Spike Box Ranch and Hunting Manager Tyler Pounds delivered an impromptu speech/pep talk yesterday as we cruised back to the bunkhouse following a somewhat unsuccessful morning of turkey hunting. It wasn’t that we couldn’t find any turkeys; they were simply the wrong ones. Spring turkey in King County, Texas means toms. If you’re very fortunate you might come across a bearded hen, which is also legal, but typical hens can’t be shot. Jakes fall into a grey zone.
Tyler cruised down the main road with a lip full of chew and a thoughtful expression on his face. “Too many hunters come here just wanting to kill,” he began. “They forget there’s more to hunting than the kill, and they forget about ethics. You hunt ethically, and that’s good. Does it mean you walk away with nothing sometimes? Yes. But hunters…” – and here he paused – “hunters have forgotten what it means to be a good, ethical hunter.”
“We didn’t get anything this morning,” he said, “but we hunted ethically, and that’s something to be proud of.”
It was a somewhat amusingly-timed speech because I had delivered a near-identical one to another writer only a handful of days earlier. He’d passed on a number of exotics due to poor shot potential while others were dropping game rather messily around him. Granted, he definitely knows all this already, but I reminded him anyway: you are an ethical hunter, I told him, and that is a far better thing than being a man with an animal on the ground through questionable means.
So there I sat in Tyler’s work truck, one I’d ridden in many times before over the years, on the receiving end of a speech I’d given myself. I had passed on a beautiful bearded hen because she was surrounded by hens. She was, in fact, so firmly cloistered it would have been flat impossible to shoot her without a high risk of a stray pellet striking one of her female flockmates.
And although I didn’t know it then I would pass on a Jake with a two-inch brush of a beard the very next morning. He was too young to take ethically. Better to let him grow into a mature tom for future hunters.
Which is better? Having meat on the ground through whatever means you feel is passable or only taking shots you’re confident you can land in a single blow – even if it means ending a day or a season with nothing to show for it? Here’s what I think . . .
Ethics are defined by the ever-popular Google dictionary as the “moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.” (Just to clarify, principles are “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as a foundation for a system of belief or behavior.” Hopefully you all know what morals are and won’t get lost debating the semantics of whether “ethics” on its own must mean good ethics. Let’s just move forward saying it does…because it does.)
Without solid hunting ethics we’re left with a bunch of yahoos in the woods who feel justified killing button bucks and Jakes. Yes, it means removing those males from both the gene pool and maturity, but they don’t care. They just want whatever it is they themselves get out of it whether that’s meat or the thrill of shooting something.
Concepts such as conservation or staying in their shooting-abilities lane to avoid needlessly wounding an animal mean nothing to them. Why? Because they’re selfish.
Look, I get it. I don’t like ending a hunt or season empty-handed. It’s bad enough to be skunked, but getting nothing because you decide not to take a risky shot or an immature animal sometimes adds some salt to the meatless wound. It sucks.
However . . .
I would rather have nothing physical to show for my hunts than have a freezer packed with meat I got through unethical means. I would rather pass on the buck of a lifetime than take a shot that’s outside my skills wheelhouse – or too far outside the realistic capabilities of my gun’s caliber. I would rather leave Texas without any turkey than shoot a bearded hen and be forced to practice the three S’s on out-of-season birds struck by stray pellets. You get the idea.
If you take unethical shots just to get your way, you aren’t a hunter, you’re just SumDood with a gun in the woods. If you think it’s “just an animal” and therefore undeserving of a quick, clean death, you’re cruel. If you think choking a wounded coyote is funny, get off my column.
It’s long past time that ethics returned to hunting. Sure, there will always be idiots out there, just as there will always be those who dramatically and colorfully lie about the shots they take to make themselves look better (well, they think it makes them look better). That doesn’t give you license to be the idiot.
Be an ethical hunter. Teach your kids and friends good ethics. Be willing to go home empty-handed, but with a solid sense of self, knowing that you did the right thing.
Because Tyler is right: the hunting industry seems to be lacking in ethics. Something to ponder beyond beef jerky and energy drinks next time you’re sitting in a pop-up blind during spring turkey season this year. So please, do your part by hunting in an ethical way (hopefully you already are).
Now get out there and get your gobble on. Ethically, of course.