Archive for the ‘Ethics Check by Bob Peck’ Category

News Flash! Hunting Involves Killing
Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

 News Flash!  Hunting Involves Killing
By Bob Peck, December 13, 2009

“That’s it?!”  I said completely incredulous.  “The only part of the deer you eat is the tenderloins?” 

I could tell he’d been there before with other hunters like me and was prepared for this question.  He took what had to be a full minute before he responded. His eyes were turned downward.  He studied the tops of his boots.  He took a few deep breaths and then looked me square in the eyes without blinking once to create a dramatic moment.  “My belief is man is a predator.  Man has always been a predator and always will be.  We can dress it up and say we’re hunters.  We can use words like “harvest” and “cull” but what we are is killers.  We are predators just as surely as a coyote or a wolf.  We live in modern villages and we talk all about political correctness and heady topics like Democrat vs Republican, global warming  and world economies but when get geared up and go into their zone something happens to our brains that is a base human instinct we haven’t completely left behind.  We head out to kill.” 

Long pause …. “And when we do kill we have to depersonalize what we’re doing.   A predator doesn’t rationalize and if we did at the moment of truth nothing would get killed.  Face it.  None of us really needs that meat to survive like primitive man so why do we hunt if not to satisfy an ancient predatory instinct not extinquished?”

I’d never thought about it this way.  Seemed a crude perspective but I’ve always been adverse to sugar coating anything and my good friend Bob Foulkrod used to always say “We harvest wheat.  We don’t harvest animals.  We kill them.”  There is a certain obvious logic here but yet many hunters get upset at the bluntness.  They will rightfully and earnestly say things like:

“There is more to hunting than killing.” 

“It’s not about killing, it’s about the challenge of figuring things out.” 

“It’s about passing on the heritage not about killing innocent animals.”

“I rely on the meat to carry my family.”

Since I have been into setting up, fund raising and supporting venison donation programs in NY, MI and now VA I just had to ask …. “What do you do with the rest of the meat?”  The response was immediate “I don’t take the time to bother with it.  After I remove the tenderloins and the butterfly tenderloins inside I toss the whole carcass.”  That’s it.  He “tosses” the whole carcass.  No pelt to turn into deer skin gloves, no use of the “parts” for use by food manufacturers, no venison donation.  I just met a hunter who only hunts whitetail deer for the tenderloins.

O.K so I calmed myself and then needed much more information.  “How do you reconcile this?”  He looked completely puzzled.  “Reconcile?  What is there to reconcile?”  I was as puzzled by him being puzzled.  I thought it was a pretty straight forward question.  I tried again.  “I’m asking you if you feel bad at wasting the animal?”  He laughed.  “Hell no.  I’m a predator and this is what predators do.  We kill. We take what we want and we leave the rest.  Besides, I like to hunt other predators like coyotes so I dump the carcass in places where I want to shoot other predators.”  Wow.  This was getting interesting.

“O.K and after you shoot the coyote what do you do with the animal?”  I got a “you dummy, that’s obvious” look.  The answer was slow in coming … “I sell the pelt of course.  I can get $50 from a taxidermist I know.”
Next question …  “Did you ever think about venison donation?”  No.
Next question … “What do you do if you shoot a nice buck?”  Saw off the antlers or have it mounted.

Next question … “Don’t you catch a lot of crap from other hunters on this?”  Yeah but I’m a predator and predators kill first and NEVER ask questions later. Besides, predators don’t care what other predators think. 

Next question … “Does the word stewardship of the land and resources ever enter into your vocabulary?”  No.  Predators don’t plant food plots, cut down trees and concern themselves with resources.  If I have a craving for some venison tenderloin I go get it.”

Last question … “If you could buy venison tenderloin in your local supermarket meat counter would you?” 

How do you feel?


News Flash!  Hunting Involves Killing –Part 2
By Bob Peck, January20, 2010

A night vision monocular takes some getting used to but once your brain and eyes get used to the experience it’s pretty cool.  You get to see a side to the deer woods most will never experience and yes, it’s almost exactly like daylight with the exception of the greenish glow that surrounds the images you see.  We were perched on a ridge looking down into a food plot full of deer a full 170 yards away.  I’d estimate 50-60 deer were browsing peacefully in what appeared to be a five acre plot.  I rotated the monocular up and away from my face and flipped open my cell phone.  Wow.  2:30 a.m.!  Way past my bedtime but I wouldn’t have missed this experience for anything.

With the monocular back in place and a few minutes to readjust we were back to some spectacular night time viewing.  I say we, because my guide was the Predator I mentioned in the first part of this story.  I heard the Predator whisper into his radio via the throat microphone “Delta T, you copy?”  I couldn’t hear the response if there was one but silently and with deliberate motion the Predator swept his hand towards an adjacent ridge.  “Roger that.” He hushed as his arm made an arc.

