Thursday, September 24, 2009

Views on Hunting Ethics

Someone [billrquimby on Accurate Reloading Forum, was the first I ever saw and noted this particular quote] once made the very accurate observation and said: "Ethics are in the eye of the beholder." On this forum we are discussing now only hunting ethics. Discuss business ethics and ethics about other matters elsewhere. I have often expressed my views on hunting ethics on forums such as this one. Here now is a thread specifically asking about ethics. I feel compelled to respond in some detail.

The main point I want to make is: How do we train young [or older beginners] hunters to ‘see’ ethics. One man looks at a Picasso drawing: He sees a few lines that reminds him of a fat lady. Another man looks at the same drawing, and sees something he is prepared to pay $ millions for! The difference lie in the training and experience of the eye of the beholder. My question is now: What do we really do to in an unbiased manner assist inexperienced hunters to see the ethics properly?

If whatever hunting method is under discussion is, for any one specific individual an acceptable method of hunting, well then it is by that persons own definition quite ethical. Whatever the method it is acceptable in the eyes of that particular beholder, and, by his definition ethical. I am the last person on earth that will make a unqualified statement to someone that his views are wrong. As a hunter I do consider it my duty to try to persuade him to consider changing his views, but even so his views are not “wrong”, they are just different from my views. Ethics are all in the eye of the beholder! Ethics are not decide by ‘the majority of hunters’ or some other majority! The majority of ‘hunters’ buy their meat at the supermarket and would outlaw hunting as I enjoy it in a wink!

I have had many a fierce argument, or 'word fight', with different religious leaders about the right of people to pray, or not to pray, to their God [or the Devil] without anyone like a missionary having the right to say that: "My religion is the only true road to eternal salvation!" Do we decide what religion is the only true road to salvation? If you reply “Yes!” , then I ask if you have any idea of how many Chinese there are that will outvote you?

What can I say for the "hunter" who argues that: "The lion is going to die in any case, why don't I just shoot him in the cage before you release him, and so make the canned hunt perfectly safe for everyone?" The only thing that I can say is, if it is OK by you, it really is OK by you. It does not make it OK by me. It does not make it OK by most hunters, but I will not force my view of the ethics unto him. We can, and often do, say that such a person has "no ethics at all". This is wrong, his ethics are not the same as ours, but there are those who really believe that shooting something that is going to die in any case in a cage is OK. You may well ask: “Are there really hunters out there that would shoot a lion in a cage”?” Just to be perfectly honest, I had a client, actually his very young son, shoot a sheep killing caracal in a trap cage. The farmer, after loosing many sheep to this particular caracal, wanted that particular caracal dead. He set a trap cage and caught it one night while we were hunting on the property. That caracal was going to die in any case, and I let young Jimmy Smith shoot it in the cage with my .22LR. Not “hunt” it in the cage, just “shoot” it in the cage. Dispatch an unwanted vermin caught in a cage.

Ethical? You say! Hunting? No ways! I know it sounds terrible: but leave him be if he is acting legally to shoot a canned lion in a cage. Yes, fight to have the laws changed that will make it illegal to shoot a canned lion in a cage. But allow each one to define personal ethics. Is not something that is decided by democratic vote. If it were the hunters of this world would be far outvoted by the anti’s and there would be no hunting allowed. The fact that a certain “hunting” method, for example baiting for leopard and having a light to shoot by, is regarded by many as an ethical method of “hunting” a leopard does not make it right in everyone’s eyes. In their eyes it is right and an acceptable ethical hunting method. Not so in my eyes. Not so in the eyes of millions of anti-hunters either. In the reference frame work of each individual who does regard it as an acceptable practice it is indeed “right” and ethical. But if I do not accept it as a method that I want to use it also does not make me “wrong”. Ethics are in the eye of the beholder!

To get to the specifics of the Roland Ward Guild of Field Sportsmen’s Code of Ethics in specific terms. I have a serious problem of only hunting “…. during the hours of natural light.”

I have "hunted" leopard many times. I have never succeeded in actually killing or even shooting at one. How did I attempt the hunt? By sitting in broad daylight, but very early in the morning, very quietly under a bush on one side of a ravine where the spoor have been seen in the sand of the river bed. No calling. No bait. And, you guessed it, also no success! I have, just once, and only for a fleeting second, actually seen a leopard that I was hunting. One night, with only about a quarter moon, and no light at all, I crept up to about 15 yards from a feeding leopard. I stumbled on the kill, a domestic cow’s calf, earlier that day during a kudu hunt, got permission to try my luck on it and returned after moonrise. I followed the game path in darkness, with only my kudu-hunting rifle, a .270 win with a nice big Zeiss 8X56 telescope. From some distance off I could hear him tearing meat and could eventually even hear him swallowing! Eventually there was only one dense bush ["rosyntjiebos"] between us. Then all went eerily quiet, no more sound of meat being chewed off, just quiet. There was no change in the wind, I walked very softly, my rifle safety was taken off far away, but he sensed my presence, and he was gone! To this day I think he heard my heart beating! You can be very sure that my heart was beating, loudly! It does give one some adrenalin rush to be within feet from a big tom – judged by the spoor seen at the kill – and only a bit of moonlight to shoot by! But the Roland Ward Code would call this unethical hunting. As said, ethics are in the eye of the beholder.

