the past three months or so, I’ve come to notice a few things as I’ve been attempting to expand this blog’s reach, and I thought I just had to get these out there.  Come to think of it, my “image” is probably pretty bad in the eyes of my hunting buddies anyways…oh well, here goes anyhow.
I’ve received some emails lately that this blog (and my extended Twitter feed about this blog) are altogether ‘boring’ or ‘dull’ to quote directly.  By the way, this post is not going to change those beliefs.  At the same time I’ve noticed that many other sites and organizations that seem to be doing significantly better than this one have gone, shall we say, over the top in their representation of the gory, macho, or intense imagery of the tradition we all participate in and love.  Now I’m not going to start dragging out names or publications for ridicule or negative examination.  They’ve put their own names out there with their approach and they aren’t hard to find; but I will touch on a couple of positive examples by name because my (minor) recognition is probably worth something.  Now I’m not looking for validation and I don’t need any “You can do it!” or “Don’t change a thing!” emails, because honestly I intend to keep the status quo here.  Why?  Because I’m a stubborn S.O.B. deep down and I’m set in my ways.  But like I said all this social media and somewhat increased traffic it has brought to the blog did get me contemplating what a heightened, edgy approach to advertising and media representation has in store for the future of hunting.
When I was five years old, I had a very excellent kindergarten teacher I won’t name because I respect her a lot and I don’t have her explicit permission to use her name in this forum.  Suffice it to say she was, if I were to use a cliché, the kind of archetype that I think all kindergarten teachers should be.  She was kind, but firm and had what even at my young age I believed was a genuine care for the kids in her charge.  She was in a sense old-school disciplinarily and while my kindergarten year was well past the age of straps or rulers as a means of corporal punishment, she did run a tight ship and didn’t tolerate backtalk or violence or crass behaviour.  In short, I got the feeling that to disappoint her would be sin of near titanic proportions.  Plus she was not above reporting your actions bluntly to your parents, and I don’t know about yours, but mine always sided 100% with the teachers.
Now I told you that glowing review of this teacher’s character to tell you this story.  Patience, I’m getting to the part about hunting.
To use a casual euphemism, let’s just say I had “precocious tendencies” as a child.  I spent a lot of time between the ages of five and ten in front of some pretty hard-case vice-principals and principals, primarily because I had a smart mouth and no (initial) desire to follow rules, instructions, or agendas.  While in kindergarten, I have a vivid memory of doing some sort of spelling exercise at that young age, and I did very well at it.  I already had a slight reputation for being problematic my teacher took me aside and very directly and concisely explained to me the difference between good attention and bad attention.  The bad attention came from running my mouth rudely and getting in scraps (verbal or otherwise) with other kids.  The good attention came from excelling in school and helping others do well, and that dichotomy resonated with me.  (Not an afterthought, but I also had an exceptionally good librarian and a superb principal in grade school that both echoed the same mantra to me frequently.  What ever happened to good teachers getting involved with youth development?)  Anyhow, while the criteria of what constitutes positive and negative attention have obviously changed as I’ve grown up, that distinction between good and bad attention has always been with me…sometimes vocal and proud, other times (usually when I’m making knowingly poor decisions) as a nagging voice reminding me that at the very least, my one-time kindergarten teacher likely wouldn’t approve.  So the goal is to try to make the “good attention’ type of acts more than the “bad attention” column. 
But enough history and psychology for now.
Where this plays into the future of hunting is that, for this observer, the distinction between good and bad attention (from the perspective of public perception and social media vis-à-vis hunting) is at best blurred and at worst a distant memory.  For now it seems the only thing that people in the hunting media and industry want is “attention” regardless of its nature, and usually at the motivation of money, notoriety, or otherwise.  This is the thesis statement.  It is also where most who think me a crotchety old bat will navigate away, stop subscribing to the blog, and cease following me on Twitter.  That’s fine; my personal worth is not valued in those metrics.  I’ll likely get some hate-mail too; fair enough.