In a matter of a few seconds I began to see pops of light on the ridge evenly spaced.  No sound. Just little pops of light like a camera flashbulb at considerable distance. At first I thought I was seeing strobes or the headlamps from hunters moving about.  I learned later what I was seeing was the muzzle flash from two different sharp shooter teams with silencers taking aim on the herd I was admiring a few minutes earlier.  The teams were set up like military sniper teams, one shooter, one spotter.

The Predator physically grabbed me by my shoulders so I was looking back to the food plot.  Like sacks of flour hitting a loading dock one deer after the other dropped straight down into a lifeless heap. The other deer took notice but in between intervals of muzzle flashes they slowly moved without exhibiting much fear.   “They think the does are bedding down.” was all I heard in my ear.  “Bedding down?!”  I stuttered in my best tree stand whisper.  “Yeah, when you shoot them in the head just right they fall straight down.  With a little practice you can usually get at least 20 killed with two teams shooting.” 

This was all new to me.  I was attending a completely legal culling exercise on a massive scale which I was definitely not mentally prepared for.  I thought one thing when I was invited and witnessed something very different than my mind had conjured.  This process went on for three days almost always through the night and in places well scouted, researched and in any kind of weather except high winds.  At the end of 4 days over 200+ does on that 10,000 acre property were dead.  The Predator and his teams were extremely well compensated, spent their down time in well appointed hotels, ate like kings and then they packed up their $5,000 custom rifles and moved on to the next “job”.

What happened to the 200+ does shot on that property?  The dead deer were collected by farm hands using what seemed like an Army of four wheelers, heaped them up on flat bed hay wagons at centralized locations on the property, a big hole was excavated in the ground and they were pushed into the hole with a bull dozer and covered up.  No gutting, no venison donation, no nothing. 

I can see inside your heads right now.  You’re wondering “What the?!”  He’s making this up.  No, I’m not making it up.  If I hadn’t just seen trophy deer management at its pinnacle of wealthy perfection I wouldn’t have believed it either.  I learned that there are people out there, extremely wealthy people who want what they want and aren’t afraid to spend the big money to get what they want.  This landowner wanted to speed up the process of correcting his herd ratio by hiring the Predator and his company to get a certain result quickly and that they did!  I didn’t get to interview or speak with the landowner personally but I learned from the Predator that he spent over $600,000 buying genetically superior “buck stock” from deer farms and then introduced these animals onto his property to spread the genetics.

If I could mention the Predators name you would be shocked.  90% of you would know the name instantly and be utterly amazed at the secret and separate lives he lives.  One minute he’s on hunting shows we all watch, the next he’s appearing at trade shows and then we see his face in print ads endorsing hunting products.  What many will never know is the Predator is the ultimate predator in that he owns a company specializing in the mass execution of deer on scales none of us can possibly conceive.  His business is booked through 2012 and is international in scope.

Remember this from the first part? “My belief is man is a predator.  Man has always been a predator and always will be.  We can dress it up and say we’re hunters.  We can use words like “harvest” and “cull” but what we are is killers.  We are predators just as surely as a coyote or a wolf.  We live in modern villages and we talk all about political correctness and heady topics like Democrat vs. Republican, global warming  and world economies but when get geared up and go into their zone something happens to our brains that is a base human instinct we haven’t completely left behind.  We head out to kill.” 

Long pause …. “And when we do kill we have to depersonalize what we’re doing.   A predator doesn’t rationalize and if we did, at the moment of truth nothing would get killed.  Face it.  None of us really needs that meat to survive like primitive man so why do we hunt if not to satisfy an ancient predatory instinct not extinguished?”

So, I ask … If you could buy venison tenderloin in your local supermarket meat counter would you give up hunting?



Two Wrongs Equal One Right
Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Two Wrongs Equal One Right
By Bob Peck

From 15 feet up in the tree it looked like a perfectly straight branch but it had an odd shape to it.  It was one of those days in the deer woods when you’re fighting the notion you can nod off for a few minutes but scared silly if you do you’ll be hanging from your safety harness or you’ll miss the only shot you’ll get that day.  James kept doing the hard blinking routine and forced himself to scan his kill zone and beyond.  He even got out his range finder to range distances he knew very well and had marked with trail tape but his attention always came back to this particular branch on the forest floor.  Some would say it’s rare to have a public land hunting location that doesn’t get much pressure but James would disagree.  This particular spot took over an hour to get to and required some serious effort through thick brush and near vertical terrain to get to.  In 20 years in the same spot on opening day of bow season he could only recall one other hunter he had passed years ago not more than 100 yards from the parking area and only 15 yards off the main trail.  He felt bad walking through the guy’s set up but that passed quickly.  Wouldn’t anyone hunting that location need to pass by the same bowhunter?  Unless they were hunting in the parking area the answer was yes.

