A Shot in the Dark

Tougher regulations aim for the elusive fair hunt.

Most paid guides and outfitters are scrupulous, because they love hunting and respect the creatures they are paid to stalk. But it's naive to insist that money doesn't have an influence. When a customer with only five days off from work is paying top dollar for a trophy animal -- a guided lion hunt can cost upwards of $4,000 -- the pressure can be intense to make damn sure something is killed before the hunt is over.

So the outfitter struggles to make the trip a success. But what is a fair allocation of effort? The updated mountain-lion hunting laws here simply demand that a hunter put in some work before he puts a bullet into his feline. Yet who will measure how much sweat equity is enough to deserve the final shot?

What, for that matter, really constitutes a canned hunt? How about the elk hunter whose paid outfitter sends him videos of trophy scouting missions, picks him up at the airport, sets up his camp, loads his wide ass onto a horse, calls in a bull and then hands the rifle to his client? Or what about the goose-hunting ranch where the decoys are set out before you arrive and the proprietor calls in the birds while you sit in your pre-constructed blind and drink hot coffee, waiting only to pull the trigger?

Christopher Smith

Certainly all can agree that an ethical hunter at least eats his quarry. The notion that one always eats what one kills at least gives lip service to the ideal that hunters are carrying on a long and proud tradition of providing for themselves and their families. Just to make sure modern meat-seekers remember this, it is also against the law in most states to shoot an animal and then leave it there.

But let's see a show of hands: How many mountain hunters stalk big cats for the meat? Lester Mundy, a longtime houndsman and lion-hunting guide, claims that lion meat is a sweet delicacy. Even so, he adds, only about a fourth of successful lion hunters ever eat it. Most are in the pursuit of venery for the trophy.

Clinically speaking, of course, a canned hunt -- or any scheme that greatly enhances our obvious dominion over animals -- won't matter much to the species. Even a lion treed and kept captive for three days will probably be killed by a licensed shooter with a legitimate tag at some point. But hunters diminish themselves when they take undue advantage of an animal. Real sportsmen don't need a law to tell them when they've violated the spirit of the hunt, and in the end, the dishonor always falls to us.

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