For those still around, I’ll bounce a few contextual examples off you.
In a magazine I recently read an article about responsible land stewardship and low-impact usage of ATVs, with the aim of educating the reader on how to minimize erosion and negative soil effects caused by ATV use while hunting during the wet spring and late fall seasons.  Four pages later (literally) was a glossy full-page ad of a guy bombing through a deep mud-puddle on an ATV, and looking pretty aggro-cool in doing so.  Talk about your mixed messages in the magazine.  Advertising revenue trumps the message of the previous article I guess.  In reality, if you’ve ever been on any public land (or private for that matter) where people actually do this with ATVs, you’ll be keenly aware of the erosion and damage to sub-soil that this practice causes.  One chunk of county forest in Simcoe County actually has a berm in the trail that is (no kidding) four high.  It is a little tough to negotiate in the dark, thinking nothing of the fact that nothing will probably ever grow in that spot again.
In another (this time, online) magazine, I read a truly great article on a reflective, peaceful outdoors experience that lead the writer to comment on how little it truly mattered if a kill was made.  Same publication, some pages later I found a great ad for a new goose call that would guarantee more lethality.  The term “whack ‘em and stack ‘em” was used…and I hate that term.  Nothing like reducing the hunting experience to a bloody game of “Count the Bodies”.
On a trip to the United States for work in March, I was watching a deer hunting program that devoted a good ten minutes of the show to discussions of ethics in shot selection, aging deer properly on the hoof, and being a good role model for the youth of today that want to learn the art of deer hunting.  They then proceeded to shoot a deer that was standing broadside under a corn-dispensing feeder.  I suppose if the law allows it, flowery talk of philosophy and ethics then become a moot point in favour of what they define as ‘success’.
I watched another hunting show recently where the host talked about the safety required in turkey hunting, mentioning that stalking a gobbler is ‘probably not the best idea’.  Guess how he bagged his bird?  Snuck right up on it.  Sigh.
Now these are examples of arguable hypocrisy, and they may fall into the ‘poor choices’ bucket, but when invariably these acts and indiscretions come to define the hunting experience for youth and the non-hunting public who determine the future of our tradition with their votes they become the examples of garnering “bad attention”…I suppose by pointing them out I’m not helping, but hopefully my end will justify the means.  And once that preconception exists, it is far harder to remove it from people’s minds.
I was recently invited on Facebook to ‘like’ a new hunting show featuring the catchphrase “If they run, they’ll just be tired when they die” or something to that effect.  Certainly catchy marketing and I’m sure some guys had a bar-room chuckle over the wording, but I had to ask…is this really the way the hunting tradition should be marketed in public.  I chose not to ‘like’ the show.
This blog is on Twitter.  I like it, actually because I’m able to keep apprised of the good work that organizations like Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited Canada, the NWTF, and the OFAH are doing.  I may not always agree with some of the decisions or approaches these groups take, but I do agree with many of the long term goals and their advocacy role, so Twitter is a great tool to stays informed in that regard.  I also enjoy following some hunting products (Primos is a great example of classy guys giving back to the community that made them successful) for new gear updates because I’m a gearhead, as any frequent reader of this forum knows.  I also have personalities in the industry that I follow and some of them follow back or recommend me to the public.  Great, I’ll take the exposure (albeit somewhat uncomfortably).  But in the Twitter world I found a disturbing trend, and that was the segment of the hunting community on social media (it also exists on Facebook, other blogs, etc, etc) that loves to antagonize non-hunters, proudly relate how they “made that critter die!” (Yep, that’s a direct quote) or otherwise seek the ‘bad attention’ that is so detrimental to the public opinion of hunting.
What’s funny is most guys and gals I talk to about this feel like I do…yet there is a market for this approach.  That’s confusing to say the least.  But I digress.