So on it went for hours with gray squirrels, screeching blue jays and an occasional tick, tack, plunk of an errant acorn dropping from the adjacent oaks providing the only entertainment. James figured he’d pack it in and still hunt his way back to the truck.  When he stood to gather his gear he could see a doe through the metal mesh platform of his ladder stand directly under him.  She was rubbing her neck against the tree bark and completely unaware that 15’ above her was a bowhunter now on full alert and full of adrenalized lethal intent.  It took nearly 15 minutes for the doe to browse her way out of a sheer vertical downward shot.  Wait …. Wait …. Wait.  We all know the routine. 

We’re taught shot placement from the moment we pick up a bow or at least we should be taught this way.  James would come to full draw at least three times and then need to draw down as the doe would be broadside then not.  He would later recount it was actually a blessing to be able to take all the time he needed to get his heart rate and breathing under control.  The only shot that presented itself was a high risk shot directly to the chest which was repeatedly exposed as the doe did the fake bob-n-weave thing with her head looking for danger and scent checking the air. 

James could continue to wait it out or take a shot he’d been practicing all summer.  It was a steady bead and a cautious, methodical and practiced squeeze of the release that sent the arrow flying.  The impact was just under the jaw in the soft part of the neck and the angle was just right as a full pass through could plainly be seen exiting the guts underneath.  The doe went down immediately, got up a few moments later and wobbled 5 yards and expired.  The plan worked, there would be no tracking and James had his first deer of the bow season which he always donated to the local venison donation program.  Woo Hoo!

As he field dressed the deer and prepared for the long drag he caught a glimpse of that tree branch he had been studying all day.  He stopped what he was doing and approached, bloody hands and all.  It was a 12 gauge slug gun partially covered with leaves, fully loaded and with the safety off.  James resisted the impulse to pick it up to examine it closely but did kneel down to inspect this unusual find.  It had clearly seen many months in the woods as surface corrosion was everywhere including the brass casing on the slugs still in the gun.  All in all though, the gun looked to be in excellent shape.  He stood looking at his deer, looking at the shotgun, looking at his deer, looking at the shotgun.  He decided with fading light to leave the shotgun where it lay and drag his deer out. 
His final act was clicking the safety on, on the gun and while doing so took note of the odd safety button which was colored pink with a tiny happy face hand painted  in the middle.

“Hmmm … now that’s odd.  ” he thought to himself.  Some heavy work was ahead dragging the doe out and processing the meat.  James left the shotgun where it lay.

It would be three weeks later until James was hunting in that same location again and oddly, since he was running late to the location, his only thoughts were climbing into the ladder stand and letting things settle down.  Then the realization came to him in this all too familiar spot that something was wrong.  His ladder stand was missing and his trail camera was not on the tree he always used to monitor the trail.  Anyone who has experienced this kind of thievery understands that pit in your stomach.  You’re full of anticipation for what the hunt may bring in a place you’ve claimed as your own only to find out that the evil we experience in the outside world also exists in the deer woods. Being stunned and speechless is quickly replaced with seething anger.

When he sat down on the forest floor to contemplate his next move he actually sat on the shotgun he’d forgotten about.  It was still exactly where he’d left it with the safety on and that dang pink safety button with the smiley face.

He emptied the gun, put the slugs in his backpack and decided he was too deflated to continue with the bowhunt.  He strapped the shotgun to his backpack and left that location forever.  He never went back.  James wanted nothing to do with the taint of thievery in a place he imagined to be his own.

Author’s Note:
This is part one of a two part Ethics Check.  The details of the second part are contained in this first part.  Some of the ethical dilemmas should already be clear, some are yet to come.

Two Wrongs Equal One Right – Part 2
By Bob Peck 10.29.09

James strapped the shotgun to his backpack and left that hunting location forever.  He never went back.  Even if it was public hunting land he had felt a sense of entitlement since he rarely, if ever ran into another hunter.  After his treestand and trail camera were stolen from his favorite spot James wanted nothing to do with the taint of thievery in a place he imagined to be his own.

$150 and nearly 6 months after he left the woods with the shotgun James recovered from the forest floor the shotgun was restored to near mint condition.  The gunsmith working on the gun asked James what the story was behind the smiley face on the safety.  James just shrugged his shoulders and said, “I honestly don’t know but don’t clean that off.  Just leave it.” 

James had no plans to hunt with this shotgun.  It reminded him that the one public land hunting spot he called his own wasn’t.  He lost a trail camera and treestand in that location but on the other hand gained a “free” shotgun in the process.  From time to time over the next 2 years as the gun sat in his gun case he would often wonder what the story of the gun was.  He’d fretted over handing it over to the game warden or the local police department but reasoned ultimately the owner would never be found and the gun would be destroyed.  James even thought of advertising his find in the paper but never seemed to get around to doing much of anything except thinking of all the possibilities of who owned the gun and why it lay loaded on the forest floor that day. 

