Those who are successful in life are generally those who set standards for themselves. They decide what kind of person they want to be, and they strive to become that person in every facet of their lives. If they are a craftsman, they take great pride in their craft, learn the needed skills, and use the right tools. If they are in a professional occupation, they pretty much do the exact same things, only the skills and tools are different. What is the same is the passion, and the same concept applies to hunting.
I don’t think you would be reading this if you didn’t have the passion for hunting and the outdoors, and it doesn’t have to be an obsessive passion, but one that drives you to do the best you can do in the field. That doesn’t always mean killing the biggest bull, or sometimes even killing anything at all. For me, I enjoy the experience as much as the harvest. In fact some of my best hunts were ones when I didn’t get an animal, but I know I gave my best effort, and I had a great time, that is one of my standards; I don’t consider a hunt to be a failure if I don’t bring back an animal as long as I know I gave my best effort.
On one particular archery elk hunt I was by myself in mid-September in the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness area in Colorado. I was seeing lots of elk, but couldn’t get close enough for a shot, but I was having a great time. I camped at night in a forester tent I made out of a tarp and three lodge pole pine trees, I cooked over an open fire, I lived with the elements, including some pretty nasty thunder and lightning storms. It was a dream elk hunt for me, alone in the wilderness. There is more to write about that story at another time, but my point is I was content because I, like most hunters, do it for the love of the hunt.
I think it is important that we as hunters set some standards for ourselves, the first being respect for the animals you pursue. Any ethical hunter cares more about the well-being of the animals they hunt than the desire to kill one. Unlike a lot of people think, hunters are not blood thirsty killers out to get a nice rack of antlers or a pelt, and unless we do our part to change that perception, we risk losing the privilege to hunt at all, especially with all that is going on with gun-control efforts these days.
But what does it mean to have respect for the animals you hunt? First of all it means learning about the animals, their habits and habitat, so that we can understand them well enough to hunt them. By simply learning about wild animals you can’t help but respect them, especially when you understand what a struggle it is for them simply to survive. From that you develop interests about protecting them and their habitat, and this is exactly the formula that has resulted in the largest numbers of game animals in North America for over a hundred years, while our human population has continued to explode.
Secondly, you prepare yourself, in many ways. Once you have the knowledge to hunt, you build on that with the skills to hunt, the maturity to be safe, and the judgment to only take a shot that will end in a merciful death. You condition yourself physically so that you are able to hunt in rough terrain and grueling weather. You practice with your weapon so you know your limitations. And when the time comes to pull the trigger or release the arrow, you only do so when you are confident of the shot, no matter how big the animal is or how much you want to take it. Those are standards that make us ethical hunters.
Finally, and most importantly in my opinion, is that we have to teach these standards to the generations below us. I talked about this in a post last week about the future of our outdoors (click here for that story). If we aren’t doing our part to pass on our knowledge, our values, and our skills to the younger generations, then who will? It is important that we all realize the magnitude of what that could mean.