By Jeff Berti
With the dove and archery season fast approaching, as well as several other hunting seasons just around the corner, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss something we as hunter education instructors have been teaching for years – ethical hunting and good hunter/landowner relationships.
Wildlife laws are set forth in the Wildlife Code Book, and people are expected to follow these regulations. Ethical hunting behavior is entirely different.
In our “old” hunter education manual, ethics were defined as a person’s behavior based on their personal values and beliefs. In our new manual, Aldo Leopold (the “father of wildlife management”) is quoted as saying ethical behavior is “doing the right thing when no one else is watching.” Either way, I hope every hunter gets the picture!
There is some hunter behavior in the field that is both illegal and unethical. An example of this might be spotlighting deer at night and shooting them from the public roadway. Then again, there are some behaviors that are unethical to sportsmen or the non-hunting public which may actually be legal. An example of this might be legally shooting a quail on the ground. Yes, it is legal to shoot them on the ground. However, some hunters feel that it is just not ethical! Other hunters argue this point based on how many miles they have to walk while hunting quail.
The point is, in order to preserve hunting as a sport for future generations, we as sportsmen need to be ethical outdoorsmen. Why? The truth is, hunters are very definitely in the minority. The figures I have seen show the hunting public at 14 percent of our national population. The national majority is a non-hunting public, or those who remain neutral toward the subject. Most people condone hunting for food only, but not trophy or competitive hunting. So, I encourage everyone to do the “right thing” whether someone is watching or not.
Safe, legal, ethical hunting practices are also good for promoting friendly relationships with private landowners. Why is this important? A total of 85 percent of the land mass in the state of Missouri is owned and controlled by private landowners. There is no way for the entire hunting population of this state to hunt solely on public property and maintain any quality of experience. That is why we, the Conservation Department, promote good hunter/landowner relationships.
What are some things hunters can do to promote good relationships with landowners? The first point should be an obvious one: obtain permission from the landowner before hunting on their property! When you get permission to hunt, always be specific about who will be hunting, when they will be there, and what species you are hunting. This is not only a good idea, but it will also keep you from being prosecuted for trespass. Do not show up with 10 people to rabbit hunt when you and your friend were the only two that got permission.
What else can a hunter do to promote good relations with a landowner? Generally, it’s the small things that count. Pick up your empty shotgun shells and boxes. They are much lighter to carry out than they were to carry in. If you find other people’s trash, pick it up as well. Make sure to leave gates the way you found them, especially when there are cattle involved. If the gate was open, leave it open. If it was shut, be sure to close it behind you. Along those same lines, do not shoot near a landowner’s livestock, as it may spook or injure them.
Once you are finished with your hunt, offer the landowner some of your game. Remember, just because they don’t hunt does not mean they will not enjoy some of the game. If they agree to take some, offer to clean it for them. Don’t make them think that you are just dumping the animals on them so you won’t have to clean them.
Offering to help with some of the chores around their property is not a bad idea, either. There is always too much for a landowner to keep up with. Spend a weekend or two helping the landowner with any needed maintenance on the farm.
Good relations with landowners should be easy. Just remember to treat everyone as you would like to be treated. Finally, realize that they don’t have to let you hunt on their property. Hunting is a privilege, not a right.
Be safe, have fun and take a kid hunting or fishing the next time you go, even if they don’t belong to you.
By Jeff Berti