 James finally decided to sell it at a local gun show.  Gun shows are always part carnival, part serious people with a depth of knowledge and part history lesson.  Just about every conceivable and inconceivable firearm would be offered for sale from working Civil War relics to modern AR15 style hunting rifles.  “Where to begin?” he thought to himself as he wandered what felt like 2 football fields worth of tables and booths.  He decided he had to start somewhere so he walked up to a hulk of a man he guessed to be 6’4” and about 290 lbs. with a long, white but neatly trimmed ZZ Top style beard.

“Excuse me sir.  I’m not sure you can help me but would you have any idea if there’s anyone here you could recommend that might be interested in buying this shotgun?”  The man tilted his head from side to side like a dog does when it appears to understand what you’ve said but isn’t sure what to do next.  James was sure he had heard the question but it seemed like forever for the answer to come.  “Shogun? You’ve got a Shogun sword?”  Oh boy…. 

“No. Sorry.” said James “I’ve got a shotgun to sell?”   The light bulb went off…  “Oh man, I thought you said Shogun.  I’m a knife and sword dealer.  My niece has a booth over on B-18 near the exit sign over there.  She might be interested.”

And with a quick handshake of thanks James was off to B-18.  He found a simple picnic table with a gun rack behind it and a hand painted sign above it “Shelly’s Shotguns”.  A very small woman (presumably Shelly) sat at the picnic table filling out paperwork for a customer who had just purchased what looked to be an old Iver Johnson single shot break action shotgun.   A few short minutes later it was James’ turn.  “Shelly?”  The woman looked over the top of her glasses.  “No. Shelly is my Dad. He passed away this past year.  I’m his daughter Amy. How can I help you?” 

James explained he had this shotgun for sale, didn’t know a lot about the gun, had paid to have it restored and had never used it.   “Let’s take a look.”  Amy blurted as if there were more important things on her mind.  Both people laid the shotgun on the picnic table on top of the chamois covering used to prevent scratches and sat simultaneously. 

Amy turned the gun this way and that and repeated the process for what seemed like 10 minutes but was probably more like 2-3 minutes.  Not a word was exchanged as the inspection continued.   Amy did the obligatory check to see if the gun was loaded, sighted down the barrel taking aim at a moose mount on the opposite wall and in general went through all the motions of someone who had clearly seen, used, bought and sold literally thousands of shotguns.  

James figured he’d break the silence.  “Your uncle the sword guy referred me.”  Amy lifted her head and absent mindedly uttered “Hmmm.  Uncle Dan?”   She continued the inspection and didn’t seem to care to have her question answered.

When it came to inspecting the trigger on the gun Amy froze.  Her eyes didn’t blink, her hands stayed still and she stared intently at the smiley face painted on the trigger.  Tears began to stream down her face and she gently lowered the gun to the chamois cloth, eyes still transfixed on the gun safety.  Without so much as turning her head Amy asked in a barely audible tone “Where did you get this gun?”

“Believe it or not, I found it.”

Still focusing her eyes on the smiley face and tears continuing down her cheeks Amy, again in a barely audible and dead pan tone “Found it?”

“Yeah, it’s a weird story but I found this gun on the forest floor in my favorite hunting spot.  It was loaded and had the safety off.  I had just shot a doe with my bow and while I was field dressing the deer noticed the shotgun.  I had my hands full with the deer.  I don’t know why, force of habit I suppose but I clicked the safety on and left the gun where it lay.  Three weeks later I was back to the same spot and some scum bag stole my tree stand and trail camera.  I sat down in the leaves and literally sat on the gun.   A voice in my head told me to take the gun.  So I did.”

Finally Amy looked up and into the eyes of James.  “That was no scum bag.”  This statement wasn’t connecting.  James politely asked “The person who took my stuff?”  Amy wiped the diminishing tears.  “I took your tree stand and trail camera and I’m no scum bag.”

“When my Dad passed away it was very tough on all of us especially me.  He had always wanted a son but the Lord delivered 3 daughters into his life.  I’m his oldest.  So, he put a lot of effort into me to make sure the “skills” as he called them, would be passed down.  I hunted with my Dad for many years and then along came my marriage and kids.  Dad was on his own for several years and hunting in a spot in the High Tor State land he called “heaven.”  He’d go on and on about this spot as if he were the first human to ever set eyes on it.”

James had no idea where this was going but he was about to find out.

“This shotgun was a gift from my Father when I turned 16.  He painted a smiley face on the safety to remind me that happiness was a safe gun. He’d always say that, happiness is a safe gun.”

James felt like the ZZ Top bearded guy, Uncle Dan.  All he could think to say was:

“Why did you take my stuff?”

Amy answered the question with a question:

 “Why did you take my gun?”

Perplexed James could only think of one response “I took your gun because it was abandoned.”

Amy said “I took your stuff because I followed a GPS waypoint to my Dad’s spot in the High Tor public land he called “heaven”.  I thought it was his stuff.  I put my shotgun down to dismantle his stand and trail camera.  It got dark and I got scared and couldn’t find where I put my shotgun.  I must have been back to that spot 10 times. “

The stolen shotgun was returned to the rightful owner that day amid more tears, apologies and loving memories of a Father who invested time in his children.  The treestand and trail camera returned a few days later after they were pulled out of a garage attic. 

