Developing a sustainable lifestyle and eating truly organic, “farm-to-table” food is a rising trend all across the country. Whether people are actively trying to protect the environment or be more aware of where their own food comes from, these new hunters all know that they must cultivate their skills of growing and harvesting their own food in a correct and ethical manner in order to survive. As a result, many non-hunters have turned to hunting as their source for organic meat.

The fundamentals of ethical hunting are the backbone of a sustainable lifestyle and the key to a truly organic meat source. They can be categorized as: preparation, respect, conservation and fair chase, or simply, The Hunter’s Code. For every hunter, old or new, the day will come when their loyalty to The Hunter’s Code is tested. If, and only if, the hunter passes this “test” can they then consider themselves a true and ethical hunter.

The Fundamentals of the Hunt

A prepared hunter knows which firearm to use for different types of game and always brings the necessary equipment needed to complete the harvest. They regularly practice their marksmanship to ensure a clean shot and always exercise safety when handling and maintaining their firearm or bow. A respectful hunter uses the whole animal, whenever possible, and is considerate and clean when field dressing an animal near public roads or private property. They let an opportunity pass if a fatal or safe shot cannot be made. A responsible hunter follows the laws and regulations of the area in which they are hunting, and always maintains a sense of mutual respect for other hunters and landowners.

Sustainability goes hand in hand with conservation. Hunters who abide by conservation best practices play an integral part in maintaining the health of a herd or species and ensuring their survival. Those who do not abide the laws and poach animals out of season, without a tag or on private property without permission, are violating both the law and the unspoken code of conduct that requires hunters to hold themselves to a high standard of morality when harvesting game for their freezer. Without the constant presence of onlookers and game wardens, “fair chase” often becomes a test of morality and ethics as hunters try to stay true to The Hunter’s Code.

The Ethical Option

To hunt, process and cook your own meat is no walk in the park, and not everyone will be able to stomach the process of killing or cleaning wild game, but by cutting out the middle man you can ensure that the food on your plate was obtained ethically and is truly 100 percent organic. Factory-farming is notoriously cruel. Considering the treatment of livestock, it’s no surprise that correct and ethical hunting is often considered the perfect source for organic, free-range meat.

Sustainability on a Larger Scale

From a sustainability standpoint, hunting is a much more cost-effective option as a household meat source. When compared side by side, the cost to feed a family of three for one year (in accordance with the FDA’s required amount of protein intake) with store-bought meat is more than twice as expensive as hunting and harvesting your own meat. Fishing and hunting require an initial purchase of firearms and gear, but with proper maintenance and the purchase of yearly tags, the cost is next to nothing compared to store-bought, factory-farmed meat.

Plenty of hunters will plan their hunts in advance to make them as cost effective as possible. Consider stocking up on gear during big holiday sales or try to choose a more inexpensive option of certain products, like rimfire ammunition over a more expensive bullet with more recoil. The key to sustainability is ensuring the longevity of a resource. This not only means pursuing the most cost effective route for your own means but also actively contributing to the continued existence of a species, learning lifelong skills that provide sustenance and having a heightened respect for yourself, the world you live in and the animals that thrive off of it.

Are you a “localvore” hunter who hunts because of concern about food supply? Tell us your story!

Montana hunter education instructor Randy Allen has been an instructor for 15 years, and now he always shares this story. He says, “This is something that happened to me and my son last year that I now tell my classes about as a part of my ethics section.”


This is how I was raised to treat other people when in the outdoors. It is not about what I did—I am not tooting my own horn—but it is about the reciprocation of a kind of respectful action. Let’s face it, we have all done something right at one time or another only to have the other person ignore or disregard your kind act. The mutual respect for one another is the best thing to remember.

One September afternoon, my son and I decided to ride our motorbikes.  We like to ride dirt roads to see what we can see so I usually choose an out-of-the-way place.  One such place for us was way up Lolo Creek off the highway. We had been there in the spring and summer with hardly anyone else around.  Now this was September, when it is bow, grouse and wood season, so I half-expected for other people be around.

I like to park is down an old, unused road that crosses this neat little stream and just beyond that a short distance is a landing from an old logging operation where I usually unload the bikes.  As I pulled down there, I noticed a Jeep parked along the trail, with a shotgun-toting lady and her dog walking down the road just about at the stream.  I didn’t think much of it as in my mind, person + gun + dog = heading up or down the creek to hunt grouse, and I was only going about another 100 yards or so to park.

Well, just then a truck slowly came down the road with a load of wood on.  I pulled in behind the Jeep to let him go by; he passes her and goes by me.  I start back down the road toward the lady and her dog, and when she sees me her shoulders just drop like she is bummed, thinking, “too much traffic.”  

Seeing this, I quickly deduce that she wants to hunt up this little road instead of the creek, but she has given up and turned back to her Jeep.  I pull up alongside of her as she walks back and quickly explain that I didn’t want to mess up her hunt. I told her I had intended to only go a short ways further to unload the bikes, but since she was hunting, I would back up and go park behind her.  We would then unload the bikes and go riding, but in the opposite direction.  Her surprise and happiness at this turn of events was obvious and a heartfelt se gave me a heartfelt “thank you!”  We parted and my son and I went for a ride.

