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Male Narrator: Only a few people have the opportunity to be a hunter. If hunting is to continue, those of us who hunt must respect the animals we pursue, obey the law, and honor our own feelings and those of a lot of other people who also value wildlife. In other words, we must become ethical hunters.

With each generation, our world becomes a more civilized place. And yet, all across North America, there are still special places of wonder, mystery, and excitement, places where a rich outdoor heritage prospers. It is a heritage of wildness that can come in any size, at times no more than a brushy island or a tangled edge.

In other places, it rolls on so far it stretches both the eye and the imagination. At times the wild land runs deep in massive mountains or remains hidden in the still shadows of the silent forest. Often, the wild place is the soggy ground, wetlands, marshes, or swamps.

These open spaces and pockets of wild ground are often found where agricultural crops, trees, and domestic livestock are grown. What these places large and small have in common is that they are all alive. They are alive with the promise of pheasants that explode from the edges of corn and wheat, antelope that dance across a carpet of grass and sage, and mountain goats, celebrating life perched between earth, sky, and the edge of oblivion.

These are lands alive with white-tailed deer, and turkeys that slip like shadows through heavy cover, and elk that bugle their challenge across frosty meadows in the gray light before dawn.

It is a land alive, alive with ducks and geese spreading their wings across an entire continent. Ours is a good land. And the wild things that celebrate this life with us belong to all the people in North America. In one way or another, all of us must care for and find ways to share these natural wonders.

Today, many people return to nature as visitors or choose to observe and appreciate these wonders of creation from a distance. Some of us, however, will enjoy the exceptional privilege of returning to nature as hunters.

Hunter 1: Can you see? Can you see right there? There's a deer.

Hunter 2: Where?

Hunter 1: Look, right there.

Male Narrator: We will choose the opportunity to become an active part of the natural world, the opportunity to once again become a part of and belong to the world of the hunter and the hunted. As hunters, we will be members of a small community of people that will hunt and at times harvest game animals.

Hunter 2: [Fires his rifle] Got him.

Male Narrator: Because wildlife belongs to all people, we must conduct ourselves in a way that will meet high ethical standards if we are to keep the privilege to hunt.

Female Narrator: What is an ethic, and why is it important? Simply put, an ethic is how we behave. An ethical hunter is a person who knows and respects the animals hunted, follows the law, and behaves in a way that will satisfy what society expects of him or her as a hunter.

Society's expectations go beyond obeying game laws and regulations. There are three things every hunter must learn and remember as the basis for developing a strong personal hunting ethic. First, as hunters, we must respect the animals we hunt and extend that respect to all animals. Second, we must understand and appreciate how we gain the opportunity to be hunters. Third, we must accept responsibility for the animals we hunt, pursue them fairly, and protect the land and water they need to live.

The animals we hunt are the result of a process of selection as old as life on Earth. They are the survivors. They are both the survivors of the chase and the victors of the pursuit. The hunters and the hunted, a constant competition and testing. Only the fit survive as they develop the attributes of survival-- speed, strength, cunning, or just trying to disappear. After millions of years of testing and improving, every wild animal should be appreciated as a precious gift. Each has earned the right to expect our respect.

Many animals have been associated with human hunters for as long as there have been humans. In modern times, we have come to depend upon domestic animals. When we did this, however, we also did a very interesting thing with the wild animals. We kept an association with the wild animals that had been so critical for so long to our own survival. That happened in North America when our forefathers put an end to market killing of wildlife and began the conservation of wildlife.

We made those animals that were so important to us game animals. Today, these animals are our connection to the natural world. When we kill and eat them, they nourish us and become in every way a part of us. Through our hunting, we renew our own connections with nature. We become once again a part of the natural process.

Hunter 3: Just get my saw.

Hunter 4: Do you want to get my saw or...

Female Narrator: These animals are not targets. They are not just something to shoot at. They are animals that share the Earth with us, and as hunters, we will share our life with them. The natural process that produced us also produced them. Respect those natural processes, and respect what they produced.

Roosevelt Narrator: Many of us are born with a desire to be a hunter, to go afield in pursuit of a portion of our nourishment, to participate in the natural world as a part of that world. In our world today, only a few people have the opportunity to be a hunter. This privilege is ours because of what many special people have done. To retain the privilege of hunting, we should know why we have this opportunity, and we should accept a personal responsibility to keep it.

So it was that the opportunity to hunt came from two sources, one, the founders of our nation who won our basic rights and liberties, the other, the conservationists who restored and protected wildlife for all the people equally. One prominent conservationist was President Theodore Roosevelt, who set the tone for the restoration of wildlife when he said, “Above all else, we should realize that the effort towards this end is essentially a democratic movement. It is in our power to preserve large tracts of wilderness, and to preserve game for all lovers of nature, and to give reasonable opportunities for the exercise of the skill of the hunter, whether he is or is not a man of means.”

Theodore Roosevelt said these things in 1905. When he said them, there were less than 500,000 white-tailed deer in all of North America. Today, 27 million are a part of our forests, our fields, and our lives. Elk had dwindled to 41,000. Now 900,000 occupy American wildlands and the dreams of hunters everywhere.

Wild turkey were nearly extinct. Now over 4 million call to us from wood lots, forest edges, and deep oak thickets. Antelope had faded to less than 10,000. Now more than a million grace the North American plains.

Appreciate these gifts. They come to us from three generations of wonderful, generous, and industrious people. They were people who cared about the future generations of hunters, and you are those hunters.

Basic to a hunter's responsibility is caring for the land. The land that produces wildlife is the same good Earth that sustains humanity. The hunters of North America have been leaders in the protection of game ranges, wood lots, and wetlands. Accepting these responsibilities as a major part of being an ethical hunter.

Female Narrator: There is more to being a hunter than just going afield in pursuit of a game animal. Being a complete and ethical hunter means respecting the animals we hunt, the land, and all its life. It means appreciating how precious the opportunity to hunt is. It means accepting responsibility for the game and the land that gives life to us all.

Roosevelt Narrator: These things expected of today's ethical hunters are not new. When wildlife almost disappeared, it was the hunter of the High Plains who brought the grace and beauty of the antelope back to the sage and grassland. It was the hunter who filled the spring woods with the call of the gobble, the thicket with the flash of the white-tailed deer. And it was the hunter that returned the challenge of the elk to the high country.

Male Narrator: This is the North American hunting ethic. Being an ethical hunter means being aware of these things. Being an ethical hunter means respecting the animals you hunt and the land that produces them. It means developing an appreciation for the precious opportunity hunting represents. It means accepting a responsibility for the animals, the land, and the future of hunting.

The North American hunting heritage is a proud and beautiful thing. Every hunter, every generation of hunters adds to that heritage and strengthens the tradition. You are now part of the tradition. And in your time, you shall pass it on.

Courtesy of Orion—The Hunters’ Institute, The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks
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