What It Means To Be A Responsible Hunter (A Conservation Officer’s Point of View)

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Two hunters walking down a dirt road in a forestIt’s that time of year; a change in the seasons is just around the corner. You can feel it with the evening temperatures starting to drop, winds subtly change directions, and fall colors begin to show. Fall is my favorite time of year, in part because hunting seasons have finally arrived.

Perhaps you are new to the sport and are looking for some ideas and suggestions for being a responsible and ethical hunter. Good. Hunting after all is not just a sport it is a calling and once it’s in your blood you soon realize it’s not just about the kill, but goes much deeper than that. 

Hunters demonstrate they are responsible by educating themselves on game laws and following hunting ethics such as fair chase. They respect landowners, the animal, and the viewpoint of non-hunters. Responsible hunters engage in conservation efforts and do not tolerate illegal hunting activities.

Let’s explore a few concepts for taking you down the path of responsible, ethical, enjoyable hunting. 

Hunting Is a Lifetime Pursuit

I know it’s important that the readers of this article feel like the author may actually know something about the subject matter, so with that in mind the following will give you some idea of my background. 

Hunting has been an integral part of my life since boyhood. Some of my fondest memories of my dad are of days in the field hunting quail, pheasants, and ducks. Likewise, my brother and I continue our annual deer hunt and will as long as our legs can carry us over the hills. There have been many other dear friends and mentors no longer here, but whose friendship and bonds were forged in the field and around campfires. 

Hunting and the outdoors have taken me around the world, farther than I had ever imagined traveling. In short hunting has been and will continue to be at the core of my soul.

Aside from growing up hunting, fishing, trapping, and spending most of my waking hours outdoors, I have also made a career out of it. I served as a state game and fish officer for about two decades and was a hunter education instructor as required as part of my regular duties during the same time. I work seasonally as a hunting guide and have done so for many years.    

What Are Some Characteristics of Responsible Hunters?

Education and training are the first attributes that come to mind for those striving to be responsible in the hunting field. This can be gained via many avenues: a hunter education course, taking the time to understand and know the game laws of your state, and time in the field with hunters who are ethical and willing to mentor.

Education and Training

Game laws have existed for hundreds of years when you consider a global perspective. In the United States, the laws governing the harvest of game are generally relegated to state game and fish agencies. Laws regarding seasons, bag limits and weapon types, to mention a few, are enforced first and foremost by the local state game warden. As a responsible hunter it is your responsibility to know these laws and adhere to them. 

Game laws have historically been written as tools for the conservation and management of species. In today’s modern wildlife management approach, laws and legal methods of harvest are often crafted with the intent to benefit not only game species, but also other wildlife or the resources necessary to sustain them.

Careful preparation and knowledge of ballistic tools is necessary for a successful hunt, not to mention ethical. This might include, for example, selecting the right caliber and ammunition for the game you will be hunting, sighting in your rifle at the gun range, and then striving to make a perfect one-shot kill when the opportunity presents itself. 

Discipline and Respect

Knowing your limitations when taking a shot at game is just as important. Is the distance too far? Can you make the shot offhand or should you seek a more stable shooting position? These are all questions and issues every seasoned and responsible hunter considers before heading to the field.

Parading your kill on the hood of the car and driving around town is a practice that has outlived its popularity. Non-hunters are often offended by this tactic and in all honesty, it shows a disrespect for the animal itself. While it is appropriate to take photos of your harvest in the field, and to be proud of your kill, it is important to remember that not everyone shares your enthusiasm. Be courteous and respectful to non-hunters as well as showing respect to the animal itself. 

Responsible Hunters Fund Conservation Efforts

Although it’s unbeknownst to many licensed hunters, each one pays an 11% excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition they purchase under what is known as the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937. Since its inception, more than 12 billion dollars have been raised for state conservation incentives through this program. These funds are then used by the states for wildlife management and conservation projects. So, when you hear the phrase, “hunters pay for wildlife conservation” it is literally true. 

Additionally, many hunters belong to wildlife conservation organizations, such as those listed below, to mention only a few.

These groups are dedicated to the future of wildlife populations and their habitat. I would encourage any dedicated and responsible hunter to become involved in one or more of these organizations. 

What Is the First Step to Becoming a Responsible Hunter?

A mentor, someone to show you the ropes who is experienced, is usually the first place to start. For most this person would normally be a dad, grandfather, older sibling, close friend, or in some cases all of the above. 

A close second would be to enroll in a hunter safety/education course. In many states this is required of any hunter regardless of age to even purchase a hunting license. These courses are well worth the time and effort for both youth and adults.  

What Can Positive Actions by Responsible Hunters Lead to?

Your reputation as an ethical and responsible hunter should be as important to you as your reputation as a citizen in your community. Responsible actions as a hunter often will lead to recognition within the hunting community and from private and government-based conservation organizations. This might include being asked to serve on wildlife management committees, to take part on conservation projects, or to become a hunter education instructor yourself.

