Outdoor ethics are like laws and rules that no one can enforce except each of us after examining all of the issues. Ethics are those hard-to-explain things that keep sportsmen from breaking fish or game laws if we believe someone might be watching our actions.
That’s fine, as far as it goes, but it’s a gross oversimplification of a very complex personal outdoor issue that all sportsmen should think about. And, frankly, these issues baffle many sportsmen.
Outdoor ethics are those complex but unquestionable rules that sportsmen must adhere to whether other sportsmen are watching or not. They are those things we must endorse if fishing and hunting is to survive this century.
Want a few examples? Chew on these:
- I had six chances to arrow a big 10-point buck last October. He always showed up five minutes after the legal shooting time had ended. No one was within 500 yards of me, and no one would have known if I had cheated by shooting that buck late.
No one, that is, except me. It would have ate at me like a malignant tumor until the taking of that big 10-point would have been reduced to a humiliating experience. It would have ruined my hunt as well as my perception of myself as a law abiding sportsman.
- One night last fall I climbed into my bow stand, tried to remove my wallet from my back pocket, and it wasn’t there. My bow license was home on the dresser in my bill-fold. I had a valid deer-hunting license but it wasn’t in my immediate possession so my bow was stowed away in its case and lowered to the ground.
That evening was spent watching deer through binoculars. It was a fun evening, even without a bow in my hands.
- A big problem with outdoor ethics is they are impossible to legislate and difficult for many people to understand. Only one person – you or me – can deal with these ethical situations whenever a potential problem arises.
- For instance: we shoot a rooster pheasant and it drifts across a fence on set wings and falls on posted land. Does shooting that bird give us the right to pursue it without landowner permission? Nope! The ethical sportsman would determine who owned the property, and make every attempt to gain permission to cross the property line.
What happens when it’s virtually impossible to track down the owner? No one wants to see the game go to waste. The next decision would be to contact the closest conservation officer. If he says you can’t cross the line, it still remains an ethical question. Cross without permission means breaking the law. Do you go or stay? Laws and ethics. Right or wrong.
- We’re fishing flies-only water for native brown trout and a stiff breeze puts down the mayfly hatch. Is it ethical to fish worms here? The answer, both ethically and legally, is no.
- Or, as I mentioned earlier about the 10-point buck, could I have cheated in that instance and shot? Sure, but I would have had to deal with my emotions and my personal sense of right, wrong and/or my guilt.
- Mallards pinwheel down on a freshening breeze to spill into the bobbing decoys. It’s a perfect morning, and five minutes before legal shooting time, hunters in a nearby blind shoot and drop two hen mallards. Does that make it legal for other hunters to shoot early?
The answer is an obvious “No” but some sportsmen would shoot any way, and be ticketed by a conservation officer. If they are not caught, they must still deal with their conscience.
Buying a fishing or hunting license is no guarantee of a full game bag, a trophy buck, a hefty creel or a brace of pheasants. The license only grants us an opportunity to fish or hunt during the legal season. It offers sportsmen nothing more and nothing less.
Ethical behavior is a topic as personal as the color of our morning toothbrush. It also serves as the bare-bones foundation on which our sports are built.
We are judged by our conduct, in and out of the field, and those who wink at fish or game law violations or encourage any breach of ethical conduct, do themselves and others a great disservice.
If we can’t fish or hunt ethically, and within the confines of the laws that pertain to these pastimes, we should not be considered sportsmen.