The Sportsman Ethic

An evening view from Otter Creek Farm in Alabama

To be a sportsman is to be more than a hunter or outdoor enthusiast. As the decades pass, the differences between being a hunter, poacher, and enthusiast and sportsman have blurred. In a political climate where it can mean career suicide to publicly claim to own a firearm, much less participate in an activity called hunting, many have regrettably gone silent and thus contributed to the slow demise of a once flourishing industry and national past-time. We need to recover the valuable tradition of what it is to be a sportsman.

Don’t dismiss my advocacy because you think I’m promoting male dominance or aggressive and toxic masculinity. Simply, I’m not. The ethic of being a sportsman is as applicable of women as it is men. The sportsman values and respects the rules of fair chase. There is a code of unwritten rules that are to be followed encouraging the good will of sport. One of the reasons that hunting has received such bad publicity in recent years is due much to the mainstream misconceptions perpetuated from a misguided minority that either rejects the etiquette of field or simply is ignorant of it.

A sportsman should adhere to the principles of fairness in hunting. Spotlighting should not be a celebrated or even practiced tactic, not only for its illegal nature, but also due to the fact that it immobilizes wild game. This practice is almost just as bad as crust-hunting which is the taking of wild deer as they crouch and are immobilized by winter-drifts. It is always preferable to provide the animal a fair chance of escape which requires the sportsman to develop his skill and craft.

One recent development in the state of Alabama is the ability for the hunter to legally use bait. Hunters in Alabama can now use bait to hunt white-tailed deer and feral pigs. This has been a widely contested piece of legislation with common support both for and against the measure. As an advocate for ethical hunting, one must ask the question of whether hunting over bait is against all the rules of fair chase that have been a legacy of the sport. Personal liberties shouldn’t end at the shooting house or the tree-stand which is why I wouldn’t advocate against the legislative change; however, the ethic of the practice should be called into question and scrutinized by those of us that call ourselves conservationists.

Let us teach the next generation the skills of respecting nature and all that God created. By all means, let us hunt and deepen our appreciation of the outdoors but let us do it through methods which honor both the animal and the hunter.

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