Don Meredith Professional Writing

What's Fair?
Part 2, Fair to Whom?by Don H. Meredith © 2001
(published in the February/March 2001 Alberta Outdoorsmen)

Does fair chase show respect for the animal

Last month, I began a discussion about the venerable notion of "Fair Chase." In that column, I related how the general concept is accepted by most hunters, but disagreements emerge when an attempt is made to describe a working definition. In this column, I look at how the concept is perceived by the non-hunter and indeed the anti-hunter.

First, I want to explain that the impetus for this series of columns came from a presentation I attended on "Fair Chase — The Future of Hunting" at the Premier's Symposium on North America's Hunting Heritage in Ottawa this last August. The presentation was made by Edward Hanna, a biologist, management consultant and self-described "closet hunter," who — like many of us — has constantly had to justify his hunting to himself and others in the midst of anti-hunting sentiments. Like myself, he has had a concern with the concept of fair chase, and Mr. Hanna's presentation was the first I had heard that addressed the issue head-on. It crystalized for me some ideas I had about fair chase, that until now I was unable to express. The previous and following discussions are in large part based on his presentation and the subsequent research I have done. I am grateful to Mr. Hanna for providing me with a draft of the paper he presented prior to its pending publication in the proceedings of the conference. Although the following was inspired by his talk, I take full responsibility for all opinions expressed. Also, please be advised that many of the questions I raise do not necessarily represent my opinions, but are presented to stimulate thought and discussion.

Over the last few years, hunters have become sensitive to how non-hunters view their sport. Indeed, the word "sport" is criticized by some as being the wrong term to use when describing hunting because it implies a game being played between the hunter and the hunted. It is this "playing" with "game animals" that offends some non-hunters. Why would you play with something you're trying to kill? Isn't that cruel?

Yet, as in games, do we not make rules by which we hunt? Aren't these rules made so that the hunting is fair — allowing fair chase?

Yes, we do make rules. However, unlike a game, one side of the match cannot participate in the making of those rules. Game animals have no voice in this process. All they want is to survive and reproduce, not play a game with one of their predators. Indeed, some animal rightists (ARs) contend they should be at the table to represent the interests of the hunted animals when hunting rules are being drawn up if hunters truly want to "play" fairly. This is where the notions of "arm the animals" and "disarm the hunters" are introduced.

So, perhaps hunting is not a game or sport because it is inherently unfair to one side of the match. Perhaps we make rules more to ensure the safety of the hunter and the conservation of the hunted resource rather than to create fairness where hunted individuals are concerned.

But don't we use fair chase as a way of showing respect for animals? Not really. It can be argued that traditional subsistence hunters who often do not use fair chase show just as much, if not more, respect for their prey (through spiritual and cultural rituals) than recreational hunters employing fair chase. Indeed, fairness does not seem to be an issue with the public where subsistence hunting is concerned. Poll after poll (and court after court) has shown that traditional subsistence hunting has a lot more public support than does recreational hunting. Is that because subsistence hunters respect the animals more or because they have better communicated the connection hunting has to their cultural heritage?

Perhaps subsistence hunting that is mainly concerned with killing an animal quickly to provide a family with needed food sells better to the public than recreational hunting where a hunter "plays fairly" with his game before killing it. If so, then is the concept of fair chase helping the image of the hunter?

Many have argued (including me) that hunting reconnects the hunter to the land and the natural environment. But does fair chase properly illustrate that connection? If I want to be truly connected to my environment, shouldn't I act more like the other predators that are there? Does a wolf, cougar or coyote use fair chase? No, fairness is not a concept to an animal whose first concerns are surviving and reproducing. Indeed, hunting is a risky business that can have life threatening consequences for the predator because many prey animals do fight back. A predator tries to kill its prey as quickly and easily as possible to reduce exposure to such risk. Fairness is an abstract human concept that has no place in the natural world.

But isn't fair chase necessary because of the mental and technological advantages we have over our prey? Because we have the capability to exterminate whole populations and species, don't we use fair chase to balance the equation more in favor of the prey species? No, we use law and regulations to prevent over-harvest of a species regardless of how it is hunted.

Indeed, it can be argued that fair chase shows disrespect of the hunted animals. By using fair chase we imply that the hunted animal is an inadequate or an "unworthy" opponent, that hunters require a "handicap" to balance the match.

As you can see, the concept of fair chase is fraught with complexities and inconsistencies. But does it have a role to play in recreational hunting? Next month I'll look at the role of fair chase in setting hunting rules and in creating the image of the hunter.

Next Month: Part 3, What's Fair in Regulation?

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