Want to have access to private land other than your own for hunting? Then solid hunting ethics and being responsible when given permission to hunt private farms and ranches is a must, aside from just plain being the right thing to do. This means:

  • Taking care of the landowner’s property
  • Closing gates that you go through
  • Not parking too close to livestock watering areas
  • Hunting only where the landowner designates
  • Picking up your trash
  • Only targeting wild game that you came there for and that the farmer/rancher agreed to allow you to hunt

We could go on and on, but you get the picture. 

Hunters that are unethical are obviously not responsible and become labeled as slob hunters, not a title you want to be labeled with.

How Can Responsible and Ethical Hunters Show Respect for Non-hunters?

As hunters we must recognize and understand that not everyone shares our enthusiasm for the actual harvesting of game. And that’s ok. Most non-hunters do not necessarily have a problem with hunting and many are enthusiastic and supportive of wildlife in other ways.

As mentioned, the days of driving through town with your recent deer harvest draped over the hood or the roof of your vehicle are way outdated. While you should be proud of ethically harvesting game, there is no need to be disrespectful to those who do not see it your way and to the animal itself. This applies even more so to plastering your recent hunting pics all over social media, in my opinion. 

I am not suggesting you hide the fact that you are a hunter, but rather show respect and courtesy for those who are not hunters and perhaps will never be. These folks in many cases enjoy wildlife viewing along with conservation programs as much as many hunters do.

How Can Non-hunters Show Respect for Responsible Hunters?

First, non-hunters need to realize that hunting has been a part of living and survival for thousands of years. And while many non-hunters believe that hunting in modern times is not essential for humans to survive, hunting is a critical tool for management of wildlife on a global basis. 

Hunting generates billions of dollars annually worldwide driving critical parts of the economy. 

In many parts of the US and around the world, hunting for subsistence is a real fact. Since the days of market hunting at the turn of the last century and the advent of game management practices and gun laws, there can be little argument of the positive role hunting plays in the modern day. I’m referring, of course, to legal hunting and not blatant poaching activity that oftentimes can be traced back to organized crime.

Non-hunters can and should respect legal hunting by not interfering with those activities and hunters in the field. In most states there are laws that make it a criminal offense to interfere or harass hunters.

Both hunters and non-hunters should report illegal hunting activity to their local conservation officers, as both sides have a vested interest in wildlife populations and its habitat.    

From a Conservation Officer and Lifelong Hunter Point of View

As previously alluded to, I served as a state game warden for about two decades. Over those years combined with my continued time in the hunting field today, I have seen more than my share of good hunters and then the few that have made things bad for everyone. 

Interestingly enough, at times people who’d never consider pushing legalities in their day to day lives are willing to stretch their luck with game laws. There seems to be a few game laws that are consistently a challenge for some hunters to adhere to and that I feel are worth mentioning here. After all, we are discussing being responsible hunters and following the rules is a critical part of that responsibility.

The following are the legal areas I see hunters stumble with the most:

  • Trespassing
  • Shooting from the roadway
  • Shooting from a vehicle
  • Driving off road while hunting
  • Hunting without the proper license or related stamps
  • Hunting in the wrong region

Many of the above can easily be as simple as an oversight, reading a map wrong or getting carried away in the moment. And then there are those violations that true poachers and criminals are willing to commit:

  • Spotlighting
  • Hunting without a license
  • Exceeding the bag limit
  • Killing for the head or trophy only and allowing meat to go to waste (a most serious violation in my book and one that warrants a physical arrest if caught)
  • Intentional Trespass
  • Using the license of another 
  • Littering

Oh, and be sure to leave the alcohol in camp until the day’s hunt is over. Drinking and hunting do not mix and is a serious violation in many states.

Words of Wisdom

I point all of this out to make some key points. As hunters we must go the extra mile to be responsible, ethical, courteous and vigilant. It is on our shoulders to understand the law and strive to make clean, ethical kills. Make every effort to find and recover any game animal that is wounded, and make use of that animal to the fullest extent. 

Now more than ever before the eyes of the world are on us as hunters. As the habitat for wildlife shrinks despite the best conservation efforts, hunters must take the lead and police their own. There are those that will be considered “slob hunters” and poachers. Not a title you ever want to wear. And then there are those that will be considered true sportsmen and worthy of being welcomed back on any private farm, ranch, public land, or around the campfires of those that came before us. 

Hunting will create lasting memories and adventures in the field that will never be forgotten. We owe it to ourselves, future generations and the wildlife itself to be responsible hunters. It is not a task to be taken lightly.

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Terry is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement and has served as a state game warden. A lifelong hunter, guide, tracker and firearms enthusiast, Terry currently provides training for law enforcement, security and civilians through his own company, Firearms Training Institute. In the fall and winter months you will find Terry guiding hunters for big game across the state of New Mexico.

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