A couple of times during the ride, I thought about her, wondering if she got anything and hoping she did.  When we got back to the truck, she was gone, so we rode up where she had hunted just to look around.  I hadn’t been that direction before and it was a very pretty area, perfect for grouse. 

We rode back to the truck and loaded up.  When I got in behind the wheel and looked out the windshield, I saw something under my wiper blade.  It was a tail feather from a ruffed grouse.  I thought, “All right, she did get one.”  Then I showed it to my son, and I said, “see son, this is how it should be. She appreciated what we did for her so much that this is her way of saying thank you and ‘I got one.'”  What a great day that was!

Hunter education instructor Randy Allen with his son and the grouse feather they received as a gift.

Hunter education instructor Randy Allen with his son and the grouse feather they received as a gift.


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This is a story from Montana Hunter Education instructor Bill Smith. He is a relatively new instructor, having joined in spring 2016, but brings a great deal of enthusiasm to his classroom. This is his story.


I became an apprentice Montana Hunter Education Instructor in the spring of 2016.  I’ve enjoyed observing the passion of my fellow instructors, and the enthusiasm of the students beginning their journey as hunters and conservationists.  I’m always very interested in why the students, young and old, are interested in becoming Montana hunters.  The 2015 season repeatedly exemplified how unique hunting in Montana is, and reinforced why I hunt.

Filling the Moose License

As I normally do, I applied for every species and every license Montana has to offer.  In poring over the draw odds for each species, I noticed an area near my home offered a higher success rate for moose than the area I normally put in.  In fact, the area offered nearly three times the odds of my traditional application area!  

I was tired of accumulating bonus points.  Out of frustration, and after a little research, I applied for the new area.  When the draw results came out in June,  there it was—I had drawn the moose license!

I did my homework, and travelled to the hunting area every time I had days off from work.  I was surprised how dense the forests were.  I found moose sign every trip, but never saw a moose.  I was confident, though, that my opportunity would come, so long as I continued to put forth the effort.

My brother, Dan, joined me in moose camp during the opening week.  We continued to see moose sign, and the first night we had a bull come in to the sound of me raking brush with a scapula.  We exchanged grunts back and forth.  The bull closed in to approximately 50 yards, but remained out of sight due to the dense forest.  As daylight faded on that first night, the bull walked away without ever revealing himself. 

A couple days later, Dan and I picked up my 11-year-old son, Andrew.  I can’t express how much I enjoy hunting with my son.  

The three of us continued the hunt the next day, and again found fresh moose sign.  We decided for the evening hunt we would return to the area where the bull moose had responded to me raking the brush. 

As we closed in, I spotted a moose on the hillside.  It was a smaller bull than I was hoping for, but it was a moose.  The three of us watched the bull, who was with a cow, for a considerable time.  I could tell by the look on Andrew’s face that he would love for me to take this bull.  I had to take Andrew home the next morning, and he would be in school as I continued to hunt. 

I may never be able to articulate the significance of having my son with me when I filled this tag. After seeing the excitement on his face, and hearing it in his voice, I pulled the trigger, and with one shot the moose license I had waited so long for was filled.


bob-smith-with-son-buckHunter Apprenticeship

A nasty cold was having its impact on our family, and kept me from hunting for weeks.  I did manage to get out about 10 days after the moose hunt, and filled my 2015 bear license on a big black bear.  I got out for a couple half days of bowhunting for elk, but I just didn’t have the energy to give it an honest effort.  

With the enactment of the hunter apprentice program in Montana, Andrew was able to pursue a deer of his own.  Montana sets aside two days a week before the opening of the general rifle season for youth to hunt without the added pressure of the general season hunters. Andrew and I were able to take advantage of this opportunity by camping out both days; he filled his license on a buck the morning of the second day.

I was very proud of him, as he made many competent decisions on his own that reinforced my faith that he has been listening and learning through the years, and that he is committed to being a responsible, ethical sportsman.


Surprise Buck

With the hours spent on the moose hunt, Andrew’s hunt, and work, I really had no time to scout for the upcoming rifle season for deer and elk.  I was at a loss as to where to begin when opening day rolled around.  Traditionally, Dan and I hunt a specific area opening day.  After that, where I hunt largely depends on the clues I notice about big game activity and how they are using their respective environments.  I decided this year I would just have to put forth extra effort and learn as I went.

I hunted the season opener, and then took the second day off.  I returned to work for two days, and then had scheduled days off.  Early in the season, the days are long.  I decided I would hunt 3 different areas that first day off, in an effort to cover as much ground as possible, in hope that I could figure some things out.  Two of the hunting areas were close together, which saved me some time.  It didn’t save me any effort, though, as I hiked in and out of both areas, gaining elevation just to give it up to get back to my truck and on to the next area.

