Conservation Laws vs Ethics: Seeking an Understanding


Conservationist Aldo Leopold once said, "Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching even when doing the wrong thing is legal."

In one day of hunting any wild game, thousands of decisions are made where ethics and laws are mentally center stage; Lord knows, no one reading this post is chaste and anyone claiming to be, lacks real experience or is simply lying.

Unfortunately mentally grappling with laws and ethics can cast a dark shadow over any experience and as they say, "ignorance is bliss, but also no excuse for unlawful behavior." Therefore, it is wise to establish and communicate a well founded understanding or your position on laws and ethics before your next expedition, especially if it involves companions with alternate views.

Laws are typically rooted in safety, politics, and/or game management and are non-negotiable. While ethics involve a set of personal values shaped over time by exposure to influential people and experiences. Laws are the same for everyone; while everyone's ethics do differ.

Lets dissect an example: In North Dakota it is legal to hunt and shoot from a road way as long as the adjacent land is not legally posted. It is also legal to shoot coyotes from inside of a vehicle. The absence of a protective law is rooted in the science of game management and politics, and not in sportsmanship and animal rights. Neither cattle producers (a political power house in ND) nor most hunter conservationist are fond of coyotes and for good reason; legislation (or lack of) seems very straight forward and practical here in ND.

Science has proven that coyotes are superior modern day predators on the prairie (with two exceptions, mountain lions and the Drahthaar...ha ha). They are responsible for a high degree of deer fawn mortality each spring and put stress on the population of popular game birds 24/7/365 . They are also known to take new born calves from ranching operations. Regardless, they are generalist who have filled the void left by wolves and grizzly bears who were driven off of the prairie by European settlement sometime between the Lewis and Clark expeditions in 1804 and Theodore Roosevelt's ranching days in the North Dakota badlands around the 1880s.

Some would argue that coyotes have a sporting value and that shooting them from the roadway is not ethical. Some conservationist live to call predators out of the snow covered prairie crevices to within rifle range on fringed January mornings with a mouth call replicating a dying jackrabbit; who am I or you to judge this type of "conservation" as more or less valuable or honorable than pheasant, deer, or duck hunting???!? It certainly does not seem sporting to shoot them from the comforts of a heated and luxurious pickup truck, and by doing so, you inherently "steal" from your fellow conservationist previously mentioned. Please don't mistake me; I fully support very aggressive management practices for coyotes for the benefit of all game animals, and my personal ethics and love for other game will likely lead me to shoot more of them from my pickup in North Dakota as long as the law allows. I am simply pointing out the fact that it is just not ethical for some. Shooting from the vehicle for any reason in MN among other places, will earn you a bed, three square meals, loss of freedom, and perhaps one less firearm in your possession.

Now how is it that shooting a deer from a vehicle is not legal yet coyotes are legal?

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