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Hunting's Image: Conclusionby Don H. Meredith © 2000
(published in the January/February 2000 Alberta Outdoorsmen)

The pickup truck ahead of us crept down the gravel road, slowing to a near stop at each fence line and field. My partner and I had just finished a day of deer hunting on a nearby piece of crown land and were eager to get home. It was close to dark, well past legal shooting time, for that was the time we had left our evening stands. As we pulled up behind the truck, it eased over to let us by. We obliged although I felt a little uneasy about this vehicle and made a note of its description and plate number.

Now, a pickup truck moving slowly on a country road is not illegal, but it did raise suspicions in our minds. Were the occupants hunting after hours, or just seeing where the deer were coming out to feed for future considerations during legal time? If this had been the only occurrence of this type of behavior, I would have dismissed it, giving the occupants of the truck the benefit of the doubt. But during this last season, in both going and coming from our hunting areas, we saw several such suspicious vehicles.

What makes the vehicles look suspicious? First of all, given the regulations regarding loaded firearms in vehicles, I don't understand how anyone can even consider road hunting these days. To legally shoot an animal seen from a vehicle on a regularly maintained road requires a person to exit the vehicle, load the firearm, and then get off the road before shooting. Most game would be long gone by the time all those actions occurred. So, when I see a vehicle that appears to be road hunting, I have to ask what regulation violations are being contemplated by the occupants?

I know many people regularly drive roads to find likely hunting areas during legal hunting hours, especially on crown land. My hunting buddies and I do the same thing and when we see others doing it we don't think much of it. But when we see the same behavior well before or after legal time, we feel we have a right to be suspicious. Couple such behavior with the fact that many of these vehicles are driving along private land, much of which is posted, and you indeed have suspicious behavior. If we hunters consider these vehicles suspicious, imagine what a non-hunter or indeed a landowner must feel. Will they have a positive image of hunters?

"The image problem that hunters have is caused by you (hunters). You are your own worst enemies," said NBC's Roger O'Neil at the first Governor's Symposium on North America's Hunting Heritage, held in Bozeman Montana in 1992. He was referring to how anti-hunting organizations effectively use the news media to get their messages across to the public, and how we hunters effectively turn that same media against us. In so doing, we alienate the vast majority of people who do not hunt. As a group, these people have passively supported hunting in the past, but are now questioning that support.

By not thinking of how our individual actions might be interpreted, we risk further alienating those who might want to support us. Take rural land owners. Traditionally they have supported hunters. But the actions of a few hunters who don't believe they're being watched has turned many of those landowners against all hunters. Hence, more private land is posted and there is less permission to hunt for law-abiding hunters.

Last June, I started a series of columns here in the Outdoorsmen on Hunting's Image in which I attempted to answer a list of questions asked by Ann Causey at that first Governor's Symposium on Hunting Heritage. At the time, Causey was an instructor of Environmental Ethics at Prescott College in Arizona. In her presentation to the conference she sought to focus hunters on the fundamental moral issues that non-hunters saw in hunting, and squarely address the image issue. Up until then, hunters had been unwilling to address those issues because they felt they didn't have to. They had the support of governments and indeed society. But that has changed. Governments are beginning to listen to the interests of both anti-hunters and non-hunters concerned about hunting.

Causey's questions about trophy hunting, wounding and foreign hunting reflect a lack of understanding of what hunting is about. That's not the fault of the non­hunter asking the questions. It is our fault for ignoring the questions and the changes in society going on around us.

The question about baiting is more to the point, and shows where we are vulnerable at the moment. If black bear hunters are having trouble convincing other big game hunters about the ethics of baiting, how can they hope to convince the non-hunter? It's no coincidence that bear hunting is first on the list of the anti-hunting crowd. They smell blood and the blood is ours. If we hunters wish to draw a line in the sand at baiting bears, we better have the moral arguments lined up for all to use. Notice I said "moral" arguments. We can no longer rely on economic or scientific grounds to justify what we do. In the end it will be ethics that win the day. If we can't win the moral arguments, then we should be prepared to cut our losses.

The only one of Causey's questions I felt was a clean miss was the one having to do with canned hunts, or killing captive animals. Most hunters I know are repulsed by such a concept and want nothing to do with it. This was well illustrated by the Alberta Fish and Game Association coming out four-square against canned hunting as soon as the game ranchers floated their trial balloon. But we must be ever vigilant because greed has a good track record against morality, especially where business and politics come together.

Vigilance is not only necessary in the political arena. It also must be practised in our day-to-day hunting activities. Again, we are like that moose I described in the first edition of this column—the one walking on scree and trying not to be noticed. We are being noticed, even as individuals driving down a lonely country road, and must assume that our every action is being observed and judged.


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Check-out Don's adventure novels:

Grizzly One
The Search
for Grizzly One
Dog Runner
Dog Runner