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Hunter Ethics – The Basics

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By David Link

Hunter ethics is a topic that every hunter should be familiar with before heading out into the field. Hunter ethics should also be discussed with a beginner before initiating them into the fantastic sport of hunting. While ignoring some of these guidelines can lead to grave consequences, other transgressions will largely go unnoticed. Regardless, these guidelines exist for a reason, and following them will ensure safe and fruitful hunts for both you and future generations to come.

Hunters Safety

It all starts with hunters safety. This is the important first step in being a responsible hunter. Hunters safety courses will teach young hunters valuable basics that could save their life or the lives of others, and they only take up a few hours of your time. Adults who have not taken them in a while will also find information of value with many of the topics discussed. Hunters safety certification of some form is mandatory in every state, but depending on your date of birth, you may be grandfathered in and not need it if you were born before a certain date. Usually you can’t purchase a hunting license or permit without showing proof of hunters safety certification, so this is a vital part of exploring hunting options in your state anyhow.


Hunters safety will teach you a wealth of unforgettable lessons that will come up again and again in your hunting and outdoor adventures until you hang up your camo for good. Common curriculum includes the basics on firearms and ammunition, how to load, unload, and handle a firearm safely, how to clean a firearm, and how to shoot a firearm successfully. The courses will make you a better hunter as well by giving you an overview of hunting techniques and equipment, teach you how to identify game correctly, and explore the common behaviors of popular game animals. Basic survival techniques are a staple in most courses too since hunters can find themselves in dangerous situations should the weather turn or injury occur unexpectedly. Finally, wildlife and firearm laws are explained in depth so you can avoid those costly tickets from the game warden or police officer. At the end of the course, you’ll be given a test to gauge your retention of the material, but don’t worry, it’s an easy test for anyone who has an avid interest in outdoor pursuits. When your child is of age, make sure to get them into a hunters safety course as soon as possible, and stay with them through the entire course to demonstrate that the material is truly important.

Permits And Hunting Licenses

While it may be easy to skip or ignore the fees of hunting permits and licenses, it is important to remember where this revenue goes. Hunters fund much of the conservation efforts that go on in the US today, and we all want a place that both our generation and generations to come can return to for hunting seasons to come. Permits are still very affordable generally speaking, and if you can’t afford a permit, we hate to say you probably can’t afford to hunt either. Added revenue for conservation efforts is obtained from habitat stamps that need to be purchased in conjunction with your permit in order to hunt certain species. Habitat stamps can be a bit pricey, but remember that the alternative could be a rapidly disappearing environment for the species you cherish hunting, and that is worth much more than the cost of a stamp each year. I know certain hunters who even collect habitat stamps, and each year the artwork found on them is worth collecting.

Conservation officers and the permits and licenses that fund their employment have been an important part of hunting ever since the first hunting licenses were issued.


Permission to hunt on land you don’t own is also an important part of being a responsible hunter. While it can be frustrating when there is a shortage of public land or valuable hunting ground in your area, you should always receive permission before hunting land that isn’t public. Respect the right of any landowner you approach to say no, and if they are kind enough to let you hunt, make sure to go out of your way to show them your appreciation for the privilege. You can offer help maintaining areas of their land, give Christmas gifts, or even send a simple thank you card with a gift certificate for dinner inside. Just make sure you thank them regularly and never, ever take their permission for granted. It is also important to understand the boundaries of their land, and any land you hunt for that matter. You want to make sure you don’t wander into another landowner’s property accidentally.


You should always be courteous when hunting regardless of whether it is public or private land. Avoid making excessive noise or performing actions that might spoil the hunts of others. You should also always leave the land like you found it. Don’t litter and go out of your way to find any spent shells. There is absolutely no worse transgression against nature than littering, especially when it is done out of sheer laziness. If you can’t pick up your trash, us caring sportsman kindly request that you stop coming to the places we cherish and ruining them.

Only Take What You Need

Bag limits and permit tags are in place for a reason as well. Everyone is aware of the history lessons that over-hunting has taught. You can help ensure the game you love to hunt is available for future generations, and if selfishly harvesting 30 birds instead of 15 is that big of a deal to you, perhaps you should re-examine why you hunt in the first place. If you’d rather take the game that should be available for another passionate hunter and steal it for yourself, there are plenty of skeet ranges around the nation. You might be better suited for the near endless supply of clay pigeons available. The good news is many species like whitetail deer are on the rise, and getting a permit is no issue at all. As long as you practice restraint, there are still numerous opportunities to hunt a wide variety of game. It may be harder to obtain licenses for rarer game, but point systems ensure that you’ll get your chance eventually so exercise patience and when your name comes up cherish every day of the hunt.

Efficient, Humane Kills

Before you obtain a permit to hunt a certain animal, you should always make sure you have the right firearm and in many cases the right optics to hunt the animal. Bullet selection is also very important, and you should always spend a good chunk of time at the range ensuring your aim is reliable enough for a clean, somewhat accurate shot. Wounding an animal and losing it does happen, but it’s a circumstance that one hopes to never encounter. Even if the trophy animal of a lifetime is in front of you, be patient and wait for the right shot to present itself. If thick brush or a poor angle prevents you from taking a proper shot, don’t force it, even if it means heading home empty handed. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be if the right shot window never appeared.


Fair Chase

You always hear the tales of hunters driving remote roads at night with giant spotlights looking to rush a deer, blind them, and then shoot at them wildly from their vehicle. While the practice of unfair chase as it’s called can be far less extreme than this example, the lesson remains true. Hunting should always be sporting and a hunter should never create an overwhelming advantage against the game they are pursuing. Some examples include hunting in a wild area where the animal always has several options to escape, or in an ideal scenario, wander across where you are lying in wait. Hunts that occur in a small, enclosed area where the animals can’t escape are far from ethical, and those actions can’t be called hunting at all. As we mentioned before, any pursuit of an animal from a motor vehicle is unfair chase as well, and a hunter who doesn’t want to leave their vehicle to hunt is missing the point altogether. Hunters should want to feel the dirt under their boots as they scout and pursue game. Finally, any use of an unsanctioned electronic device is also considered unfair chase, but the exact definition varies from state to state and habitat to habitat so be sure to check local laws.

Deer and other game should always be pursued with fair chase and never in a confined space.

Protected Species

Another tale of caution comes with the hunter who takes aim at a protected species because they are bored or the game they are hunting is nowhere to be found. These species are obviously protected for a reason, and shooting at them is a very serious breech of hunter ethics. Any unnecessary altering of an environment can also have far reaching consequences that may impact several other seemingly unrelated species in the area. Finally, any discharge of your firearm could end up scaring any of the game you’re hunting away, and then why are you out in the wilderness in the first place?

The Late Shot

One final item of note is the after shooting hour is over shot. It’s happened to us all, that spectacular animal crosses your path just as the sun has set and you’re getting ready to leave your stand or blind. Yet the shooting regulations exist for a reason. You may not be able to see the kill zone accurately as you aim, and wounding an animal at sunset can drastically hurt your chances of tracking and finding it in the dark. As darkness falls another important consequence to consider is that hunters may be leaving their stands and heading home, and at a time like this where target identification is diminished, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. If you see that animal and it’s passed shooting time, watch it carefully and stealthily, and perhaps tomorrow or next season you’ll come upon it again, this time with a great chance to harvest it appropriately.

As long as you follow these guidelines, you can help to keep hunting the treasured sport it is today. Future hunters are counting on you


All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: Thumb, one, two, three, and four.

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