By Mark Fike
While fishing one time, I was standing on the end of the jetty where the state line from Maryland and Virginia met. The water on the left side was considered Maryland waters. Rockfish season was in for Maryland waters. I was actually fishing for flounder. My boat was on the beach on the left side clearly in Maryland waters. However, I was fishing from the rocks on the jetty. I cast my line into the water inside the jetty and bounced the rig up and down back to me and hooked something. When I got it to the surface it was a big rockfish.
I knew I hooked it in Virginia waters where the rockfish season was closed. However, I was standing on the line and could easily land it in Maryland with no problem. In fact, the fish willingly ran to the Maryland side of the jetty and I did land it there. However, I released it despite dreaming of how that fish would taste on the grill at the rental house we were vacationing in ten minutes away.
I heard one guy fishing from a boat yell to me, “Man, you should have kept it. You landed it in Maryland waters!” He was correct. I did land it legally in Maryland where the season was open. However, I knew I hooked it in Virginia waters and I knew that doing the right thing is never a bad idea. Some may argue with me about it.
After that guy moved off, another boat drifted nearby. A man and his young son were in the boat. He commented to me that I set a great example to his son and he explained to his son what I could have done if I wanted. I never really paid attention to who was watching. I just tried to do the right thing.
Something that can sour people’s opinions on hunters or anglers are people that push the gray area. For example, on a property I lease I found a huge treestand on a massive oak tree right on the corner of the property line. A barbed-wire fence notated where the property line ran and the stand’s ladder was a few feet on the other property but the top of the stand rested on the tree which is on the property I caretake.
The tree was clearly POSTED NO TRESPASSING. Legally, it was not something I could clearly win in court. But, given how the deer traveled in that area, they were going to be on my side of the line 90% of the time and if hit on the other side, would likely run back to my side.
The stand owner clearly knew that as shooting lanes were cut to the line with a shooting sight line onto my property. That told me right away what kind of hunter was on the other side of the line. I caught them twice on my side over the years trespassing and claiming they did not know where their line was despite the fresh signs they put up within sight warning me to stay off their side.
A call to the game warden who talked to the landowner got them thrown off the property and I was able to form an alliance with the owner to help watch each other’s backs.
Another example of legal but unethical hunting behavior is people that shoot game that is close to others’ hunting areas or even their residences. Sometimes there are no laws against certain behaviors, but you know it is wrong to do. While duck hunting on a river, I would not set up my spread two hundred yards from someone’s house even though they should have known when they bought the property that they would hear boat engines, see people fishing the river and hear gunshots during waterfowl season.
I would make sure I was far enough away that I am not causing a sleeping homeowner to claw the ceiling out of alarm. The same goes for hunting on land. If I can see a house or know one is nearby, no matter if it is legal for me to hunt that close, unless the landowner has asked me to hunt there for some reason, I am not shooting that close to a house. We should always check the laws AND use common sense and ethics in our outdoor pursuits.
Perhaps one of the coolest examples I have heard of someone making an ethical decision while hunting was when they had scouted their lease and noticed a quality buck that was using their property. However, the camera was near the adjoining property and the buck was always traveling back and forth between the two areas.
The first hunter was talking to the neighbor one day and told him what he had seen. He came to find out that the neighbor had also seen the buck. Bucks don’t know property lines. When the first hunter heard how the neighbor had given permission to another man and his young son to hunt and how the young boy had seen the buck and was so excited to get a chance at it, his heart kind of stopped. After thinking it over, he asked to speak to the second hunter and his son. Contact information was exchanged.
The story ends well because the first hunter patterned the buck and offered the young man a chance to come hunt his land to get the buck. He was successful, and to this day, that young man is an avid hunter. The first hunter only asked that someday the boy do that same thing for some other new hunter. That is class!
Finally, there is nothing illegal that I am aware of that keeps you from parading your trophy buck or elk or anything else around town for all to see in your truck. However, if it is bloody and might cause someone, particularly young children not exposed to hunting, to become upset, why blatantly gross someone out or upset them?
I find it far classier to cover the animal up with a tarp on the ride home. Think about it. If your buck or elk is that big, the antlers will be clearly seen sticking up out of the truck bed. That will get plenty of notice but in a better way.
People are watching and forming opinions constantly. It takes a long time to build a good reputation and only one action can ruin it. So, just because something may be legal, it may not be ethical to make certain choices.