Perhaps as an outdoor writer it is my appointed lot to hear all manner of gripes and opinions on outdoor subjects. We all have the right to express our opinions freely, but in the outdoor world, we can get pretty firm about what we view as the "unsporting practices'' of other hunters.
As if enduring the harangues of anti-hunters is not enough, it is surprising how we snipe at fellow sportsmen for using methods or equipment foreign to our own way of thinking. Every time something new is introduced, some group gets vocal about how "unsporting'' it is.
The latest is the flap about using crossbows. The same rhetoric was used when recurve bows were introduced to the hunting world. The longbow-only crowd was incensed; then when compound bows came along, the opposition was a roar. Always, the argument is the same: it isn't "sporting'' - in their opinion - and it will surely make hunting so easy it will decimate the resource.
Now, I'm not talking about things that are illegal such as poaching deer, shooting hours and so forth. Mostly, I'm referring to things that are accepted in one area and totally disdained in another. For instance, fly-fishermen sometimes denigrate any who fishes with live bait or artificial lures. The wild turkey "expert'' declares from a stage that hunting turkeys with a rifle in the fall should be outlawed.
This one particularly bothers me. He declares that shooting a turkey with a rifle is like shooting fish in a barrel, and so it is unsporting. "Anyone can pick off a turkey at 100 yards with a rifle,'' he declares.
Can they? Ask someone who has actually tried that trick, and you find it isn't so easy after all. Chances are good, he's never tried it. He's just decided that he doesn't like it so it ought to be outlawed.
Many groups or even individuals try to ram through laws on the basis of what is sporting, and there we get into trouble. Vying for laws to make hunting safer is one matter. But attempting to force all other hunters to hunt by our own personal notions of what is sporting is another matter indeed.
In the South, shooting a turkey off the roost is nothing unusual; in the North, it is considered "unsporting.'' I've heard folks pontificate loudly about how terrible it is that in other places black bears are hunted over bait. Yes, a bait pile in Pennsylvania's open woods and fields probably would be unsporting, but in Maine and Canada, for instance, where the forest is as thick as a Brazilian rain forest, there is simply no other way to do it. If you think you can still hunt or drive bears in that particular terrain, it is obvious you have never tried it.
In the South, it is common to drive deer through swamps with dogs; in the North, we would never do that. Some folks believe that hunting gobblers in the spring is so easy they won't dignify the sport by doing it. You'll generally always find out that those making such statements have never tried spring gobbler hunting.
Generally speaking, our opinions on the matter are shaped by the area of the nation in which we live and the attitudes of those who mentored us in the shooting sports. The great Roger Latham wrote in his book, "The Complete Book of the Wild Turkey,'' that he was taught not to ever shoot a turkey unless it was flying. He couldn't bring himself to shoot at a turkey on the ground even if he had called it in. He'd flush it then shoot as it lifted into the air.
While I never personally hunted with Latham, I did hunt many times with someone who was one of Latham's best friends. The man had absorbed Latham's philosophy, and when spring gobbler hunting was begun in Pennsylvania, he had a rough time acclimating himself to that style of hunting.
For years, it was illegal to hunt turkeys from a blind in our state, but that has been changed. Remember when the "cub law'' was instituted? That was when the silly criteria for deciding what bear actually was a cub couldn't be decided until its teeth were examined after the bear was dead. When that criteria was abolished, the entire hunting world, it seemed, was enraged. It would wipe out the bear population with a few years, sportsmen declared. But the scientific research showed that it would not, and now, there are more black bears in Pennsylvania than at any time in our history.
Everyone had an opinion back in the 1960s when doe hunting was begun. What a howl. "It would kill off the deer herd in a couple years time,'' disgruntled hunters said. But the deer population exploded to such an extent that a few years ago very strict population control measures had to be instituted, and that's the protest now.
Of course, we are all entitled to our own opinions, but we ought to be careful about trying to foist them onto other people. Especially when scientific, biological research shows our opinion is wrong. We don't like to admit that, do we?