Over the past few years, a few people expressed their disdain for shooting a grouse out of the tree. To them, it is unsporting to shoot a perching bird. Ironically, these same people think it is unethical to shoot a deer or moose on the run.
First off, sporting and ethical are not the same thing. Secondly, sportsmanship takes on many dimensions. Sporting can either mean exciting or thrilling for the enjoyment of one’s own pleasure. On the other hand, it also mean fairness and respect for others. The concept of sportsmanship means different things to different individuals.
Now, my grandfather was an avid bird-watcher and also a sportsman. Hunting and fishing was his drug. However, his love of avians came first. Shooting a bird on the wing was forbidden. Oftentimes he regaled in stories about animals hunters shot, but their dogs failed to find or the wrong species was injured or killed. There was a fair share of red-tailed hawks which were mistaken as pheasants. From the get-go, he was a strong advocate for selective shooting and discouraged indiscriminate method. So, the value of identifying the target and backstop became ingrained.
Let us establish a bit of foundation.
Now, shooting a bird on a dirt-road is like fishing in a stocked pond. Both activities are traditional past-times and rites of passage for many who grew up as children. Ideally, as we grow in experience, the goal post is advanced. At one point or another, it is expected to move away from the roads and attempt a much harder pursuit. For some, this transition does not occur as many still participate in ground-slucing as adults when they commute to work via the oil-fields, the mines or the forestry equipment.
Well, one day after shooting the first bird for my first hunting dog (as an adult), a friend of mine encouraged me to shoot a bird in front of this Jeep after I caught a ride with him back to town. This was after I shot a bird for my dog. The act of pounding a bird on the road didn’t feel right. However, I still flat-decked one just to see if my feelings on the subject has changed. It was then I understood why countries like Finland forbid these kind of hunting. There was no effort to find the game, just a chance encounter.
First off, it is understandable why people participate in road-hunting. To them, chasing grouse is not a game or some kind of sport. It is not about fairness. It is about putting a meal in the pot after a long day of hunting moose or deer. After a chasing an ungulate for a few hours unsuccessfully, wouldn’t it be justice to nab a bird? Assured shot surely must be a just reward.
Not necessarily so. Birds come to the road to ingest gravel to aid them in digesting their meals. Some of them come to the roads to warm up in the sun. Being on gravel roads is the most vulnerable since they are the most exposed.
So let’s take a look at the fair-chase in the field away from the roads.
With shooting on the wing, the birds are fleeing to safety. Chances of wounding is extremely high. Not all dogs are very good at retrieving. Even the best ones still fail to recover on occasions. There has been a few time where a terrier or ferret would had done the job better than a retriever due to the circumstances.
So why shooting a perching a bird okay? Let us look at the issue from a fair-chase perspective. Firstly, the game has a chance to fly to safety. Secondly, the challenge is to find which tree the bird is in. Thirdly, it is much more difficult to figure out where the bird is in the tree than it is to shoot after a flush. Fourthly, by the time the bird is found from the tree, the possiblity of being flushed from the tree is very high. The bird is keenly aware it might be shot, fear is heightened and wouldn’t hesitate to flee if pressured. The key here is to stalk quietly and slowly as possible so the desired game remains calm without being stressed out. In this context, it would be unethical to shoot a bird which decided not to stay in the tree.
There are countless of times where the dog successfully flushed and treed the bird, but me, the hunter, screwed up on stalking it and spooked the bird from the branches because of a branch cracking or because the profile wasn’t low enough and should had crawled on elbows and knees. Like skeet-shooting, stalking is a unique skill itself.
From a humane-kill viewpoint, finding a fallen bird becomes easier; and with a dog, they are much more easily able to find one. While shotguns are easier and more popular due to its limited range and safer to use in crowded areas, a bow or rifle is much more likely to kill outright. The last thing anyone want to deal with is a wounded runner. However, it is still popular to shoot a treed bird with a shotgun largely because of legal constraints regulating firearms.
From an ecological sustainability point of view, letting a bird perch allows for selective harvesting. One can choose to shoot a female or male as well as determine the bird’s age and species. It becomes the hunter’s decision whether or not it is wise to harvest it. Secondly, unlike indiscriminate practices, the hunter becomes even more aware of his bag-limit. Also, he can determine if he only need one or two birds for dinner that night, oppose to unexpectedly harvesting more than what he needed.
Lastly, from a safety standpoint, there have been more firearm accidents involving shotguns and shooting on the wing or rabbiting than with precision-based armaments such as rifles in Finland. Of course, random accidents still occur from time to time like one incident involving a girl being slain by a stray bullet near Lake Baikal. However, most of the accidents which are not self-inflicted involves being too hasty and making decisions based on movement rather than visual conformation. There are no shortages of news-reports in North America about a hiker being mistaken as a bear; or a hunting partner mistaken as a deer. A proper back-stop and being calm in assessment are two contributing factors in preventing accidents.
So, the next time someone makes the case for why shooting on the wing is better, keep in mind the tradition is based on the British or Continental European sense of sportsmanship which is regarded as the most exciting venture. No one can deny wing-shooting is a noble or regal sport which demands skills of the highest order. However, as we can see, the defense for wing-shooting as the more ethical method does not stand up to the litmus test.
Regardless, this does not mean wing-shooting is inferior or that it should be banned. There are still a great many deal of people who continue to pursue this sport with British or European gun-dogs in almost every country around the world. What matters here is whether or not using a flushing dog or a treeing dog have equal footings. In no way the discussion is contending which method is more ethical, more sporting or more humane.
I have family members who enjoy wing-shooting and they pour in thousands of dollars into honing their skills at the local shooting range. Some of them had been skeet-shooting champions at one point in their lives. They also put countless of hours into perfecting their dogs’ skills in the field, and some of those have went on to finish in trials. Their efforts are commendable. They deserve to reap the rewards of putting in the money and time into getting ready for hunting season.
However, the great debate on which is more ethical or what is more sporting should be put to rest. What matters is the ecological sustainability of the harvest.
- Bark Game (2014, April 20). Code of Ethics for Hunting with a Bird-barking Dog. Retrieved October 28, 2014 from http://barkgame.org/2014/04/code-ethics-hunting-bird-barking-dog/.
- (2011, October 25). Metsästysonnettomuudet ovat kääntyneet selvään laskuun Etelä-Saimaa. Retrieved October 28, 2014 from http://www.esaimaa.fi/Online/2011/10/25/Mets%C3%A4stysonnettomuudet+ovat+k%C3%A4%C3%A4ntyneet+selv%C3%A4%C3%A4n+laskuun/2011112279593/4.