This segment of the population, as I have alluded to before, has always existed, but they now have a much more public platform to do their damage.  The tired argument about saying what you want, and not giving a damn about what others think of you is fine by me…but in this case it is not what others think about you that is the problem, it is that the world at large thinks about you in the context of what you are talking about that is the issue.  Like I said, that segment of oafish, slob hunter has always been around and likely won’t change, and that trait is not exclusive to the hunting community.  There are slob motorcyclists, slob anglers, slob skateboarders, and so on and so on.  What is troubling for me as a hunter is that the trait is increasingly glorified in hunting media and online, making the obligation now even heavier on those who are maintaining an ethic of respect for the game, respect for the land, and respect for the tradition.  I guess the old axiom that there is no such thing as bad publicity has taken hold and there’s no distinction anymore between good attention and bad attention in many of the public messages related to hunting.
I hear it often that “you’re missing the point” or “that’s not what I meant” or my favourite, “well that’s the image but that isn’t our message”.  Like it or not though, images generally speak louder than words.  Also, for those that say that the issue of stereotyping is the problem of the public and not the hunting community I would refer you to history for a guide.  Marshall McLuhan, who was not a hunter as far as I can tell, said it famously in a way that addresses both arguments. 
“The medium is the message”
Basically, the content is equally important, or sometimes trumped, by the way it is delivered.  My favourite analogy was the old cigarette ads I’d read in the 1960’s and 1970’s vintage Outdoor Life and Field & Stream magazines my Dad kept around.  They showed tranquil, beautiful vistas or bustling nightlife with cigarettes as the focal point…and a small tagline on the bottom from the Surgeon General of the United States that tobacco smoke will kill you.
So it goes with the new media of the hunting industry.  You can have the flowery, positive, tradition affirming language you want in your hunting show, ads, website, magazine, or otherwise.  If the take away message is all blood, guts, and self-important machismo triumphing over beautiful but ultimately secondary nature, that is how you’re going to be known.  By everyone.  That process seems to be proving true of almost all things in our media-centered lives now, so it seems that the quiet, classy, modest approach to hunting is just a victim.  Still, it seems it would be far easier to keep the message positive from the get go than it would be to change the imbedded stereotypes held by both the hunting and non-hunting public.
We as hunters seem to be of a group-think mentality that believes we are exempt from the modern trappings of media saturation, advertising, and stereotyping.  I’ve frequently needed reminding myself that we are not.  We seem to think that since we engage in a millennium-old tradition that it is somehow timeless or untouchable, that nothing negative we do could ever endanger it.  We continue to believe it at our collective peril.  I’m not trying to sanitize hunting, I don’t want catch and release hunting, or have to resort to using darts or paintballs on game animals.  The kill will always be the constant and ultimate goal for those that hunt.  My argument is that ‘hunter’ should not be celebrated as synonymous with ‘killer’ as there is so much more to the hunt than whether or not the animal dies.  Framing ourselves in that ethic of “kill at all costs” or “look at how much I shot today” does a disservice to the tradition and a serious disservice to the animals we pursue.
So fine accuse me of being a negative reactionary, accuse me of being anti-fun.  Say I’m old, or incapable of evolving into a new media age.  Say “who gives you the right to judge me?” or email me that “I don’t know you”.  Tell me I’m outright wrong…doesn’t bother me one bit.  I know the majority of hunters out there are doing the right things, or trying to.  I know that the ones out there muddying the water for us are people too, and they pay their license fees, and some may volunteer their time, and that many probably have kids they want to pass the tradition on to…just like I do, and just like you might.  I am aware that by simply buying a license they get the privilege to hunt on the same terms as you and I.
The question, and this whole post is about one question, is what kind of tradition will our words and actions leave today if we stop treating hunting as a privilege to be quietly honoured and instead behave as though it is an inalienable right to be boasted and crowed about rudely and at a volume unfit for human endurance?
It is a hopeless cliché, but this time it is apt.  As our kindergarten teachers (and our parents and hopefully our hunting mentors after them) tried to teach us, the “good attention” has rewards that the “bad attention” can’t come close to.  And in this case it is the enduring dignity of the hunting tradition.

