Follow Honor, Not Your Feelings
By Michael G. Sabbeth
A Colorado hunter education instructor shared this anecdote. He and his hunting buddies went on their annual elk hunt. One of the buddies had a fetish for taking long range shots, often at distances beyond his skill level. On a particular hunt, against the advice of his buddies, the hunter took a long range shot and wounded his elk. The hunting group spent two days tracking the wounded animal, which was never found. The hunting trip was ruined.
The buddies told the hunter he was no longer invited to join their hunting group. The instructor told me it was painful and difficult to disinvite his friend. “I felt terrible, but it was the right thing to do. The hunter wounded animals and jeopardized our hunts.” I mentioned he could lose a friend. The instructor replied, “Maybe, but then he would not have been much of a friend.”
The honorable hunter loves the hunt; loves the outdoors; loves the challenges preparing for the actual hunt often as much as the actual hunt. But love is not enough. Good intentions are not enough. Love must be intertwined with virtue and duty. When love is divorced from virtue and duty, you have neither love nor virtue nor duty. You have chaos.
In many of my lectures and articles, I talk about the black rhinoceros hunts auctioned by the Dallas Safari Club. In the briefest summary, the rhino to be hunted had killed several young rhinos. The money to be raised would finance anti-poaching programs, enhance local water systems, and enrich schools.
The attacks on the hunting auction were intense. The hunt was described as ‘barbaric.’ Let us go beyond the words of the attackers and examine their values. They valued the life of a post-reproductive rhino that had killed young animals more than the lives of young rhinos, cleaner water for the indigenous population and anti-poaching programs that would have saved more rhinos.
Hunters are often accused of lacking compassion. Those who favored the DSC rhino hunt had more compassion than the opponents—compassion for increasing rhino populations, for the lives of the local human populations and for combating poaching. To have value and meaning, compassion must be built on a foundation of moral virtue. Just feeling good about yourself is morally worthless.
Following feelings can be destructive. You should follow your values, but even that suggestion needs qualification. To be worth following, your values must be based on virtue and wisdom. Wisdom requires judgment and self-discipline.
Risking wounding an animal by making a shot beyond your skill level is not a virtuous value. Risking people’s lives by riding in a truck with a loaded firearm is not a virtuous value. Exceeding game limits by playing the odds you won’t get caught is not a virtuous value.
Lessons can be learned. Feelings are important, and can be instructive, but the honorable hunter needs more. The honorable hunter needs tempered steel for the mind; something to count on; something that will hold an edge. The honorable hunter must develop values that are virtuous. Virtuous values can lead to wisdom. The lack of wisdom is moral confusion and weak character. The hunter does not need to be brilliant; the hunter just needs to be armed with a moral spine.
The honorable hunter seeks truth, but truth is not an end. Truth is the jumping off point for moral action. As M said to Max Denbeigh in the James Bond movie Spectre: “A license to kill is also a license not to kill. You must be sure when you pull the trigger.” The honorable hunter always asks this question: “Is the world better because I am in it?”
Michael Sabbeth is the author of the new book, The Honorable Hunter: How To Honorably & Persuasively Defend & Promote Hunting.