The two acts of thievery equaled one act of incredible kindness bathed in fond memories of a place two hunters called their own but which neither owned.

When the trail camera pictures were examined by James a close up of a much younger Amy was in one of them with a big smile on her face.

Author’s Note:

It’s funny and often too ironic the twists and turns that life and our ethical decisions take.  I am a person of faith.  I don’t believe things “just happen” or that there is good luck or bad.  I believe we are guided in silent moments of debate that often rage in our heads.  We land on this side and that side of the debate and over time I believe we hone our ethics skills.  We may not start out knowing what is right and what is wrong but over time I believe God’s will is done on Earth as it is in the real heaven.

James took a shot that for some that was highly unethical as it technically a low percentage, high risk, high pressure shot. None of that mattered to James as his decision to shoot was based on practicing this shot hundreds of times.  If he missed or needed to track that doe he may very well have never found the shotgun.  If he had left it there it might be there still.

Amy found the place that resonated with her Dad just as it resonated with James.  She collected the gear she believed belonged to her Dad without ever thinking it was a shared place.  She stored the gear just as James had stored the shotgun.

When I retell this story in hunting camps around the U.S I’m always asked if Amy found her way to this place because technology had captured it’s exact coordinates or because the Lord guided her.  I say there is no such thing as luck and all aspects of this story are divine. 


James and I finally returned to his favorite spot last February after the hunting season was over.  We made a tin sign and nailed it to the tree he used to hunt out of. 

The sign read “This is Heaven.  Signed, Shelly”


Over the Hill and Almost Dead
Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Over the Hill and Almost Dead
by Bob Peck 08-03-09

I could see the trespasser from a good 3-400 yards away.  I was perched on a knoll in full head-to-toe snow camo with my rifle on a bipod (also in snow camo) and enjoying the 3 ft of freshly fallen snow glassing the pinch point below formed by the confluence of two ridges.  I found myself fully content  and warm despite the 12 degree temps.  The sparkling diamonds of sun at the right angle on the surface of the snow had me snug and amazed.  I had draped my blaze orange vest over the log directly to my right and put my blaze orange hat in front of me on a twig about 3′ above the snow.

I was hoping the trespasser would make his way to the property line and disappear but his track was taking him straight up the ridge line across from me and resolutely on my Grandfather’s 150 acres.  It was slow going for the trespasser as the 3′ of fresh powder was lying on top of a 4′ base.  Through the lenses of the binocs it seemed like he was plowing the snow with his legs while simultaneously working his way up the ridgeline.  Large puffs of breath further reinforced the effort underway.

I debated standing and revealing my position but with that much distance between us I didn’t want to ruin the hunt and besides, Ifelt the blaze orange against the backdrop of sheer white would suffice.  On he trudged and with each step I felt my anger building.  Just what the hell was he doing or thinking?  In a few moments I would find out.

Without warning he suddenly stopped 50-80 yards from the ridge summit he was climbing and looked in my direction.  He stood motionless for a good 5 solid minutes, pulled up his rifle and pointed it directly at me.  Before I could yell out he fired a round so close to my position snow blasted in a cloud directly in front of me.  The adrenaline pump kicked into overdrive.  I don’t know why but I thought he must be shooting at a whitetail directly behind me so I spun around to have a look.  Nothing.

Shot number two cracked and landed even closer in front of me with dirt littering the surface of the snow.  It was clear this trespasser was shooting at me.  This time I yelled out “What the hell are you doing?!  STOP!” 

I grabbed the binoculars and watched him lower his gun.  He raised the rifle back up again and for a second I thought another round was about to be inbound.  Mr. Trespasser had no binocs so I assumed he was sizing me up through his scope.  What he saw was me flailing my arms wildly with my blaze orange hat in my hand.  I remember thinking if there is one more round I’m going to fire a warning shot over the hunter’s head but it didn’t come to pass.

We all know how sound travels in the crystal clear winter woods with nothing to abate the sound waves.  I heard Mr. Trespasser yell “Sorry! I thought you were a deer!”   His voice boomed  across the 250 yards of our separation.

Thought I was a deer?!  Are you kidding me?!  I’m blending into my environment so as not to look like anything AND there is the extra “advantage” of a blaze orange vest and hat in my direct proximity and I look like a deer to this guy?!  Man was I pissed!  I yelled obscenities across the winter woods that day and it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that I “lost it” knowing I could have been dead that day.   Mr. Trespasser nonchalantly pivoted from his course and dropped over the ridge out of my line of sight.  He wasn’t in any particular hurry.

I tried to catch up with Mr. Trespasser but under the deep snow conditions there was no way to actually span the distance and catch him but I did track him to where he must have parked his truck and then fled.