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: Being a Jerk

My thanks to the internet at large for giving me a seemingly endless well of bad behaviour and boorish opinions on which to base these Taboo of the Day posts.  Yes, I fully understand the irony of writing an internet blog and using it as an outlet to make light of the opinions expressed on the internet.  Moving on.

So I happen to have an account on a certain multi-billion dollar social network site, which is a trait that I have that in common with a few billion people.  On this site, there is a group which I have elected to become a member of, and this group’s purpose is to bring hunters together to talk about things, share photos and stories, and generally serve as a sounding board for hunters in Ontario.  As usual, cyberspace (if people even call it that anymore) seems to give some people the confidence to say basically anything they want.  Again…irony.

In Ontario, we have a recently enacted addition to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.  The link to it is here.  Basically, no deer parts or products containing any parts of a deer (including urine, gland oils, etc) can be used as a deer attractant.  Like it or not, its the law.  I for one don’t particularly care as I’ve never used attractants heavily (or really at all) and their use in my circle of hunting friends is limited at best.  I’m not a wildlife biologist, nor do I aspire to be one even on an amateur basis, so when “the law” says don’t do it, I don’t do it.

I won’t name the group or the individual in question (that would be bad form) but basically, another member was quite vocal in the fact that they intended to intentionally subvert the above law, primarily because they did not agree with the law’s intent or execution.  Which is where this Taboo of the Day comes in.

I said my piece in the forum, because that’s what it is for, but something about the exchange stuck in craw.  The person in question had a variety of excuses (which is precisely what they were) including absolute certainty that they would not get caught, a variety of disparaging things to say about the Ministry of Natural Resources and the enforcement practices of Ontario’s Conservation Officers, and a very real belief that their approach was in the best interest of hunters at large (since in their opinion all laws regulating hunting are the product of a weak governmental system and intrusion by the boogieman of ‘anti-hunting’ and therefore are to, via extrapolation, be opposed).  It is important to note that the individual in question had no support in the forum and every other post (as of today) was on the ‘legal’ side of the argument. 

But this raises a topic that I think needs discussion.

Does opposition philosophically or otherwise to a law, as they pertain to hunting, mean that one should be able to not comply with them.  If you’re a rational person, I think you’d probably say that the answer is “no”.  When it comes to hunting, the law is the law, like it or not.

Some examples?  Sure.

I think that the gun control law in Canada is misguided.  But I sure as hell registered every gun I have.

I think that waterfowl seasons are too short.  But once the calendar turns and the season closes, I’m not out there still gunning.

Even though I don’t moose hunt I can say after reviewing it that the moose tag system in Ontario is in need of some overhauling, but I think it best that if you don’t have a tag for a bull moose, you don’t shoot a bull moose.

I’m usually not this narrow in my thinking but like I said when it comes to the rules I feel that they have to be followed.  And here’s why.

I’ve already gotten a lot of emails (some that were quite personal) since starting this blog from those who feel it is perfectly fine to infringe on game laws provided that they aren’t caught, and they think that my efforts to promote lawful hunting is some sort of infringement on their natural rights.  I’d go so far as to call some of it hate mail.  That’s fine.

To flog a dead horse, I’ll reiterate something from a few Taboo of the Day posts, a statement that while obvious to me, has caused me no end of controversy in my inbox.  Modern hunting is no longer a right.  I’m sorry. 

The reasons are numerous and certainly fodder for another post, but the bottom line is that we as a group hunt as a privilege in this the 21st century.  Very, very few of us rely on wild game for subsistence, and while we as a group certainly do inject millions of dollars into conservation and habitat conservation (facts that we should all be exceedingly proud of) our image is the most important thing we have.  Pig-headedly acting outside the legislation is one of the worst things (outside of outright poaching) that we can do as a group.

To put it simply we cannot pick and choose the laws we want to obey.  Because even though we act individually, we are judged all together.  If you want to have a smooth go of it, play by the rules.  I have no sympathy (or time, or even a liking for) those who do it otherwise, because they cost us all.  They cost us opportunities to hunt, they cost us landowner permission, and they cost us all the hard work we put in trying to show the non-hunting public the positive side of the pastime we all love so much.  Maybe I’m just a hopeless optimist, but being a self-important, stubborn jerk in the face of any law or whatever else that you feel does not fit within your worldview of what hunting is or should be (like opinions such as these expressed here for example) only serves to damage what generations ahead of us worked to build, which is a sustainable, respected tradition.  There are plenty of those out there who would disparage hunting, we don’t need those within our own ranks to help them out.

But by saying all this, have I become the self-important, stubborn jerk that I so disdain?  Maybe.  I guess it depends on your perspective.  An interesting thing I’ve learned in my life is that you can almost never change a person’s mind; so if you’re nodding in agreement with my opinions, odds are you already felt the same way I do.  If you’re so enraged with me that you’re contemplating all sorts of verbal abuse and hate mail, I imagine that you started out this post with that mindset.  Which is okay, because I can take it.  What I can’t take is the acts of the few denying me and the many patriots of hunting the enjoyment of the thing we love.

So please, when you make that choice of what side of any hunting law you are going to live on, worry a little less about a fine, or getting caught, or coming up with justifications for why what you do is okay, and worry about the future of hunting at large.  Because it sounds cliche I know, but is a deer or one more goose or whatever it is you’re chasing, or your own righteous opinions about what is right and wrong in the woods worth hanging a bad name on all of us?

If stating things like that makes me the enemy of the hunting community, maybe I’ve got this whole thing ass-backwards.  I don’t make the rules, I just follow them.

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’.