I really hope to one day, have success on a leopard hunt, done my way! If I die or grow too old before accomplishing that, well then I go to my grave without having had a successful leopard hunt. I can live with that. I may even have to die with that. But I will not undo my own promise to myself by making the hunt for "my" leopard any easier for me. No ways! For me it will be me, my rifle and the leopard. No light. No pack of hounds. No artificial bait. Nothing that makes it easier to actually shoot a leopard. I will continue to hunt a leopard “my way” until I get one or grow too old to try! One day my patience will hopefully pay dividends. Or not pay dividends; it does not really make any difference to me at all. It is quite possible that one night while looking for predators with a spotlight to kill as part of a predator controlling exercise, I run across a leopard. Will I shoot it? If it is legal and desired, yes I will shoot it. But I will not claim it as a “hunting success”, and continue to hunt for my leopard in my way. Go right ahead and call me an idiot for not accepting the “generally accepted norm” of baiting for a leopard and shooting it with a light in the bait tree. I will feel very guilty to do it this way. So, please leave me to my ethics. Note that I do not call anyone who shoots a leopard with an artificial light at bait unethical. Just as I do not even call the guy who shoots a canned lion in a cage unethical. But I do not call him a lion hunter either! Ethics are in the eye of the beholder.

Speaking about hunting vs shooting leopard at night with or without artificial light makes me think of my experience with bushpigs.

I have hunted bushpig very often. I have shot one that was hunted. Incidentally I got this bushpig with the same .270 win on the same farm and very near to where I almost got my leopard. On a later occasion also shot an enormously big [charging] sow on an opportunistic chance encounter. [With a .22LR shooting subsonic hollow points – bullet between the eyes = stopped the charge and one dead pig.] My bushpig hunts were mostly in the early mornings near their day lay up thickets. Some bushpig hunts were undertaken at night. All without any artificial light and only relying on a Zeiss telescope to enable shooting with just starlight and a bit of moonlight. Sometimes I just carried a double barreled shotgun into the maize fields where they sometimes feed and rely on shotgun style shooting with slugs. My success ratio on these bushpig day and night hunts was low. Very low. Got a few warthogs that way. But no bushpigs. But how do you think I should rate my enjoyment of these hunts? Even the many ones where I returned home empty handed were thoroughly enjoyed!

In short, although I do not feel myself compelled to adhere to anyone’s code of ethics, I stick to my code that differentiates between hunting nocturnal animals with natural light, even if it is just a bit of moonlight, and shooting or culling or doing predator control with the use of an artificial light.

If there is one animal that is very exciting to hunt at night with just moonlight it is bushpig. There are a number of generally accepted methods for hunting bushpig: Walk and stalk in early morning near their day refuges, at night with a rheostat controlled light over a bile of bait of maize, rotten avocado pears or maize or even meat.

I also don’t condemn anyone for sitting over a pile of maize or rotting flesh as bait for a bushpig with a rheostat controlled light to shoot by as an unethical hunter. I'm just saying, that if I sit over bait in wait for a bushpig, I don't call it hunting. Yet I will go and sit on the edge of a maize field and wait for them to come and feed. Is there a difference between putting out a pile of maize near a specific tree in which you build your hide, or sitting by the artificially planted maize field in wait for the bushpigs to come and feed? Yes, in "my" book one is allowed as hunting, and one I would just call shooting. Why? In reply I will merely say because those are "my" views. I do not need to defend them at all! I don't need to be able to explain to anyone, even to myself, why there is, in my book, a difference. It is my ethics in my book. But walking and still hunting for bushpigs at night with only moonlight is a very special type of hunt! The way to go!

I'm not forcing my ethics onto anyone, and will not allow anyone to force his or her ethics onto me. We can talk about it, even argue about it, we can even try to convince each other of the "correctness" of our respective views, but in the end it remains very personal views that are neither right nor wrong. Different maybe. But if you really deep down and honestly feel that it is OK to shoot a lion in a cage and claim that you have hunted it, well, those are your views! Quite different from my view, but not "wrong", just because it is different from mine. Even if this man is the only one on earth that thinks it is OK to shoot a lion in a cage, it may still be his own honest view, and for him, and him alone, it would be ethical to do so and claim that he has hunted a lion. There is no democracy in ethics: What the majority thinks is right and acceptable is not right for someone who disagrees. But by exactly the same token his minority view can also not be forced on the majority. So, if I disagree with the view that it is OK to call for or use bait on a leopard “hunt”, let me be! I’m most definitely NOT saying that others are “wrong”. All of us are right, although our views are different. That sure sounds, and really is, stupid! But it is how I feel about ethics: It is in the eye of the beholder!

