Hunting Ethics and Terriers
A repost from June 2005.
The hunting community has given a LOT of serious thought to ethical hunting and perhaps this is a topic over-due for discussion in the arena of working terriers.
As the folks at Boone and Crockett note:
"We live in a democracy where in the rules by which we live are determined by majority vote. For those who value hunting, it is fortunate that the majority of the population who do not hunt tolerate or accept hunting. If hunting is to survive to be practiced by future generations, we must preserve, enhance, and protect the image of hunting, hunters, and land stewards as a positive force in wildlife conservation."
Every person will come to their own place when it comes to ethical hunting. I do not like canned bird shoots, for example, while others may find nothing wrong with them. Each to his own.
I broach the topic of ethical hunting, not so we reach the same place, but so people will think about this topic a bit more. How do we represent our sport? How do we do right by the dogs and by the quarry?
As stewards for a type of hunting that is hundreds of years old, how do we make sure terrier work is passed down, intact, to the next generation?
There should always be respect for honest differences of opinion, of course, but opinion should be grounded in thought and information.
I am always amazed that so few people in the U.S. know the history of hunting and wildlife management in this country. A small start at education can be had by visiting the "Fair Chase" web site which notes that:
"As hunters and land managers, we are in the 'image business' - even more so now than at the turn of the century when 'fair chase' was proposed as the underlying foundation for hunter ethics. For sportsmen to continue to be the dominant force in setting wildlife resource policies we must, and foremost understand our role as conservationists. We should take pride in accomplishments and recognize, and assume the responsibilities that have been passed to us by our hunting forefathers. If we don't stand up for wildlife and its habitats, who will? We are, in the end, a 'band of brothers and sisters' in that what we do individually affects us all."
Standing up for wildlife and habitats is not something we hear much about in the terrier world for some reason. Perhaps knowledge of quarry and habitats is what is missing.
Perhaps it is what should be added.
I am always amazed to find hunters who have never taken the time to learn about the animals they hunt. For these people, terrier work is not a commune with nature, but a proxy for dog fighting or a paper certificate. A deer is nothing but a target and a trophy. A duck is just a feathered clay pigeon.
The true hunter knows the difference between a rat and a raccoon, a squirrel and a fox, a groundhog and a possum. They know what each animal eats, how often they breed, their population densities in various habitats, and their natural mortality rates.
A true hunter knows that you cannot hunt out all the rats on a dairy farm or shoot out all the squirrels in a 200-acre oak woods, but that you can knock all the raccoon or fox off a farm in a single weekend.
An ethical hunter does not bleed the land white.
A smart hunter thinks twice before dispatching a fox or a raccoon. Is it really necessary to terminate this animal? What harm is this animal really doing? If it is a nuisance animal for some reason, make dispatch swift and offer no apologies. But think it through. A released raccoon and fox can be hunted again. If the animal is not a true pest, releasing it is more than good ethics -- it is also good hunting.
A lot of ethical hunting is just good manners -- close fences you open, don't trespass, fill holes you dig in the fields, park out of the way, don't rut the fields, and keep a low profile.
Ethical hunting is mostly about respect -- respect for the farm and the farmers, respect for the crops and the livestock, and even respect for people that do not hunt (waving a bloody shirt is no way to preserve hunting).
Respect extends to dogs and quarry. Respect for the dogs means that you work to reduce the incidence of injury to the animal. Once you get down to the quarry and it can be reached, you pull the terrier and do the job YOU are supposed to do which is swift dispatch or quick release.
A seriously injured dog is not treated as a "red badge of courage" but as a failure of either the dog or the digger to work in a sustainable manner. Routine injury is not a sustainable way to hunt -- and the goal of the serious digger is to hunt next week as well as this.
Respect for the quarry means you dispatch it as quickly and humanely as possible, and if pictures are taken for posterity, they are tasteful. Remember that killing the enemy is part of war, but displaying disrespectful pictures of the dead and wounded is a war crime. There is a lesson there, and the ethical hunter gets it.
An ethical hunter is the opposite of the slob hunter. The slob hunter drives his truck down the middle of the field and mows down the hedgerow. He leaves gates open and drives into the 7-Eleven with a bleeding doe in full view in the back of his pickup truck. The slob hunter does not know the difference between a gray fox and a red fox, and does not spend more than 30 minutes tracking his gut-shot deer.
Ethical hunters tend to be better hunters than slob hunters for the same reason that people who handicap themselves in golf tend to be better players than people who want a "gimme" at every hole.
I am happy to report that ethical hunting is on the ascendancy in the U.S. As wildlife has roared back from the edge of extinction and finding game has become easier, more and more people are affirming the hunting experience by turning to black powder and bow. When Colorado decided to ban hunting bear over bait (steel drums filled with jelly donuts and pizza), bear hunting increased because it was no longer seen as "slob shooting" but real hunting that required wood craft and skill.
Those that fish will understand. When we were five years old our fathers or grandfathers took us to a stocked trout pond and we were guaranteed a catch (paid per pound). A few years later we were mad fishermen killing everything we caught. As over-enthusiastic youth, we used live bait, tail-snagged fish during Spring runs, and bought packages of hooks with multiple barbs.
As we got better at fishing, most of us turned to catch-and-release and artificial lures. The best of us crushed the barbs off our hooks. We may have turned to fly fishing. No one bought a fish finder.
There is nothing wrong with killing -- it part of hunting, but as we get older and better at wood-craft we realize that killing is not hunting in and of itself. We do not say a slaughterhouse worker is hunting, though we say a man who returns without a buck has been out hunting hard and "better luck tomorrow".
Those of us who love this land and the creatures on it recognize that hunting is a necessary part of game management and an important economic and political engine protecting America's wild places and farms. That said, we also need to recognize that just as it is important to protect the land and the streams, so too is it important to instill in the next generation a sense of hunting history and hunting ethics, and a sense of decorum when dealing with the non-hunting public.
It is sad, but true, that honorable minority communities are often scandalized and victimized by ugly and criminal elements within their midst. That is true for immigrant communities and racial minorities, but it also true for hunters.
It has been said that a minority community knows it has come of age when the worst acts of a few can no longer be used to characterize the larger whole. The good news is that we may be there with hunting in general. It remains to be seen as to whether we will get there with terrier work in particular.