I’ve told this story many times in seminars and hunting camps and while on the surface there doesn’t appear to be ethical dilemmas, I’ve discovered over the years there are many.  As in all my Ethics Check columns I gladly write for my good friends Dan and Dale, this isn’t the end of this story so I await your observations before I chime back in.  C’mon y’all, bring it!


Ethics Check – January 2009
Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Shoot ‘Em in the Head!
By Bob Peck 1.21.09

In a hushed but firm whisper all I heard was “What are you doing?! Shoot ‘em in the head!” coming from a fellow hunter who was guiding me that day. There was only a very small but clear and unobstructed 80 yard window of opportunity. All we could see of this 150 class buck was his head.  Without any exaggeration the mass on the antlers looked to be as thick as my wrists. What a magnificent animal!

Perhaps it’s more accurate to say we saw only an 8-12 ” square patch of his head and with binoculars you could see a leg or two. He was totally unaware of our presence and reasonably stationary as he browsed casually in some thick undergrowth. My .30-06 was the perfect weapon at this range for this shot. My .30-06 was mounted on a Harris bipod and had a very clear, very crisp Nikon nothing- special-all-I-could-afford scope mounted and dialed all the way in. This was basically a chip shot but I chose not to take it.  I think it was probably my hunting mentor and Father coming through the hundreds of hours he had spent with me in the field teaching me the ethics of taking the proverbial high percentage broadside double lung shot.

“I can’t do it.”

I said this in a barely audible whisper and then quietly moved over and raised my eyebrows in that silent gesture of  “Have at it if you like.” My fellow hunter guide slid into position. He took all the time he needed to adjust himself, get his breathing under control and set up.  He chose a prone position which I thought was a little weird at first but hey, to each his own, so long as he has a clear field of fire.

I had my binos raised and focused on the animal.  The buck’s head would bob slowly to the ground to graze and then slowly come back up to chew.  If I remember correctly he was browsing on some white oak acorns.

It’s cliche to say but it seemed like it took forever but eventually I heard the safety click off and then a loud crack rang out. I watched the deer drop immediately. I heard “That’s what I’m talking about!” through the ringing in my ears.  “Man.  That muzzle blast was something that caught me off guard!” The first words out of my mouth were “What the heck are you shooting there partner?!” There was a pause and a big smile “That, my friend, is a .308 caliber custom made AR15 with about $3,000 worth of the world’s best optics and rifling.  I’m shooting a 165 grain ballistic tip bullet.”  I’m not sure I was impressed as I’m an archer by first preference and in my wildest dreams, even if I had the money, couldn’t imagine what $3,000 in optics would do for me.  Add to this that I grew up with a gun collecting police officer father, firearms have always been a bit of a mystery to me since my Dad was basically a firearms  “professor “.  My firearms world extended to a .30-06 I’ve had since I was a kid and my Ithaca 16 ga   “Deerslayer” slug gun. I’m a little more advanced than that today but not by much.

Well sure enough the head shot was effective and with a ballistic tipped .308 round at 80 yards there wasn’t much left of the head except the antlers which we later picked up from two different nearby locations on the forest floor. I later learned that Max (fictitious name to protect the real hunter) was a proud member of the “Twofer Club” which I had never heard of. This was a loose affiliation of gun hunters who exercise extreme patience until two deer were perfectly lined up a certain way and then killed with a single round.

Max was a very accomplished hunter and rifleman.  On and off over a period of years, I actually came to like the man very much.  He worked exceedingly hard at preparing his own hand loads, practicing from distances as far as 1000 yards, reading everything ballistic he could get his hands on and was a weekend competitive shooter. He routinely took shots on animals many would consider unethical such as spine shots, head-on chest shots and of course the obligatory and seemingly easy (at least for Max) head shot.  The challenge for this hunter was in the shot itself not in the actual taking of the animal. Max says  “If you practice the shot, are supremely confident in the shot and have a clear view of the target, there’s no such thing as an unethical shot.  It’s bozo’s who don’t do any of this preparation that lack ethics.”

As with other installments of the Ethics Check column how the rest of the story unfolds is interesting.  What’s your take?


Ethics Check – December 2008
Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Cut the Trail

by Bob Peck 12-09-08

On and off it took nearly a month to cut the trail in.  With a lot of help from friends, decent weather, hard physical labor, hours behind a chainsaw and the rental of a small bobcat front loader our paralyzed friend Jack could be wheeled nearly a half a mile into some excellent Upstate NY hunting ground and directly into a Double Bull ground blind.  Sweet.  My Mom used to always say, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” We had both and ended up very satisfied with the results.

None of Jack’s hunting compadres ever really thought of him as a physically challenged bowhunter.  He was the same old Jack but with some challenges none of us had. Without the use of his legs there was no practical way he could continue independent hunting after MS began to ravage his body.  He was and is the most die-hard bowhunter I think I ever met.  In our little hunting posse we all agreed that you do what you have to do for a friend. None of us consciously spoke of this but our actions created a magnificent trail.  Going hunting with this hunting buddy was in some ways no different but in many real ways completely different.  Let me explain.

