Lately, between the pages of Maine’s Northwoods Sporting Journal, a debate has been raging over hunting ethics and what exactly is fair chase. The debate was triggered by Journal columnist Mark McCollough in a two–part series about technology and hunting.

McCollough, a hunter himself, is a wildlife biologist for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

The arguments he advances demonstrate not only a lot of thought behind his words, but an abiding passion for the hunt. His premise, simplified, is this: hunting is getting too high tech. Too many gadgets and too much technology is tipping the balance toward the hunter in a way that raises ethical issues and questions about fair chase.

In McCollough’s view, gadgets like bionic ears, electronic calling devices and two-way radios lead the hunter into a realm that is ethically suspect and not in keeping with the primal undertaking that is the hallmark of hunting. McCollough’s detractors paint him as an unrealistic and divisive elitist who is playing into the hands of the anti-hunting crowd. They argue, and with some credence, that the hunter’s tools have always been evolving from the moment the first caveman used a stick to subdue his next meal.

What do you think?

As a hunter, are there methods or practices that you have tried and abandoned because you feel in your heart that these forms of hunting really aren’t really fair chase?

Jim Posewitz, who is one of America’s most respected hunting ethicists, writes this: ” The most important measure of hunting success is how you feel about yourself.” He continues, “…and this depends on how you think, what you value, and how you conduct yourself.”

Somebody put it another way. ” Ethical behavior is what you do when no one is looking.”

One of the problems in all of this is that in some regards ethical behavior can be a subjective and slippery issue, a little like arguing about religion. For what it’s worth, here are some of my thoughts on hunting ethics and fair chase:

1. A whitetail deer lives up to its reputation as an incredibly wary and elusive prey. I doubt that the gadget or gizmo has yet to be invented –within the law — that tips the balance in favor of the hunter.

2. Every hunter is different in terms of physical agility, mental prowess, and experience. Ethically, you cannot prescribe a one-size-fits-all template for ethical behavior.

Personally, I hunt with a two-way radio. These devices are illegal to hunt with in Minnesota, where fish and wildlife officials contend that these radios are not in conformance with the principles of fair chase.

I have found myself beginning to wonder if I am pushing the margins of fair chase when I use a two -way radio for anything other than personal safety.

However each of us comes down on this issue, it is good that we are at least mindful of the fact that there is, indeed, an ethical component to the hunt. Give and take on this can be healthy. McCollough’s point, that the non-hunters are watching, is a salient point. Jim Posewitz says it best when he defines the ethical hunter: A person who knows and respects the animals hunted, follows the law, and behaves in a way that will satisfy what society expects of him or her as hunter.

I disagree with McCollough’s critics who warn that we should not even be having this debate. These critics insist that our publicly aired disagreements will only divide us and play into the hands of the growing legion of anti-hunting voices.

How can we lose by engaging in thoughtful discourse about the ethical side of hunting, a heritage and way of life that is as old as man himself? If we respectfully disagree within our own ranks, won’t most rational, clear- minded non-hunters appreciate our willingness to reflect on what we do and why we do it? I could be wrong, but I like to think so.

Again, Posewitz with the last word: ” If hunting is going to be acceptable in a changing society, we must address change and our own evolution as hunters.”

V. Paul Reynoldsr is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]


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