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Opinion Column
For the week of September 27 through October 3, 2000

You’ll have to make sacrifices to learn what it means to hunt

Commentary by MARK FARRIS

The hunting season is at hand, and I thought I would offer up a few personal thoughts for those of us who will be going afield. I was taught by some very ethical and rigorous mentors; what I say here I pass along from these men.

Meet the animal on it's own terms. To do this, you must immerse yourself in the world of your prey; learning and living in his habitat, watching carefully and going slowly.

You cannot do this from a vehicle. You must be willing and able to put out great physical effort, endure extremes of weather and the hardships of travel in rugged, beautiful, often difficult terrain. Without making these sacrifices you may succeed in killing, but you will not learn what it means to hunt. Road hunting simply isn't hunting. Hunting from an ATV is just road hunting without the road.

Prepare and practice. We need to be proficient with our weapons. No one wants to wound an animal. But to ensure clean kills we must take time to practice our skills so that we can achieve them.

Have the mental discipline and the character to not take uncertain shots. I have seen hunters take ridiculous, standing, 200 yard shots at running deer, and then never even check for sign of a hit.

Last year, after hearing a long string of rifle shots, I came across the tracks of a gut-shot elk. High in the Pioneers and alone, I followed blood and bloody droppings for two days, hoping to put an end to the animal's suffering. I lost the tracks above timberline, and never found the poor beast. This event still haunts me. The one who pulled the trigger probably never even knew what he had done.

If you -kill, you have a responsibility to use the animal well. Consider the factors of temperature and distance from transportation before making a kill. We must be able to cool the carcass rapidly, which is easy to do on a cold November morning, but a real problem on early season hunts if you're far afield and without a creek or other means for chilling down the meat.

If the conditions aren't right, we must never take a chance that the animal could be killed for no purpose.

Respect the land. Hunting is a natural behavior for humans, and should reinforce our connections to the natural word. Thus, part of a good hunt should be that it is conducted with care and in such a manner that our impact on the land is minimal. Our camps should be clean, our fires safe. And our vehicles need to stay on existing forest roads or trailheads.

In some parts of Idaho it is legal to take a vehicle off-road to retrieve big game carcasses. Personally, I think this is a mistake because it leads to abuse and damage to some very delicate terrain. ATV's can go almost anywhere you can imagine, and this law gives them the legal right to do a great deal of harm.

I have seen ATV tracks at kill sites in high, cold country that will, according to Fish and Wildlife officer Lee Frost, probably take 50 to 100 years to disappear. A hunter who would choose to harm the land just to save himself some work is a disgrace.

Finally, we are not taking a trophy—we are taking a life. Hunting well is not about conquest. It is not about machismo. If we cannot leave such ego involvement out of hunting, we will never learn what is important: A hunter takes part in a process that is as old as life itself. The wolf, the bear, the deer and the elk have created each other over the millennia; keenness, strength, endurance, speed, grace, intelligence, co-operation, adaptability, all of the attributes we revere in these and all creatures, as well as in our own species, each of these qualities is the result of the process of competition, survival, procreation, predation, life and death.

To hunt well is to be intimate with these things; to see and feel and know the intrinsic, harsh beauty, the complicated balances, and the rough perfection of the world.

It is well worth the extra effort to do it right.

Mark Farris of Ketchum is an avid hunter.


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