The Roland Ward Code does not mention the use of dogs or hounds at all, except by implication as part of the “vermin control” – you know chasing jackal with greyhounds? Hunting leopard, caracal and other cats over a trained pack of dogs is a very controversial subject. In many South African provinces it is illegal, but can be legalized by applying for and being issued a permit – which I’m told is quite readily issued by at least the Limpopo Province’s Nature Conservation Department.

Years ago I was invited to go on a bushpig shoot with a pack of trained hounds. Now, if anyone who has grown tired of buffalo or other DG hunting, and wants an adrenaline rush, that is very highly recommended! The baying of the hounds, the shouts of the runners following the hounds, the uncertainty if you have selected your ambush spot properly, the, well everything about such an event is thrilling and exciting. I don't think I was even nearly so excited on my honeymoon night as on that bushpig shoot! But, in my book, although extremely exciting, it was not hunting.

The fact that it is not hunting in my book is just that. I'm not saying anyone who disagrees is unethical. I'm not condemning anyone for enjoying running bushpigs with hounds – as said I joined in and enjoyed it very much! I will also not condemn those who find great pleasure of chasing jackal with their speedhounds. As a wingshooter and owner of trained [well at least partly trained] GSP’s, the lack of stance taken about the use of dogs in general, but in particular for wingshooting, is IMHO a serious shortcoming in the Roland Ward Code.

What about ethics of daylight plains game hunting? Hunting game that are retained behind fences? Hunting game that was recently released from captivity, or “Put&Take” hunting? Hunting with black powder weapons when there are modern high power rifles available? Hunting with handguns that have less power than rifles? Bow hunting? Crossbow hunting? Modern compound bow versus traditional longbow hunting? Bow hunting from a blind? Spear hunting? Hunting at a feeding stations? Hunting at a waterhole? Searching for game with a vehicle – the so-called “spot and stalk” method?
A well known South African PH has posted a statement to the effect that "I like shooting something when hunting." in response to my posting on ethics in which my lack of success was stated. I believe that the whole essence of all ethics while hunting can be explained by the statement that ethics applies only the search, stalk and trophy evaluation part of the hunt. Once the hunter has decided to kill a particular animal the "hunt" is over and only the "killing" remains to be executed. I'll explain what is meant by the hunt is over by way of example: An elephant hunter decided he wants a 100Lb elephant. He hunts hard, finds a set of very big tracks and follows these on foot. Eventually he overtakes the elephant and stalks to very close to see the ivory clearly. He can very easily take a killing shot by this time. However the elephant has both tusks broken of to little stumps and he declines the opportunity to take a shot. He had a fully successful hunt, but decided at the end of the hunt not to make a kill. If the elephant was indeed a true 100lb one he would have ended the hunt by deciding to take the shot and after the true ethical "hunt" was over taken the shot to kill the elephant. He would have had a successful hunt and killed an elephant. In my book hunting means finding and getting close to an animal to evaluate if you really want to kill it, get in a good enough position to be 100% sure that you can with minimum suffering kill it with whatever weapon/equipment you have chosen.

Methinks I’ve said enough: Ethics are in the eye of the beholder!

But how are the views of each beholder formed? Tradition wants us to learn these views from our fathers and elders when we are young hunters. It has been this way for millennia: Young hunters learning the ways of hunting from their fathers, uncles and older siblings & nephews. Probably still the ideal way of learning about ethics and forming your own views about ethics. But, in our modern society, is that the only way?

In our modern society politicians tells us via TV, radio, printed press and Internet how we should feel about a whole range of subjects: Abortion, capitol punishment, the war in XYZ, sex education at school, homosexuality and a whole range of other things. That we find OK. Each politician is free to express his views and sell those as the ‘ideal norm’. The guy who can buy the most TV coverage probably sways the views of the majority to vote for him. We accept that as how our views are formed on religion, homosexual behavior and a great many other controversial subjects! That is the way things are!

But let just one hunter post his views about the ethics of something reported on some hunting forum: Then about one half of all the members of the forum community jumps in and condemns each other and everyone else. We then hear that one should not impose his ethics onto anyone else. The other half of the forum members therefore keeps quiet!

But how, were and when should inexperienced hunters become exposed to different views on hunting ethics? ,

In good hunting.

Andrew McLaren

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