Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Heat, holes, and fair chase

I have been thinking a lot about what constitutes "fair chase" when it comes to hunting.
Jim Posewitz, a leading authority on hunting ethics and author of the book Beyond Fair Chase , describes fair chase as “a balance that allows hunters to occasionally succeed while animals generally avoid being taken.”

The anti hunting lobby would attempt to lead one to believe that hunters are the ones that hold all the cards. The little deer, the turkey, or the squirrel, really has no chance against a hunter's high powered arsenal. So when a hunter chooses to hunt, his prey has no chance.

If that were the case, why do we spend so much time and money on hunting? If you believe the antis, it only takes a hunter walking into the woods for an animal to be as good as dead. If that were the case, we would only need to sharpen a stick and we would be good to go. Instead, hunters spend dollar after dollar trying to tip the scales of fair chase in their favor.

I was poking around some numbers and came up with how much we spend on hunting. I found these older numbers, but they will give you an idea of what kind of money I'm talking about.

Over 82 million U.S. residents 16 years old and older fished, hunted, or wildlife watched in 2001. During that year, 34.1 million people fished, 13.0 million hunted, and 66.1 million participated in at least one type of wildlife-watching activity including observing, feeding, or photographing wildlife.

Wildlife recreationists' avidity was reflected in their spending which totaled $108 billion in 2001. This amounted to 1.1% of the GDP. Of the total amount spent, $28 billion was for trips, $64 billion for equipment, and $16 billion for other items.

Did you read that? $108 billion, with a B. And still hunters regularly come home from their hunts empty handed. We look for that product or service that can level the playing field and create a truly fair chase. New guns, new guides, deer pee to rub on ourselves are all things that might be the ticket to help us to become more successful hunters. So we spend our time and our dollars.

By definition, hunting is the pursuit of a wild animal with the intent to capture or kill. Pursuit, the actual chase, precedes the kill; without it, hunting is merely killing. The chase, then, authenticates the hunt and, in turn, the kill puts an end to the chase.

Understood this way, hunting, particularly sport hunting, is about how we, as hunters, engage in the activity—the chase—leading up to the kill. Without restrictions on how we pursue game, the “hunt” loses meaning, ceases to exist. So the question remains, what is a fair chase?

So I got skunked today and that is what got me into this mode of thinking. We chased a ton of
squirrels, but we were hunting in a mature forest with lots of holes and high heat. The cover is still heavy and poison ivy vines thicker than my arm climb the trees. The squirrels have a million escape routes.

If nothing else, hunting with hawks teaches someone to appreciate the quarry. The squirrels we chased today knew every nook and cranny of their territory. They knew where the holes were, where the cover was, as well as how to get there quickly.

I estimate that, on average, for every squirrel we catch, two or three get away. Today that estimate was out the window. We chased a dozen; up and down trees, across the canopy, through the swamps, and on the ground, we couldn't touch any of them. So was that a fair chase?

Even though I have tried to stack the odds in my favor (I use two hawks instead of just one), we never had a chance today.

Tomorrow may be different. We are expecting three days of high winds to get the leaves off the trees. maybe then the chase may be more fair, maybe then we, the hunters, will have a better chance of catching something.

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