Have We Lost Our Bowhunting Ethics?

By Justin ZarrJuly 9, 200921 Comments

LAST UPDATED: May 8th, 2015

Bowhunting on film requires an even greater set of bowhunting ethics when it comes to shot selectionWith each passing year it seems that there are more hunting TV shows, videos, websites, and expos  showing off world class animals than ever before.  There's no question that when it comes to the size of the animals hunters are harvesting each year we are clearly living in the Golden Age of hunting.  Although many can argue that our hunting heritage is losing it's soul as hunting grounds become tougher to come by, gear and the overall cost of hunting continues to become more expensive, and competition amongst hunters often leads to arguments and in some extreme cases fighting and the destruction of lifelong friendships.  But I digress, that's not what this blog entry is all about.

What I do want to talk about is our drive to succeed, to show off our accomplishments, and the way it effects our judgement when it comes to shot selection.  I am a self-diagnosed hunting video junkie.  There aren't many hunting videos I don't own, and there aren't many hunting TV shows that I don't have recorded on my DVR.  Over the past several years I've noticed a disturbing trend of hunters on camera taking horrible shots at animals, passing them off as good shots either due to their incredible marksmanship, their awesome gear, or just because it was the "only shot they had".  Each time I watch one of these videos I can't help but feel a strong sense of anger towards these bowhunters for their poor representation of our sport and their apparent greed and concern only for their trophy photo and product sponsorship rather than the humane killing of their quarry.  Is this really what we've been reduced to?

I took my bowhunter's education class in 1992, shortly before my first season in the woods with a bow in my hand.  During that course the instructor made it very clear to all of the students that the only shots a bowhunter should take at big game animals were broadside and slightly quartering away.  That's it.  Facing directly away, directly underneath, quartering towards, or straight-on shots were taught to us as unethical and extremely low percentage shots that we should NOT be taking.  Has the anatomy of our big game quarry changed so much in the past 17 years that these shots are now suddenly acceptable?  Unless I'm missing something, I don't think that's the case.

To use an example that's fresh in my mind I DVR'd an episode of In Pursuit with Greg Miller the other night.  After a long day at work I was relaxing on my couch and decided to check it out.  I've been a big fan of Greg's for many years and really enjoyed his books, articles, and previous videos.  On this particular hunt Greg's son, whose name I forget, was hunting in North Texas.  On the last day of his hunt a gorgeous buck comes into his setup and doesn't offer him a broadside or quartering away shot, but rather a quartering-towards shot.  Instead of waiting for an ethical shot or simply passing the shot entirely, this bowhunter took a severly quartering-towards shot and hit the animal behind the near leg with the arrow exiting at what appeared to be near the rear opposite leg.  I don't care who you talk to in the bowhunting world, but that is not the type of shot anyone should be taking at an animal.  Of course the animal was recovered the next day, with no mention of the horrendous shot, and all was well.  Somehow I have a sneaking suspicion that if this animal would not have been found, that video would've never seen the light of day, or our TV screens.  I am by no means singling this hunter or this show out, as there are plenty of other examples out there.  This is just the most recent in my mind.

What kind of example does this type of behavior present to our young and beginning bowhunters?  Does it teach them that the ends justify the means?  That if this guy on TV can do it, why can't I?  That all that matters is putting our hands on that trophy rack and emailing the photos to our friends?  And we wonder why our Internet message boards burst at the seems each fall with bowhunters asking "I think I hit him, now what?!!?" threads.

When it comes to shot placement there is a big different between taking a bad shot, and making a bad shot.  Unfortunately bad shots happen to most bowhunters at some point in their lives.  I am guilty of more than one in my career, none of which I am proud of. An unseen twig, a jumpy target on alert, or simply our nerves getting the best of us can send an arrow off it's mark.  These things happen to even the most seasoned veterans and are an unfortunate reality of our sport.  However, as long as we do everything in our power to keep these errant shots to a bare minimum we are still behaving ethically and as respectable bowhunters.  It's when we begin to conciously decide to take questionable shots at animals that we become victims of this horrible trap that defines our success by the number of animals we kill rather than the morality behind our decisions.

I believe that this code of shot placement ethics should be held to an even higher standard when it comes to the professionals who are paid to represent and promote our sport on TV, in films, and in advertising campaigns.  You are the ambassadors of our sport, the people that other hunters look up to and aspire to be.  Taking a bad shot at an animal to help promote your career or your agenda is no different in my eyes than MLB players taking steroids to increase their performance.  We are so focused on the end results that we look past how we got there, and as many people have found out taking the easy road isn't as rewarding as taking the high road.

In conclusion, I challenge every bowhunter who reads this blog to really think about their own decisions and the way they hunt when taking to the woods this fall.  Before you release that next arrow make sure it is an ethical one.

Oh, and if you make a bad shot (especially on film) don't lie to us and say that you "smoked him".  We're not idiots.

Justin Zarr
Follow Me
General Manager at Bowhunting.com
Justin has been bowhunting for more than 25 years, harvesting a number of P&Y whitetails in his home state of Illinois during that time.  He co-hosts the popular bowhunting show 'Bowhunt or Die' and is a frequent guest on numerous hunting podcast.  Justin lives in the NW suburbs of Chicago with his wife and 3 children.
    Post a Comment View 21 Comments