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I hate a thief.
That’s why my blood boiled this past week when I grabbed my paper and saw that four local guys – two from Rock Hill and two from York – had been charged with spotlighting deer recently outside of Hickory Grove.
For those not familiar with “spotlighting,” it’s when someone uses a powerful spotlight to shine fields at night for deer. When spotted, the deer typically freeze, at which point the poacher will shoot the animal.
Obviously, the illegal tactic is far from “sporting.”
Poaching of any sorts is just thievery. The individuals who take pleasure in such actions are stealing those deer from the landowner, the state, you and me. If found guilty, such violators would receive a punishment far more severe than any that our courts can dole out, were it left up to me.
I really can’t understand why anyone does it. So what if you take a big old buck that way? Are you really going to be proud of it? Would you hang it on your wall?
And, how about the fact that taking such a rifle shot at night is endangering the lives of people as well? Despite the high candlepower of the types of lights that these thugs use, they still can’t see well enough to know what lies beyond in the darkness, just out of view.
What’s worse is that the actions by such individuals end up painting the law abiding, true sportsmen in a negative light.
That’s because, whether you know anyone who commits such crimes or not, the non-hunting public sees them as hunters and it’s guilt by association.
As sportsmen, we have to understand the basic principles of hunting ethics and how they relate to us.
Our hunting heritage and, ultimately, its continued survival, are potentially at stake each time we enter the “deer woods.” All hunters must understand that ethics and safety walk hand-in-hand.
Take this. Keep it and look over it occasionally. These are the basics of good hunting ethics, which we can’t be reminded of enough.
• Be sure of your target and beyond before you shoot. This applies to any weapon that you take into the woods!
• Make sure your equipment is in good working condition and properly sighted in.
• Take only those shots in which you are completely confident. Know your range! Respect for the wildlife requires that you harvest the animal quickly and in a humane manner.
• If you hunt on private land, be sure to obtain permission from the landowner and respect his or her property as if it were your own. Get the permission in writing and keep it with your hunting license. Scout the area you plan to hunt so you know where the boundaries, houses, roads and fences are located.
If you do not kill your deer immediately, make every effort to find the wounded animal. If you made a questionable shot, don’t push it! Give the animal time to expire and return a few hours later. Remember that permission is required to enter private land.
• Clean and care for your game properly. Take the time to dispose of the remains in the correct manner. Dumping a pile of guts in a ditch or on a side road is unacceptable and makes all hunters look careless and dumb. It’s also illegal!
Pick up all litter, including spent ammunition. Leaving an area better than the way in which you found it is a sign of thanks to the landowner for the privilege of hunting.
• Report observed violations of the law to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources as soon as possible. You can call Operation Game Thief and do so anonymously. 800-922-5431 or #OGT on your cell phone.
• If you are involved in a firearms-related accident, the law requires you identify yourself and render assistance. Failure to do so is a criminal act.
• Develop your skills and knowledge and share them with others. Good hunting ethics and safety practices will “rub off” on others. This is especially true with the youngsters!
• Know and obey all wildlife laws.
• Never draw your bow or remove the safety on a firearm until you are sure of the intended target.
• Respect the rights and opinions of all hunters, non-hunters and landowners. Be sensitive to what their opinions may be of your actions, such as improperly displaying harvested game as you travel home.
Make every effort to retrieve and use all game.
• Respect the land and all wildlife.
• Remember, hunting is not a competitive sport. The quality or success of a hunting season is not measured in numbers!
Here’s hoping that everyone has a great 2012 deer hunting season. To ensure that it’s a memorable one for all of the right reasons, a simple test may be all that’s required.
If you have the slightest doubt or hesitation, don’t do it. Even if after a few seconds you convince yourself that it’s OK, more often than not that initial “gut” instinct is the right call.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.