When I arrived at the third hunting spot, I figured I was about 30 minutes earlier than I wanted to be.  I was exhausted, and my legs hurt from the earlier hikes.  I wanted to take a nap in my truck, but knew I’d be even less motivated for an evening hunt if I did.  After nodding off several times and some soul searching, I reluctantly left the warm truck for the final hunt of the day.

As I worked my way into the hunting area, I checked the wind and my watch several times, forming a strategy on how to pick the area apart and give myself the best chance at success.  It was still early, and I really wasn’t expecting to see much yet. 

About a mile in, I saw a buck standing at the end of an old skid trail.  The buck’s body was partially hidden by a small pine tree.  He was standing broadside to me, motionless.  I’m still not sure what he was doing.  I glassed what I could see of his antlers, and noticed his main beams extended past his nose.  I noticed he had good mass, and at least average tine length.  Because of this, I thought he was a big 4 point and was intent on passing him up.  I watched him for at least 10 minutes.  Finally, he turned his head away from me briefly, and I saw what I couldn’t see before; he had 3 points coming off the main beam, which would make him a 5 point. This buck had an inside spread of 20 inches and good mass at the bases.bob-smith-buck

The decision to shoot was easy.  Walking up to the buck afterwards, I noticed he was a 5 point with extra points off both bases, and a small extra point between his left G2 and G3.  This buck had all kinds of character.  I actually had cellphone coverage, and quickly texted my brother a photo.  I also texted my wife, my mom, and a couple of friends.  After that, I walked out to get my game cart, then went back in to get the buck.  Somehow, this fourth hike of the day was easier than the other three!


Respect for the Hunt

I don’t use social media accounts, but gave my wife the go ahead to post a photo of the buck on hers.  We did receive one response from a friend who respectfully expressed opposition to hunting.  I truly respect her courage to do so, and her views.  Still, I wish people could see the respect hunters have for the game they pursue, and the amount of time and effort that goes into a hunt.  I wish they could experience the long hours after the shot getting the animal out and processed for the freezer.  Somehow, I think a good number of us hunters would earn a fair amount of respect if our opposition could see what they don’t see.

This year was special in a number of ways, and reinforced the passion I have for big game hunting and the respect I have for the many big game animals that call Montana home.  My wife, kids, family and friends all supported me and made sacrifices so that I could enjoy another memorable hunting season.  Once again, I am truly grateful.


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Ed Beall has been a Montana bowhunter education instructor for 5 years, and owns Capital Sports, an outdoor sporting goods store. Though he is a life-long hunter, there was one hunt he’ll never forget: when he was nearly a mountain lion’s prey!

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I have enjoyed instructing bowhunter education for the last 5 years. Actually, I am surprised that it has been that long…it feels like I just started! The great thing about teaching is being around folks, young and old, who have an interest in hunting with archery equipment and the challenges and opportunities that come with the experience.

One of the experiences that I share in the class is about dealing with the top-tier predators that we have here in western Montana. We teach about “being bear aware.” We do this because grizzly bears have expanded back into more of our state—the whole western half and most of the southern area is known grizzly habitat. So, we teach students to recognize bear signs, defensive bears compared to predatory bears, and their characteristics. We teach them to carry and use bear spray.

When we bowhunt in Montana, we may forget that there are top-tier predators in this wonderful wild place we hunt. When we are crawling and calling, we expect to hear and see our prey. One fresh September day, I was alone, honing in on a herd of elk that had answered my calls in the dim pre-dawn light.  I felt the hair on the back of my neck creepily standing up! I was on one knee, looking at elk moving through the timber about 60 yards out. I craned my neck somewhat to the right and backwards and was shocked to see a mountain lion staring at me….a mere 30 feet away!

mountain lion on trail camera

30 feet you say? Yes, 30 feet …I know exactly because that is about as far as bear spray goes!

With the spray and the sound of the can going off, the cat ran back to what I think was more than 30 yards. Yeah! But it did not leave. There was a crosswind when I sprayed, and the spray appeared to barely reach the lion.

My next thought was that we teach hunters to look big to try to frighten a mountain lion off, so I tried that. I opened the zipper on my coat, stood up, and while trying to make myself look “big” by holding out both sides of my coat, I yelled “get out of here” at the mountain lion. I hoped I would shoo him away, but NO! Instead, it got in that slinking low cat crouch and “grwoowohled” at me!

I pulled out my Glock .40 and fired two rounds toward the cat. THAT DID IT! Off it went, to never be seen by this weak-kneed bowhunter again.

The point is, while bowhunting in Montana, ALWAYS be aware of what’s around you: look for sign, carry bear spray, maybe even carry a sidearm. Make sure you remember the possibility that something other than an elk may come in to your cow call. Think and practice how you should react if you are cornered by a predator. And maybe, just maybe—hunt with a partner! Your wife will be happier.

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Hunter Ed Instructor Ed Beall with elk

Montana bowhunter education instructor Ed Beall

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Do You Have a Hunting Safety Story You’d Like to Share?

Send your best hunting story, tips, and tricks to [email protected] to share your experience with hunters nationwide!