The true test of an ethical hunter takes place when no one is looking
By John Luft
Great Salt Lake ecosystem program manager
I may have an unfair advantage when it comes to hunting pheasants since I was born and raised in Kansas. Kansas has one of the most liberal bag limits of any state when it comes to roosters with four per day and 16 in possession. Needless to say, they are one of my favorite game species to pursue. I take it very seriously, maybe to a fault. I have had co-workers who have hunted with me theorize that, as a baby, a pheasant came and pecked me while in my crib and that is why I pursue them relentlessly.
I can appreciate an upland bird hunter with the intensity to do what it takes to track down a wily rooster. However, the one thing I can appreciate more than harvesting a ring-neck is hunting safely. Through past experiences, both good and bad, I have learned to choose my hunting partners wisely. I have become extremely picky about who I decide to let accompany me afield. For me, there is a level of trust that needs to develop with time before I commit to offering to share a hunt. To say my list of hunting partners is short would be an understatement.
During the fall, I typically work most weekends. It so happens that I work in a field office at one of the Waterfowl Management Areas where some of the pheasants are released during the hunting season.
One late November Saturday, I looked out my window and noticed a man and his son walking with their dog back to a parking lot not far from the office. The hunter's dog was on point below a dike about 100 yards from the office building. As the man walked in to flush the pointed bird, I waited to see what would happen. As the bird took off, it arced in front of both hunters who both had clear shots at the bird. There was one challenge, though: as the bird flushed, the arc it flew put it between the hunters and the office building 300 feet away.
I was certain I'd hear pellets peppering the windows and building, but neither hunter fired, and the bird sailed safely into the marsh.
While it would have been illegal for either hunter to shoot — in Utah, you may not discharge a shotgun within 600 feet of a building — I've seen it happen plenty of times. I was impressed with the good judgment and courtesy this law-abiding father and his son exhibited, even though they had no idea I was watching.
I hurried out to the parking lot where they were loading their dog and guns to leave for the day. They were eager to show me their licenses, but I was more interested in shaking their hands. I don't know who these hunters were, but I do know one thing: I would hunt with either one of them. Thanks, guys!