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Reactions to the “Late Moose”

October 9, 2009

The  “Late Moose” post attracted some comments touching on one of the principal reasons I consented to get drawn into blogging on hunting, fishing, and the “great outdoors.”   My friend Gunnar posed the question, that except for the state game laws, how is the moose-shooter morally different from a hunter shooting an elk for fun? 

Gunnar observed that law is arbitrary because laws are not necessarily moral.  I agree that the game laws are arbitrary, but for reasons other than laws are not necessarily moral.  Like  other states, South Dakota’s legislature created an agency to protect and regulate wild fish and game.  That’s why the Regional GF&P Supervisor quoted in the post denounced the shooter as a poacher and a criminal.  The only action his agency can undertake involves enforcement and prosecution of penal laws.    The United States has a conservation model in which the public owns the game and under that system the laws are designed not only regulate the taking of game, but also to compensate the public for the loss sustained as a result of an unlawful taking.  That is accomplished by assigning a penal penalty, together with a civil penalty in some cases. 

In this sense game laws are arbitrary since the penalties for game violations are speculative and the result of a collective legislative judgment.  After all, how much is a poached elk worth?  How much jail and/or fine should be imposed because a hunter was caught with 4 pheasants in his possession, rather than the daily limit of 3?   And, as Gunnar asks, why does the law treat a shooter with a tag differently than a shooter without a tag?

The incident at Deerfield Lake concerns the taking of an animal and that has legal ramifications; but the operation of the game laws in this case has nothing to do with the public outrage the killing occasioned.   That morning the friend that joined me at coffee and my normally friendly barista  were on a high boil because of the way this  moose had been killed.  How the game laws or the legal status of the shooter entered into the equation wasn’t of concern to them. 

Nor was anyone that morning proclaiming that killing the moose was an immoral act.  I don’t think most folks view this in a moral vs. immoral sense.  And that’s to the good.  In my time I’ve known too many inventive sods that would glibbly defend this act as a moral matter; no penalty should apply since the moose had been killed as a ritual blood sacrifice.  And sadly, I’ve also seen scores of our citizens that would suddenly stop shaking their heads, nod and say, “Oh.  Well, in that case. . . .”  

Rather, the killing of this moose raises ethical considerations.  Like me,  people were angered and appalled at such a patently obnoxious act of destruction.  There was no respect for the animal.  There was no evidence of anything that would either legitimize or excuse the killing.  One didn’t have to have a degree in philosophy that morning to know that something was fundamentally amiss here.  Under these circumstances killing the moose was completely unethical.

Hunting, the process of locating and taking a game animal, is an activity fraught with ethical considerations and consequences.   Whether hunting is examined as a sport, or simply at the level of an individual pursuit, in order to be legitimate it must be ethically conducted and carried out .  The hunter is obliged to observe the principles of fair chase and conservation biology.  And to that end, the game laws do help codify some of the ethical considerations we should observe.

It would be easier all round if these breaches in conduct were moral or legal in nature, rather than ethical matters.  Then we could dismiss the matter more quickly; let the perpetrator be handled by the courts, or let God sort it out. 

But it’s not that easy when these things are recognized as ethical lapses.  I’m angered by the ugliness and wastefulness of the act; but I’m also sickened and disturbed at seeing how black the psyche of the human species can be.  Deep down, unethical behavior of this sort scares me — I’m a member of that species and capable of unethical behavior too.  Sportsmen who hunt, me included, have to look on these ugly incidents and learn from them.   We have to continuously examine our own standards and conduct, and accept responsibility for we find.  If we fail to do so, hunting will cease to exist.

— Jim Margadant

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2009 9:44 am


  2. October 9, 2009 10:51 am

    In your reaction to my earlier response you seemed to separate morals from ethics. As ethics is the philosophy of morals I don’t think we can do that. I am not anti-hunting, Lord knows I have killed enough creatures in my lifetime. For me, at this point in my life, I cannot kill an animal as recreation. You say that it is a good thing that it isn’t viewed as a moral issue. I would argue that it should be. Every person should consider, before he pulls the trigger, whether he has a right to take take that life as entertainment. If he feels he does, that’s fine, but he should really think about first.

    • October 9, 2009 11:33 am

      I know you’re not anti-hunting and I hope I didn’t imply that. I guess our differences result from my being reluctant to apply a moral standard to hunting or fishing. That’s much too simple for my taste. No doubt that is the result of too much conservative Lutheran Sunday school and catechism classes during my impressionable years.

      I’ve found that what goes on during a hunt is a lot more complicated than deciding whether the killing of a particular animal is justified as entertainment. While it can be entertaining, I don’t view any part of hunting — the stalk or the kill — as entertainment. It’s a lot more textured than that. And, I’m finding out, it may be too ravelled up to lend itself to blogging. This way is too impersonal; no way to talk with a friend. Best reserved for a calm evening on the deck, over cigars and aquavit.

      — JM

      • John Wrede permalink
        October 10, 2009 9:43 am

        Interesting exchange. Without deep thought, I have to agree with Gunnar; only from the perspective that hunting is a “cultural exercise” that has varying moral tenets, from multiple cultures, attached to it. In my opinion, the morality of hunting precipitates out to the simple argument that we hunt to eat. Lives of birds and animals are provided that we might sustain our own lives. Native cultures recognized the value of that and established moral approaches to feeding oneself out of respect to that which gave it’s life to preserve our own. Few, so called, American hunters, maintain that intricate a set of moral values any more. As far as “recreation” is concerned, any objective or purpose for hunting that trivializes or departs from the culturally historical reasons for the hunt, can be criticized as questionable moral behavior. When the laws governing hunting were promulgated in SD, as early as the late 1800’s, the entire pretext to regulate the take and conservation of wildlife was predicated on reaffirming that respect for wildlife and conservation demonstrated by native and even the Roman culture.


  3. October 9, 2009 1:12 pm

    “(not) as entertainment. It’s a lot more textured than that.” Sounds like B.S. to me, a veteran. I gotta get back to cleaning the house. Later.

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