The Battle For Long Range Hunting Ethics

For many years competition shooters and military marksman/snipers have been shooting long range. In recent years there has been an explosion interest in the sport. There are commonly television shows depicting hunters taking game out to and beyond 1000yds. Military competitions have been televised, along with a host of informational programs highlighting the rifles and equipment used. On the web there are plenty of long range shooting and “sniper” forums. There are almost endless amounts of videos on You Tube showing shooters engaging targets at ranges as far as a mile. With resources so readily available many enthusiasts are looking to shoot farther themselves.

There is still a large community of hunters who believe that shooting game beyond 200 or 300yds is simply unethical. They believe that human error is simply too great to shoot such distances with consistency. They believe that there is not enough energy available, and that bullets do not work properly at long range. There is some merit to their argument. When visiting a local shooting range recently, I would have to say the average 100yd group was about 5″. It is not hard to see why many would consider shooting game beyond 300yds out of the question. Best case scenario, that group would be over 2 feet at 500yds! Even more amazing was than no one seemed particularly upset with these results. I would hope none of these “marksman” were planning to shoot game beyond 100yds. Some popular controlled expansion hunting bullets require higher velocity for proper expansion. If some of these bullets are used at long range they will simply retain form and punch a small hole through game not causing sufficient damage for an ethical kill. There are more than a few examples of long range hunting done the wrong way.

My good friend and shooting partner was recently hunting the eastern part of Washington. He wasn’t seeing bucks so he decided to drop into the trees and see if he could push one up the meadow ahead. He’s an accomplished long range marksman with field and competition experience, he has all the proper equipment, so he was prepared to shoot game at long range if need be. Sure enough his planned worked, he pushed a nice buck into the meadow, but before he got a chance to see it, he heard shooting ahead, three shots. An older gentleman had shot and killed the buck. At some point the man mentions he’d shot from 700yds to 800yds, he wasn’t sure since his rangefinder was not working. Jesse ranged the rocks where the man claimed to have made the shot from, and it was in fact about 500yds away. My buddy helped de-bone the meat and it looked as if the one shot that hit of three was high missing the “vitals” completely, although the buck dropped not far from where it stood. A lucky shot for sure, since the range was unknown, the cross hairs were held high to compensate for drop, and actual ballistics were unknown by the shooter. He could have just as easily injured the buck or missed completely, although he’d likely continue shooting no matter how many times he missed.

Although I too question the ethics of some “long range hunters” the fact is that long distance accuracy is possible. With the right information, equipment, experience, and moral fortitude, it is very possible to be successful. If one does not know when to pass on a shot due to conditions that are beyond the shooter’s ability to compensate for, it is very likely he would also make poor ethical judgments when shooting game at close range. Unfortunately barring these individuals from at shooting game is not possible. These few, are likely the reason long range hunting is viewed in a negative light by so many.

The business end of long distance shooting has come to conflict with the ethics of it. There is a problem with some television shows and advertisements showing an experienced long range marksman take an animal at 1000yds, turn to the camera and say something to the effect, “with such and such a product… it is just that easy”. Perhaps what should be said is, “with dedication, research, testing in a multitude of conditions, thousands of rounds of practice, and such and such a product, it can be this easy”. Sounds ridiculous and it is not going to sell products, but it is the truth. Worse yet when an inexperienced shooter takes a similar shot while someone else, dials the scope and gives the wind correction. Clearly this person has no business shooting at such distances. If he was to miss, who would be to blame?

These same shows will talk about ethics one minute and tell you how easy it is the next. This type of programming and advertising does not encourage ethics in any way, and you can not really blame them… they are simply trying to make a profit, not educate hunters how to make ethical shots on game. A show that would really educate would not be nearly as entertaining, no one would want to sponsor or advertise on such a program so it would simply be impossible to produce.

Fortunately, there is hope for improved long distance hunting ethics. I believe this to be an issue with a minority of long range hunters. With so many educational web sites, and more getting involved, it is very likely that through field practice, many will begin understand the potential complications and variables to consider when shooting long range at game animals. More would then be available to pass the information on, and in conjunction with the good information already available an even higher percentage of long range hunters would value experience and practice before products and hype.

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