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Moments of Choice

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

The deer hunter quietly pulled away from his hunting spot and onto the roadway. Down just a few hundred yards, the gravel road gently curved next to a hayfield. There stood the buck of a lifetime within easy range.

As the hunter braked to a stop his mind raced, "Should I shoot him? Whose land is this? Yes, shooting hours are still open, but you can't shoot from the road."

When his foot slipped off the brake he thought, "Another day, big guy, another day." He drove away feeling good about doing the right thing and looking forward to tomorrow's hunt - the legal and ethical way.

Hunting and fishing ethics are often decided on the spot, in a split second, or as a Moment of Choice. What are ethics?

Ethic: the discipline dealing with what's good or bad or the principles of conduct governing someone or a group. An ethic is how you behave based on your personal values.

Ethics can be simple decisions, such as making sure to pattern your shotgun or sight in your rifle before you hunt or taking proper care of harvested game. They can also be complex decisions filled with high drama and intense human emotion that can end in a life or death situation. Ethics are often shared by people within the same geographical area of Missouri.

Who judges your outdoor behavior? Sometimes family members or a partner, occasionally the public, but most often it's simply you. The true test of character is what one does when no one is watching.

Aldo Leopold wrote a passage more than half a century ago that still embodies a sports person's ethical code. "A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than a mob of onlookers. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact." Men and women who hunt and fish must face themselves and their outdoor conduct on a personal level.

Ethics are unique to a person and should be a constantly changing set of personal beliefs. As we continue to learn and appreciate our natural resources, this set of personal beliefs evolves into higher standards. These higher standards increase our respect for the natural world. Your code of ethics should allow you to have high self esteem and earn the respect of others in the outdoors.

Whether you're hunting, fishing or using the outdoors in some other manner, there are always variables and elements that you can't control. Weather, wildlife and fish movements and many other events are out of your control. However, one thing that you can control is your personal behavior. Unethical behavior by one person can ruin an outdoor experience for others and give hunters or anglers as a whole a bad reputation. The continued existence of hunting and fishing may rest on our collective outdoor ethical behavior.

Join me in a series of resource related situations to test your outdoor ethics. All of the questions involve common field situations where you are required to make a decision on the spot. As you read the following moments of choice (MOC), answer honestly, reflect inwardly and dedicate yourself to high ethical standards in all future outdoor endeavors.

The rooster pheasant is trying to sneak away down a harvested corn row. He stops, thinking he is well hidden despite his gaudy colors. The season is open and he is well within range for your shotgun. In Missouri it's not against the law to shoot pheasants on the ground. Should you shoot?

One of the basic ethical codes for hunting upland game birds is to flush them into the air before shooting. Shooting birds on the ground or even low flying birds can be dangerous for other members of your party or dogs that are working the birds.

Just a week ago your friend took you to a farm pond that had good fishing and she caught a 5-pound bass, which she promptly released after weighing it. You noticed she was protective of the pond's location and assured the landowner that you would respect his property. You've got the Sunday off and think you can talk the landowner into letting you fish. Should you go without your friend?

No. Good hunting and fishing spots often are hard to find and important to individuals. You were a guest of your friend the first time, so don't jeopardize your friendship or future fishing opportunities. The landowner may limit the number of people fishing the pond or not want extra anglers. Find your own spots and reciprocate by taking your friend to one of your best hunting and fishing areas.

It's slightly before shooting hours, and the wild turkey has been gobbling nonstop for several minutes. As you near the bird, you see and hear another turkey hunter setting up on the bird. You are excited, and you want to call the bird. What should you do?

It may be hard, but walk away. Leave the bird to the hunter who arrived ahead of you. Infringing on another turkey hunter is unethical and unsafe. Good basic manners in the outdoors are a cornerstone of many ethical decisions.

The doe is only 20 yards away and an easy shot. You don't have an any deer permit this year, but your son has an any-deer permit. In fact, his permit is in your pocket. Both of you had hunted opening weekend without success, and your son is in school today. The doe won't be here long; she is already taking a step or two. You could easily shoot her and tag her with your son's tag. Who would know? Should you shoot?

No. The two people who would definitely know are you and your son. Not only would shooting the doe deer be unethical and illegal but imagine what your actions are saying to your son. It's disheartening when a father lies and cheats by killing his son's deer and ruining the youngster's hunting experience. To promote quality outdoor experiences and train young hunters and anglers, we must set and practice high ethical standards.

The dog is on point along the fence row. You step in to flush the birds, and a large bunch of quail thunder up in a heart-stopping covey rise. You pick out one bird and a good shot drops it. As the dog retrieves the quail, you notice the rest of the covey flies south about 300 yards onto another person's property. The land is not posted and you don't have permission to hunt there, but the birds are so close. You saw them land, and the dog is working so well. Should you try to reflush the quail?

No. Respecting other people's property is one of the foundations of good ethical behavior. Trespass is an "absolute liability situation," which means anytime you are on someone else's property without their permission, it's classified as trespass. In Missouri, land does not have to be posted in order for people to be held liable for trespassing.

No spring bird has ever gobbled this much for you. He's appeared almost magically twice, then disappeared behind some brush. Why doesn't he just come those last few yards? You are convinced he can hear your loud breathing and pounding heart. The turkey gobbles closer, then you hear another gobble to the side. Your excitement level soars. Can there be two birds?

Finally you sense a movement over by the big oak, you slowly inch the gun around, your finger on the trigger. Steady now, there's the movement again, well within range. Should you shoot?

Never take a shot until you've positively identified that movement as a bearded turkey. The prime factor in most turkey hunting accidents is "the victim is mistaken for game." Always be sure of your target before pulling the trigger. A safe, ethical hunter will pass up unsure shots and wait for a safe, clear target before considering a shot. Don't make a tragic mistake you will have to live with the rest of your life.

You are preseason deer scouting when you top a small rise in a gravel road. Up ahead you see a pickup truck stopped in the road with a gun barrel sticking out the window. You notice a small group of deer in the adjoining field. There's a loud shot and a deer goes down. The pickup pulls over to the edge of the road. What should you do?

Report the violation as soon as possible. It's both your duty and responsibility to report wildlife violations. Timely, factual reporting is important in apprehending wildlife violators. Do not contact the violators. Try to get as much information as possible, including the license plate number, color and make of the vehicle, the number of people involved, physical descriptions, time of day and any other helpful information. You may report the violation directly to a conservation agent, call a Conservation Department office or contact Operation Game Thief at 1-800-392-1111.

Using our outdoor resources is a privilege. With every privilege comes a responsibility to make the right decision. Unethical behavior is not always illegal behavior, and just because something is legal doesn't mean it's ethical. Learn and be aware of the unwritten law of sportsmanship. Do things because they are right, decent and respectful to other people and our natural resources.

Work to improve your outdoor image at every opportunity. Plan ahead by taking time to learn the laws and traditions of whatever activity you pursue. Always be prepared to make the right decisions when you face your moments of choice.

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