Whether Jack had the use of his legs or not we’d be together on the hunt, we’d share the experiences of the day and in the case of turkey hunting, we’d be side-by-side just like we’d be deer hunting in this ground blind.  The part we both had to get used to was the physical effort it took for both of us to get all our gear to the blind all the while pushing 180 lbs of friend up and down hills for a half a mile.  Imagine snow, debris and mud on the trail and trying to be quiet.  This opened up a whole new set of challenges neither of us had any experience with.  This last statement is more to describe the logistics than a plea for any kind of sympathy or self aggrandizing accolades.  Like I said, when it comes to friends, you do what you do because you love them and appreciate them.  Once in the blind, we were both hunting with bows but there was the not-so-little matter of silently maneuvering your buddy’s chair so he had the right angle to shoot.  With a little practice this was no big deal as was Jack’s ability to maneuver the bow around the chair.

The first two years we managed to shoot a few nice deer and enjoyed cooking venison for each other’s families.  Gutting them out and getting them out became a two part deal.   Jack was lifted from his chair and laid on the ground to field dress his own deer that we usually dragged back to him. When you see a hunter claw and drag his nonfunctioning lower half without a single complaint you suddenly understand a side to survival some of us take for granted.  When he was finished whomever was hunting with Jack would hoist him back in his chair.  With part one (the field dressing) complete it was now time for part two.

You get your buddy out and then make a separate trip back with a deer cart to remove the animal(s).  The benefit to the “buddy first” procedure was a warm truck and a hot cup of coffee waiting when the manual labor was done. Jack always insisted on helping to skin and process the deer.  Once back in his garage we had the use of his electric wheelchair which came in handy in hoisting up the deer on the gambrel not to mention his  ingenious use of a golf ball, rope and homemade hide gizmo that kept tension on the hide while we worked the hide off the deer in a fraction of the time.

Year three was not such a good year for Jack and our hunting posse. Although our little trail network expanded to include some tributary trails, Jack’s MS was getting worse to the point where he couldn’t manage his compound bow very well.  We rigged a crossbow holder and tested the rig. Beautiful, it worked beautiful.  Like the trail building exercise, inventing a modified crossbow and holding fixture was a true team effort.  Jack was shooting quarter sized groups from 30 yards with no effort.  We’d cock the crossbow and slide it into the mounting fixture one of the guys fabricated in his shop and wha la!  Jack was back in business for the upcoming season. Then someone in our group brought up the fact that crossbows weren’t legal in New York.  “Wait a minute! Isn’t there an exception? Isn’t there a special permit for physically challenged hunters?”  As it turned out there was but the “exception” was only for quadriplegic hunters who had to actuate the trigger mechanism with a blow tube. This wasn’t Jack.  He could still hold his upper body erect in the chair and sight the crossbow and pull the trigger. Houston, we have a problem.  Would you sacrifice your ethics and break the law to help your physically challenged buddy hunt?

I’ll fill you in on the rest of the story after y’all have had a chance to mull this one over.

Ethics Check – October 2008
Saturday, October 4th, 2008

The Outdoor Supermarket

by Bob Peck 10.03.08

A number of years ago I hunted with a man I met through my church.  We hit it off big time from the moment we met. It takes me some time to get to a point where I’m comfortable inviting people to hunt with me but that’s eventually what I did.  I took my church friend to some private land and some highly confidential public land.  I say “highly confidential” because while it was public land, it was virtually impossible to get to unless you knew the circuitous route over land and rivers to get to.  I’m pretty sure at the time I was one of the only people who knew this route.  My friend and I killed a number of deer over the 2+ years of our hunting adventures.  Nothing unusual ever happened with one exception.  Every time we dismantled a deer this friend took the deer carcass down to the a point where there was not one single scrap of meat left on the carcass.  I mean it. Not one single scrap.  Maybe I shouldn’t admit this but I quarter my deer, debone it, take the back straps of course and surgically remove the tenderloins on the inner most area of the spinal column.  I can’t be bothered with neck and inter-rib meat.  Too much hassle.  I get the animal apart and into the grinder as quickly as possible and leave the rest for the coyotes.  Not this friend.  He spent a ton of time on each deer he took and I’m not exaggerating when I say the deer he butchered were surgically dismantled.  I guess in a direct way, I completely respected his skills and ultimately thought nothing of it. I was a mere hacker and he was the skilled surgeon.

