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Are hunting ethics important to wildlife sustainability?
By James E. “Jim” Miller
Professor Emeritus, Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture
MSU Extension Service
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- The thrill of the chase and the urge to be a steward of wild things and wild places are vital to many hunters. I am one of the 19.3 million hunters in the United States who appreciate and enjoy fair-chase hunting, and it has enriched my life for more than 60 years.
During my lifetime, Americans’ perceptions about hunting have dramatically changed, and wildlife populations have grown dramatically. As Americans moved from rural to urban and suburban settings, common outdoor activities, such as hunting, were no longer seen as natural parts of life.
Unfortunately, our current, predominantly urban populace has no understanding of a land ethic or of where food comes from -- aside from the grocery store. Nor do they understand the critical importance of wildlife management. However, no food is more organic than wild game species appropriately prepared for the table.
Despite this lack of understanding, which includes many misconceptions about the role of hunting in wildlife management, recent surveys indicate that most people value sustainable wildlife populations. I have been a wildlife management professional for more than 50 years, and it is abundantly clear to me that wildlife management, including responsible hunting, is absolutely essential to the future of sustainable wildlife populations. Yet, we have failed to articulate that fact in a way that the public understands and appreciates.
The critical elements of hunting are not commonly recognized, yet the public needs to understand them if we are to support current and future wildlife conservation efforts. So, what are the practices and attitudes of a responsible hunter? Here is an abbreviated summary of these vital responsibilities:
- Practice firearm safety. Responsibility for yourself and those you hunt with is paramount;
- Observe and respect nature, including the interrelationships among wildlife and their habitats. Note that only 12.5 percent of all wildlife species are considered lawfully hunted game;
- Adhere to existing laws, obtain appropriate licenses and permits, use essential equipment, and know the respective regulations for the species being hunted; and
- Understand that fair-chase hunting is not about the size of the antlers you took or whether you bagged the limit. It is about the amount of time, effort and observations you invest. The “trophies” for responsible hunters are memories, camaraderie, unique observations and gourmet meals.
Hunting is neither a competitive nor a spectator sport; it is about individual responsibility.
Knowledge about fair-chase, responsible hunting is best learned in the company of responsible hunters willing to be mentors. It stimulates interest in becoming an exemplary steward who cares about the future of wild things and wild places.
A good example of this principle in action is a nationwide program called Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow. Since 2005, this program has introduced non hunting professionals to the biological, economic, social and personal values associated with responsible and ethical hunting.
A 2015 national survey indicated that 77 percent of Americans approve of hunting, with support for fair-chase hunting for meat at 85 percent and approval of hunting as a wildlife management tool at 81 percent. Perhaps more people are learning to appreciate the rich heritage of fair-chase hunting in human history.
However, it is significant that only 27 percent of the respondents in this survey said they approved of hunting over bait, which is not considered by the great majority of hunters nor the public to be fair-chase hunting. In the Delta zone of the state, the majority of hunters opposed shooting deer over bait with the primary reason for their opposition being that it was not fair-chase or sportsmanlike.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has proposed the removal of the “line of sight” prohibition from the Wildlife Supplemental Feeding Rule, which would essentially allow deer to be harvested while eating supplemental feed or bait. However, research has shown that baiting can lead to higher instances of disease transmission among wildlife and domestic animals due to increased concentrations of animals in a given space.
Supplemental feeding has been shown to disrupt wildlife movement patterns and can lead to wildlife becoming dependent on supplemental feed to survive. To provide input on the proposed regulatory change, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The future of responsible hunting, wildlife conservation and the sustainability of wild things and wild places for all Americans is a heritage worth striving for. Those who appreciate fair-chase hunting have a responsibility to serve as mentors to help future conservationists learn to appreciate the diverse values of hunting. What we leave behind as evidence of our stewardship -- good or bad -- will be our legacy to future generations.
Contact: Dr. Jim Miller, 662-325-2619
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.