Interpreting the Rules of Fair Chase

By: John Simeone

      A hundred years ago, the Boone and Crockett Club, one of America's premier hunting and conservation organization and keeper of the original fair chase creed, defined fair chase as, "the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native north American big game animals in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals."

These rules crossed over American Hunting from "market hunting" in the 19th Century to Sport Hunting, as we know it today. The rules of fair chase became the basis for our state game and fish laws. You may find out if you read the original rules of fair chase, they differ greatly now as they are interpreted by Game and Fish commissions’ nation wide, to customize the rules on a state by state level. Therefore, you may find what is absolutely legal, ethical, and sportsmanlike in one state may very well be considered illegal and poaching in another.

So rather than looking at the rules of fair chase as being brought down from the mountain by Moses for the whole country, we have to interpret them in good faith as guide lines for the specific state and type of situational hunting and local tradition unique to each state.

Blatant violations of the rules such as spotlighting, hunting from an aircraft, or shooting animals fleeing from a forest fire are obvious. Rules like no baiting must be specified as this can be very legal and considered ethical in one area while being "Taboo" in another, or be dictated by the species hunted. In Louisiana you can have a corn feeder on your private land to attract deer, but it is illegal to bait a wild turkey with the same devise. This is why you have to make the rule book a complete study.

Calling game is generally OK, with restrictions on some electronic devices, while the use of dogs are not mentioned in the rules of fair chase at all, although there are plenty of rules and protocols governing this. The use of natural sent lures are not covered in the original rules, perhaps never thought of.  The old rules do not mention, advanced sighting systems, range finders, cell phones, compound bows, crossbows, smart bullets, carbon arrows or plasma death rays, but it’s only a matter of time before Star Trek is a reality. Perhaps a simple rule that states a devise that aids in the accurate shot and humane dispatch of the game animal is all we need.

Louisiana is famous for the story of the "Teddy Bear." An unscrupulous guide once tethered a black bear to a stump in order to allow President Theodore Roosevelt an easy shot. The old Rough Rider saw the bear in a helpless situation and refused to take the shot immediately having the bear released. There after the rules of fair chase indicated the game animal must be afforded a clear avenue of escape, not being penned. This is why cultivated bucks taken on fenced in preserves are not allowed entry into the Boone and Crockett record books. There is still a good argument for this under certain conditions and another set of record books exists.

Ethics concerning the rules of fair chase are easy. If it's legal, its ethical don’t let anyone steer you different on this but there can arise many variables. Ethics deal with absolutes while degrees of hunting sportsmanship and protocol sometimes are confused with ethics. If you have a clear shot at a deer 500 yards away and you know your gun has a 300 yard capability, your personal ethics would disallow you from taking the shot. It is quite unethical, in my opinion to drink an alcoholic beverage in the field while hunting. But even with the danger factor many stand in complete denial when I bring this up in official discussion.

They even do it in front of the youth hunters and think nothing of it. Wing shooting protocol says you must shoot doves while flying. I've seen many parents allow their kids to shoot doves out of trees, is this unethical, no? Do I condone it, not really but I just hope the kid will develop a wingshooting attitude later. I think perhaps the kids need to get something the first time out so there must be a balance between protocol and common sense. Don’t worry, when the cute little 11 year old girl at the end of the field starts shooting flying birds and everybody brags on her, the mean little boys will do the same.

So when it comes right down to all things considered the less rules the better. More such rules of fair chase only deplete the number of new hunters, who consider them a hassle. My personal interpretation is to educate and set a good example for the rules we already have. The interpretation of such rules as said before is a regional thing, and must be studied before hand to find out local custom. “As in Rome, Do as the Romans.” We must also be aware not to become fanatical about “fair chase.” If there is something you don’t like about a certain method or means of hunting, this does not mean it is unethical or out of protocol. Simply, if you don’t like it don’t do it, but don’t criticize it either because it would be very easy for the same to happen to your style of hunting.

The old rules seem good enough as only one in 20 hunters harvest just one deer per year, while turkey success is about one in 500. It must also be noted that with proper game management in the present time, we have an abundance of game unheard of in many areas, which has opened up more opportunities for hunters and additional styles of hunting. The true ethical hunter will go out of his way not to wound or lose a game animal once struck with bullet or arrow. Reading and going by your state fish and game rules is the first good start to legal and ethical hunting.  Personally setting a good example is another. Pass it on.

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