Yesterday I did something that I have never done before as a deer hunter. I hauled several 250-gallon totes of water and emptied them into the last remaining waterhole in the creek that runs through one of my hunting properties. This year’s drought in my local area has this creek drier than in was during the drought of 2012.
I have been keeping an eye on this last remaining source of water for the wildlife in this area for several weeks. I even recently put a trail camera on this waterhole and in just 3 days got over 3700 photos of every species of wildlife that inhabits this area. Think about that for a second, that’s over 1200 photos a day of wildlife converging on a water-source about the size of a pickup truck. With each passing day the size of the waterhole has slowly dwindled to the point where I finally decided that I couldn’t wait for rain any longer. Thus I decided to haul water to it for the wildlife.
As I stood and waited for the water to empty from the totes I had hauled in, I couldn’t help but look in amazement at all the animal tracks in the mud at the water’s edge. Soon my hunters mind-set kicked in and I started looking for a nearby tree to place a stand. Less than 20 yards away stood an evergreen that would easily hide a bowhunter waiting in a stand. I looked it over closely and was deciding which direction my stand should face and what wind direction would be best for hunting it when I started having second thoughts.
The needle on my moral compass started spinning. Placing a stand right over this water source would be perfectly legal but for some reason I just didn’t feel right about it. Here I was providing life-sustaining water to the local wildlife at a location where they were already accustomed to finding it. Was I providing this water as a good conservationist and steward or was I simply looking to draw in deer close to my treestand so that I could shoot them? Within a couple of minutes I gave up on the idea of hunting over the waterhole. Some of you reading this will understand exactly what I felt and what I am saying while sadly the majority will never “get it”.
Hunting ethics is a subject that most in the hunting industry will not touch. The idea that “if it’s legal, it’s OK” is the standard that most hunters follow. That is their choice and it is not my place to pass judgment and dismiss this approach; however there are those who take things a bit further. Some hunters simply have moral and ethical values that go beyond what the law allows. That does not make them better than those hunters who simply use legality as the basis for their actions, it just makes them different.
I have given some thought as to how I would define “hunting ethics” and here is the best I could come up with – Hunting ethics are those moral guidelines that a hunter follows regardless of the law or who may or may not be watching. It really comes down to what a hunter views as right and wrong in his own eyes. Furthermore, ethics vary from hunter to hunter. What may be viewed as legal and OK to one hunter may be seen as legal but wrong to another.
Without exception, the very best whitetail hunters I have ever met were also the most ethical. Their personal hunting ethics went far beyond what the law deemed as legal and OK. It is as if their own strict moral compassed forced them to become better hunters if they were ever to fill their tags.
My goal here is not to force my hunting ethics on anyone or to be judgmental in any way. Instead I hope to get you as hunter to think about just where it is that you draw the line as you chase that giant buck this season. Will your guidelines be created by the politicians that make game laws or by your own conscience? It is a question that only you can answer.
In closing, I will be the first to admit that hunting over a waterhole on a hot early autumn day is probably not much different than hunting over the only soybean food-plot around on a cold winter day; something that I have done many times. In fact, at another time and place I may be perfectly comfortable hunting over a waterhole similar to the one I chose to walk away from yesterday. I just know that the older I get, “HOW” I accomplish something is even more important than what it is I accomplish.