During the 19th century, many game animals were hunted nearly into extinction. Hunting laws were passed to:
- Ensure the availability of game for future generations.
- Establish hunting seasons to limit harvesting and avoid hunting during nesting and mating seasons.
- Limit hunting methods and equipment.
- Set “bag” limits. Establish check stations and game tag requirements.
- Define the rules of fair chase.
Responsible hunters welcome laws that enforce sportsmanlike hunting practices because the behavior of irresponsible hunters has caused some people to oppose hunting.
Ethics are moral principles or values that distinguish between right and wrong. Ethical behavior ensures that hunters are welcome and hunting areas stay open. Aldo Leopold, the “father of wildlife management,” once said, “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching—even when doing the wrong thing is legal.”
Most hunting organizations agree that responsible hunters:
- Respect natural resources by leaving the land better than they found it; adhering to fair chase rules; striving for a quick, clean kill; and abiding by game laws and regulations.
- Respect other hunters by following safe firearm handling practices and avoiding alcohol before and during a hunt.
Responsible hunters also:
- Respect landowners by asking for permission to hunt well ahead of the hunting season, treating livestock and crops as their own, and leaving all gates the way they find them.
- Respect non-hunters by not displaying animals they’ve harvested, keeping firearms out of sight, and not wearing bloody or dirty clothing.
Hunters typically pass through five distinct stages of development.
- Shooting stage: The priority is getting off a shot, rather than patiently waiting for a good shot.
- Limiting-out stage: Success is determined by bagging the limit.
- Trophy stage: The hunter is selective and judges success by quality rather than quantity.
- Method stage: The process of hunting becomes the focus.
- Sportsman stage: This is the most responsible and ethical stage where success is measured by the total experience.
Part of the process of becoming a true, responsible sportsman is becoming involved in efforts to make hunting a respected sport. That includes teaching proper knowledge and skills to others, working with landowners, cooperating with wildlife officials, and joining conservation organizations.