Hunting Ethics: Do as I Say, Not as I Do?

Few of us have trouble knowing right from wrong; the problem comes when we’re tempted to push the envelope just a bit. After all, who would ever know?
Hunting Ethics: Do as I Say, Not as I Do?

Feature image courtesy of Mission Archery

When I was a young boy I was very fortunate. Raised in a small southern California agricultural town, I had none of those big city temptations. I also had both my parents and paternal grandparents to help develop within me a moral compass that has stayed with me to this day.

Dad, Grandpa and I fished together a lot, and as a young go-getter I was always pushing the envelope. Closed area on the lake? So what, let’s go! The bite is on, why stop at the limit, let’s make some meat! At times like those, Dad and Grandpa would pull my leash a bit tighter and slow me down, making sure I followed the rules.

As I went through school, I was blessed with some athletic skills and grew to love sports. One of the things I’ve always loved about sports is that, though there is hard-fought competition, there are also black-and-white rules. You are either in or out of bounds, the ball is either fair or foul. You learn to play hard but play fair, do your very best and follow the rules, win or lose. And you do want to win, every time. But when you lose, you get up, dust yourself off and try to do better next time.

Of course, in sports there are officials watching closely to make sure that you do play by the rules. Contrast that fact with hunting, which is, by and large, an individual thing. You’re out there in the woods, perhaps on stand, perhaps slipping along looking for a buck or a bull. There’s nobody to tell you what to do, where to go or what to shoot, except your own moral compass.

Sure, there are game laws to follow and property boundaries to respect, but when push comes to shove, if and when temptations arise it is up to each of us to do the right thing. Or not. And who among us has never been tempted to cross the line?

Thomas Babington Macaulay, a famous English historian who lived in the early 1800s, once said, “The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.” Like sports, hunting is one of the best ways I know to build and develop character, especially in young folks.

Trophy Temptations

How many of you have been here? You’re driving to hunting camp after dark and into the headlights steps a magnificent buck. It’s the deer of your dreams, and there he stands. All you have to do is step out the door and draw your bow, and he’s yours. Who’d ever know?

Or, how about that crisp November morning sitting on stand when you look up and there, not 45 yards away, is the biggest buck you have ever seen. Sure, he’s on the other side of the fence, but it would be a quick and easy drag to get him back across to your side. Who’d ever know?

Or, it’s the rut and you have access to hunt a huge river-bottom. There’s a monster buck running the bottom, and this weekend you have the place all to yourself. Odds are there won’t be another person within a mile of you all day. Even though it’s bow season, why not take your 243 Win. along just in case that buck shows himself just out of bow range. Who’d ever know?

Are You a Good Role Model?

I was in high school back in the days when the Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics, coached by Red Auerbach, beat my Los Angeles Lakers pretty much every year in the NBA finals. Man, I hated those guys! But coach Auerbach said something back then that I have never forgotten: “The only correct actions are those that demand no explanation and no apology.”

hunting ethics

Someone looks up to you. Don't ever forget that, especially when you're alone in the woods. Photo courtesy of Mission Archery.

As I get older, the I realize more and more that what we do today is not so much important in how it impacts us personally, but instead how it impacts others. This is especially true of our youth. With the increasing breakdown of the traditional family structure in America today, it’s the younger generation that worries me. Who do they have to mentor them if not us? Are you the kind of hunter who would knowingly violate game laws in front of your own children? What kind of lesson is that for them? If they see their own parent break the rules when hunting, doesn’t that tell them that it is OK to break other rules and laws whenever it suits them? And what if your kids were home when the game warden came and knocked on the door and began questioning you about a potential game law violation? Would you not be ashamed?

J.C. Watts, the former Oklahoma quarterback and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives who later became both a Baptist minister and very successful businessman, once said, “Character is doing the right thing when nobody's looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that's right is to get by, and the only thing that's wrong is to get caught.”

Who would ever know? The answer, of course, is you’d know. Could you live with yourself?

P.S. Feel free to send an email my way at to share your thoughts.


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