The Izaak Walton League of America, and especially its Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chapter, supports the ethical hunting of game species as one component of an overall conservation strategy for wildlife, woodlands, and open space.
Ethical hunting strengthens the game species themselves, helps reestablish balance in the local food chain, improves the general public’s access to outdoor beauty, and provides an educational opportunity for young & old alike. Whitetail deer is the most common example of such a species that illustrates the benefits of ethical hunting, and the overall suffering that can occur without it.
Ethical hunting helps replace the absence of natural predators in the local environment. Helping replace predation benefits the whitetail themselves by reducing competition among them for the same food, water, and shelter. Competent, ethical hunting accomplishes this end humanely. The only other factors that help maintain a balance in the deer population are accidental thinning of the herds (most often by car strike) and starvation due to failing food abundance.
By the time our young people come of driving age, they have likely seen countless whitetail lying at the side of the roads. Those who spend time in the woods have encountered many more of these shattered animals who made it off the roadway only to perish out of sight. As these new drivers learn to navigate the open road, deer will become a very real, ever-present danger to their safety, bounding from the periphery into the path of traffic–often unseen until the last moment.
Our woods, our parks, and even our own yards suffer onslaught from deer predation throughout the colder months of the year, some even year round. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), a healthy adult whitetail deer consumes from five to nine pounds of vegetation per day. Property owners and land managers wake up to find their orchards, ornamental trees, shrubs, and grasses suddenly stripped of vital bark or pruned to the ground. The growing presence of fencing & netting around ornamental vegetation and crops is visual evidence that deer are venturing farther into human areas and affecting formerly untouched plants to find enough food to survive. Those deer that cannot find enough food perish from starvation or, in their weakened state, succumb to injury or disease.
Ethical hunting, by curbing growth in game populations, reduces feeding pressure on the local environment. This allows species of plants (and sometimes other species of animals) to flourish more as they might have without man’s entry into the environment. Anyone venturing into almost any woods, park, or “wild” area in suburban Maryland will likely experience a scarcity of understory, the lower plants, shrubs, and saplings that fill in at the edge of large tree stands and among those trees themselves. A healthy forest will have abundant understory, as described in the “Woodlands” section of the B-CC IWLA Conservation Farm Guide. Managing the growth of resident deer populations helps protect the understory that, in turn, feeds and protects dependent species of insects, birds, and smaller species of mammals. Protecting tree saplings from predation and rubbing also ensures more and healthier trees to rise up behind older trees felled by age or damage.
Ethical hunting, and the shooting sports associated with hunting, support the general public’s access to the natural beauty of wildlife, woodlands, and open space by funding generated through the sale of hunting licenses, hunting stamps, firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, and some of the sundry gear associated with these sports. For more than 75 years, the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 and its more recent ammendments have been directing excise taxes from these purchases by hunters & sportsmen to purchase lands for public parks, sanctuaries, and wildlife areas, and to fund countless outdoor projects, programs, and education. Currently, the states receive approaching $400 million in annual Pittman-Robertson funding !!! Many of the public lands that are so beneficial for hiking, picnicing, bicycling, birdwatching, dog-training, geocaching, disc golfing, etc. were purchased or partially purchased, maintained, or improved through Pittman-Robertson funds wholly collected from hunters & sportsmen. Studies and surveys that help natural resources organizations understand how better to direct their efforts to protect and maintain these beautiful areas are also funded by Pittman Robertson proceeds.
Ethical hunting transcends simply following a list of best practices. Ethical hunting is doing “the right thing” when nobody else is watching. Ethical hunting becomes a state of mind and a state of being for those who practice it.
The state of mind of an ethical hunter is educated with hunter education and safety training. An ethical hunter enhances this education with personal experiences in the field and adds lessons from the experiences of others. An ethical hunter learns and lives by the principle of “Fair Chase,” the belief that hunters should approach hunting “in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.”
The state of being of an ethical hunter compacts the learning, morals, and experiences into muscle memory. This reflex-to-ethical-being is honed through practice. The ethical hunter practices on the range to ensure clean harvesting. The ethical hunter walks the woods between hunts to practice identifying potentially dangerous areas for hunters, game, and/or unexpected bystanders that may not be as easily spotted in the dark. An ethical hunter practices hunts, as a practice, with other ethical hunters to reinforce good training, good behavior, and good judgement.
Game species like the whitetail deer and wild turkey are the most often-hunted species on the B-CC IWLA Conservation Farm. As such, these species receive considerable attention in designing our conservation strategies on the farm: planting trees, planting food & cover crops, clearing invasive species that crowd food sources, etc. Hunting itself, however, is not the singular goal of these efforts. There is no stocking of game species of any kind for hunting on the Conservation Farm.
While the entire B-CC IWLA chapter is committed to conservation, the direct efforts to protect and maintain healthy animal populations on the property are within the direct purview of the following chapter committees:
– Wildlife Committee
– Forestry Committee
– Farm Committee