B y Jaime Thomas
You see a deer grazing in a field about 200 yards away from you, and you shoot. You think you hit it, but then it bounds away.
What do you do next?
According to Jami Whitney, co-owner of Whitney’s Hunting Supply, most area hunters would try their best to find the animal and see if it was injured.
Though there isn’t a written set of ethics surrounding the sport, Whitney said there is a sort of unspoken code that varies from state to state. Out West, for example, trespassing is taken seriously and can land an offender in jail with a high fine.
Here, though the penalties are more lax. Whitney said most hunters respect landowners but are hesitant to ask permission to hunt.
“A lot of hunters are nervous about asking permission, because they’re afraid they’ll be told they can’t hunt,” he said.
He believes non-hunters hold many misconceptions about the sport
“A lot of people think they’re just killing to kill, and most of the time that’s not the case.”
Whitney said one rotten apple ruining the bunch can seriously hurt the sport’s reputation.
In Easton recently, someone shot a large buck near a home and then cut off its head and left the body behind. But Whitney describes such a man as a criminal committing a crime equal to dealing drugs on the street.
“99.9 percent of hunters are very ethical people and are good people. Only about 1 percent aren’t good, and we consider them to be poachers,” he said.
Because land can be expensive to own, many area hunters swap services in exchange for usage rights. Whitney cited a local man who provides a year’s worth of firewood for a landowner in order to be allowed to hunt on his property.
“That’s people helping people, and I think that’s where we need to go with things. There are hunters out there that are more than willing to do anything, so they can do what they love,” he said.
Stewards of the land
Whitney, who is a local board member of the Quality Deer Management Association and is also part of the Washington County Sportsmen Association, said hunting as a whole has evolved into a science.
“When we first settled here, uneducated hunters drove populations down, but now educated hunters and conservationists are bringing those animals back from the brink of extinction,” he said.
He explained that hunters pay close attention to over or under population as well as habitat. He plants corn specifically to sustain local deer, and out west, hunters control wolves that are depleting elk populations.
“Hunters as a whole are the number one conservationist of the country. I think it’s hugely important,” he said.
Waste not, want not
Though there are those who kill simply for sport, Whitney said the majority of area hunters do eat what they kill.
“I would never, ever overharvest and not use deer—we give the extra to food banks. This meat is not going to waste. I don’t think there’s any deer harvested by an ethical hunter that’s not all used,” he said.
He is a strong proponent of people understanding where their food comes from, especially youth who are disconnected from that facet of life.
“The mass majority of people don’t know where their meat comes from. I harvest a deer, and it goes directly to my family,” Whitney said.
“It’s important for the younger generation to know that food doesn’t show up at Price Chopper, it comes out of the ground. What is more important than putting good, healthy meat on your table and knowing where it came from?”
The myth of Bambi
With culture moving further away from nature, people have become less likely to harvest their own food. When it comes to hunting, Whitney said Disney and adults have continued to personify animals, as in the story of Bambi.
“Animals are not characters; they’re in nature to survive. Nature can be ugly and it can be cruel and mean, but ultimately it’s the survival of the fittest. People need to understand it,” he said.
And killing a mother deer, which can appear heartless, actually encourages a buck to stay with the herd when it otherwise would have left.
Deer camp and safety
As society’s ethics have changed, so have those of hunters, he said. Though the traditional idea of deer camp—hunting, beer, cigars and poker—is still true in some spots, today’s hunters have become more educated.
“They’re going beyond the ethics of hunting and going on to ethics in general,” he said.
As a rule, Whitney likes to keep between 400 and 500 yards between him and a fellow hunter.
“There is a safe zone we look for. It’s not something that any hunter takes lightly,” he said.
When it comes to shooting an animal, Whitney said a hunter should absolutely, 100 percent know the target.
“If there’s even a fraction of a doubt, you don’t even put your finger on the trigger,” he said.
And those who want to keep their property free of hunting must put up posted signs at every corner and every 600 feet in between, checking the posts on a yearly basis.
While tragic accidents are widely spread on the news, hunting is relatively safe statistically; data compiled by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc., found that people were more often injured playing golf than through hunting.
Rifle hunting season in the Southern Zone begins Nov. 16.