Phillip posed a couple of thought provoking questions while he snuck away to guide hunters at Coon Camp Springs for the next few weeks. Pretty soon my comment became so lengthy, that I felt it could become a column of it’s own here. I’ve expanded my response in more detail here.

Phillip asks…

What is “fair chase” and how important is it as a consideration, both to you as a hunter, and overall to the sport of hunting?  Where do you draw the lines and why?  I encourage you to think your responses through, not only from a personal perspective but from a bigger picture.  Consider the logical progression of your ideas.

For simplicity’s sake, I feel that Fair Chase is the statement that is the basis of the Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett clubs.  They developed it and put it in writing and are taking the message to hunters around the country.  The Fair Chase statement signed by each person who submits a big game animal to the records program reads:

Simply defined, fair chase is the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit of free-ranging wild game animals in a manner which does not give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage over the animal. [emphasis added by author]

The Rules of Fair Chase

The term “Fair Chase” shall not include the taking of animals under the following conditions:

  • Helpless in a trap, deep snow or water, or on ice.
  • From any power vehicle or power boat.
  • By “jacklighting” or shining at night.
  • By the use of any tranquilizers or poisons.
  • While inside escape-proof fenced enclosures.
  • By the use of any power vehicle or power boats for herding or driving animals, including use of aircraft to land alongside or to communicate with or direct a hunter on the ground.
  • By the use of electronic devices for attracting, locating or pursuing game or guiding the hunter to such game, or by the use of a bow or arrow to which any electronic device is attached.
  • Any other condition considered by the Board of Directors as unacceptable.

I don’t feel that all animals need to be hunted under those conditions. However I am willing to hunt within those guidelines for the 28 species of big game that those organizations recognize. In my personal opinion, there are animals exempt from fair chase . Those include “varmints” that pose a threat to the health, safety, and well being of my family, domestic animals, livelihood and loved ones.

I am more than glad to have an unfair advantage over disease carrying rodents, and coyotes who prey on newborn calves, fawns and lambs.  I wouldn’t give a black widow spider a “sporting chance” in my shed.  I would have no compunction in eliminating a badger digging holes in my horse pasture that could break a leg.  However  in the desert of southern Idaho or the mountains of Wyoming, I would leave these creatures alone to do their part in the ecosystem. 

Fair chase however extends to other “sport hunting” beyond the 28 big game species.  Even small game, may have the tenets of sportsmanship applied to them, for this is how we mold young sportsmen into mature capable hunters.  An example would be shooting birds on the fly.  Most every one would agree with the sportingness of that with a shot gun, but harvest by an arrow, or a headshot with a .22 any less sporting? This ethic varies by person and situation.  I wouldn’t expect someone who is hunting for subsistance to abide by the rules of fair chase.  however I would expect them to use their kills to the fullest extent possible.  so as you can see “it depends”.

 In his second question Phillip asks:

How effective are sport hunters at managing game populations, e.g. wild hogs, whitetail deer, snow geese, etc.?  Are we doing the job we say we’re doing?  What does it mean to our justification of sport hunting as a management tool?  If you have specific details to support your responses, that would be a great addition to the discussion (and possibly save me some research later). 

In regard to sport hunting’s effectiveness as a management tool, I feel that it is the only cost effective way to manage a steady native wildlife population within the carrying capacity of a given habitat. While areas without sport hunting have a predator-prey relationship, the populations have a much more severe boom and bust cycles.

Sport hunting can provide a cashflow to fund wildlife departments, while also allowing for a restriction or expansion of seasons and tags to reflect game and habitat conditons. It is not feasible with other large predators. Goverment funded sharpshooters to control game animals provides only an expense, and no income to the state or municipality.

Sport hunting also gives value to the wildlife population. When small community economies benifit from the influx of out of area hunters, wildlife becomes an income stream for people who might otherwise view them as a crop eating pest, or road hazard.  That is how impoverished countries in Africa have re-established wildlife populations and stemmed the tide of poaching.  Simply put , the tourism dollars from sport hunting, and to a smaller extent wildlife watching, has encouraged conservation in cultures who did not previously understand or value this concept. 

Sport hunting also provides a collection method for specimans for monitoring wildlife disease. The spread of CWD would be less known if it were not for voluntary CWD testing by sport hunters. When, and if, we find Avian Influenza in wild birds, my bet it will be from vigilance of sport hunters in the migration corridors despite Fish and Wildlifes monitoring program that is strapped by financial and logistics issues that come with goverment programs. 

 However, because of the fair chase ethic that permeates the majority of the sport hunting populace, we as sport hunters are unable to effectively do some of the distasteful aspects of wildlife mangement that are required.  The example that Phillip brings to light is the elimination of feral species from certain habitats.  As sport hunters we are conditioned from our earliest experiences, to spare females and young.  It is the Conservation Ethic at work.  Few hunters are willing to do that morally daunting task, whether it is beavers in the suburbs, feral hogs, or even feral cats and dogs.  That is the place for a paid individual or group to eliminate, trap or relocate the offenders. 

I think most hunters are proud to have the priviledge of taking an active role in the management of America’s wildlife populations.  The fact that their license fees and excise taxes pay for goverment wildlife programs and habitat improvement gives hunters a vested interest in the well being of game populations. 

I would be interested top read others views on the subject.