On the third year of our hunting friendship I began to enter his family inner circle.  He hadn’t worked since I first met him.  Uh oh. There was a disability you couldn’t see if you met this friend.  He suffered from depression which at various times incapacitated him.  He lost jobs and no one understood him. He was a loser who couldn’t keep down a decent job but yet, he wasn’t a loser at all. He loved his children very much and spent hours doing what all Dads do.  He loved his wife and did what he could to remind her she was special. He struggled like we all struggle but with an extra brick in his backpack.The family income wouldn’t support medication he needed or a therapist that might help him weave his way back to normalcy.  His family (3 kids and a wife of 20 years) lived paycheck to paycheck.  Little did I know at the time but winter always meant deciding between heat and food.  I learned through the harsh reality of coffee table dialog that the venison we collected over the years literally was the essential sustenance of his family. The venison wasn’t a luxury, a nicety for the grill … without it they had more problems than any of us could imagine. I did my best to not let my friends pride get in the way but he wouldn’t have any of my compassion or charity.  He would buy his own arrows, his own ammo, his own knives, etc.  Once in a while my friend accepted a small gift of used camo I’d grown out of or a tree stand that had seen better days but he held his own.  I grew to respect his approach.

It was year three that I realized we had a problem.  It was the dead of summer and one of those sweltering hot days of mid-July.  I decided today was the day to get out into the “highly confidential” public land location I spoke about earlier.  I had a habit of picking the hottest/nastiest day of mid-summer to scout and investigate potential stand locations for the fall.  The strategy worked.  There was no way you’d see a single deer in that kind of heat.  A shot rang out loud and clear as I crested a ridge heading for a river bottom area where I hoped to check look for deer escaping the summer heat.  “Great!”  I thought.  I’ve just ruined someone’s hunt.  In the back of my mind I thought 30-30, yep that sure sounded like a 30-30.  What’s a varmit hunter doing with that caliber?  I hunkered down on a tree fall and got out the binoculars.  Scanning the river bottom I spotted movement and tried to get my binocs into focus.  Some guy in a yellow sweatshirt was entering the edge of the river bottom swail.

He bent over and it was clear he was about to gut a buck in velvet.  At the end of the experience, viewed entirely through the small eye relief of my binoculars, the yellow sweatshirt was stained red but more importantly was a realization this was my church friend.  “What in the hell is he doing?”  I remember asking myself.  It seemed like hours but actually it was less than 30 minutes. My friend had quartered the velvet buck, shuffled the parts into a double lined garbage bag and then disappeared into the wood line.  The meticulous butchering my friend was known for was out the window today. The head, neck and torso were almost fully intact by the time I reached the scene.  My friend was long gone, unaware I had witnessed his summertime poaching experience.  “Now what?” I thought to myself.  Had I not shown this man this area he would likely not ever have found it himself and I’d have a “protected” albeit public hunting ground. I definitely would have protected the wildlife from poaching.  Or so I thought.

Months went by and fall was fast approaching.  Once or twice I’d seen my friend at church but that July mental image of him gutting a deer and stuffing the parts into a garbage bag never left me. No explanation was necessary.  He was killing deer out of season and I had a hunch as to why.

If you were me what would you have done?  What do you think the outcome was?

Ethics Check – August 2008
Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Ethics Check – August 2008
by Bob Peck

“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 by a mob of onlookers. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact.”
 – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Very few modern hunters under the age of 45 have ever heard of Aldo Leopold.  To the young, if they have heard of him he’s some old dude in black and white photographs who had something to do with conservation. Asking hunters to pick up books on conservation is like asking them to attend an anti-PETA rally.  We get all riled up about anti-hunting groups trying to stop us but we don’t jump in and immerse ourselves unless we’re immediately threatened.  This doesn’t mean we don’t care it just means the problem needs to be parked in our living room for us to organize and act.

It doesn’t take much to set off an ethics “bomb”.  Hunters do it all the time as we in fight over baiting, high fences, herd management, property rights and whole long laundry list of divisive issue.  We all have an opinion of what’s right and what’s wrong and mostly we’re not shy about expressing those opinions without prompting.  It’s as if our opinions are absolutes and should be followed by everyone but secretly we all know that’s not the case.

What is ethical to some is often painted in black and white absolutes.  To others they see gray. Ethics often boils down to what’s right and wrong.  This is the proverbial fork in the logging road.  Leopold put it this way:

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

In the next few columns I’ll be plucking choice real world and true scenarios to ignite some healthy discussion.  Trust me.  We won’t agree, we’ll likely get mad at each other but hopefully with some care and respect we might just learn something from each other so play nice and be civil and before anyone asks, my opinion is not the only opinion.

So I ask you in this maiden voyage Ethics Check to consider what is “right” and what is ethical about the following true scenario:

You find yourself hunting in a familiar spot without a doe tag but just as you’re ready to pack it in along comes a gravely wounded doe.  It’s not clear exactly how the animal was wounded from your vantage point in the tree stand but it’s clear from the limping and large amounts of blood caked on the fur that this doe is suffering terribly and will be blessed if she makes it through the next 24 hours.  Since you’ve hunted the area for years you know the coyote problem is ongoing.  The doe is stopping every 10 yards and looking over her shoulder.  Eventually she decides to bed down within 20 yards and in clear view of your tree stand.  What, if anything do you do?  Go home?  End the misery?  Call the game warden?

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