Well, I was going to go yapping about why I think both baiting and hunting over kill plots are (or at least can be) examples of fair chase. But the comments generated by the last post move me to parge the discussion’s foundation a bit first. So bear with me. I won’t name names, but a few of you seemed to use the terms legal, ethical, and fair chase interchangeably or nearly so. I’d like to suggest that they are distinct and sometimes pretty divergent. So let’s have a rundown:

It’s popular these days to say, “Hey, if it’s legal, go for it,” which implicitly embraces anything the law does not expressly forbid. But hold on just one durn minute: What’s legal is not always ethical or fair. It is legal in Texas, as I understand it, for rank amateurs and, I’ll add, nincompoops to shoot pigs from helicopters, maiming fifteen for every one they kill–for fun (see the video below). That’s legal. It is neither ethical nor fair chase.

What’s ethical is not limited to any sportsman’s code of fairness. It is about right and wrong in the larger sense. Most folks deem it morally permissible to kill critters for food, preferably with minimum pain and suffering. So shooting a penned pig in the head with a .22 so you can eat the other white meat is ethically fine and dandy. And if you could catch and pen one, shooting a wild deer the same manner would be, too. But, and this is the crux of the matter, it would not be legal or fair chase. Of course you don’t have to go that far: Some folks think baiting is not fair chase, but it’s certainly not unethical to shoot a baited deer for food.

Fair Chase
We’ll save this one’s nitty gritty–of which there is much–for later. Let’s just say for now that fair chase is a sportsman’s code of fairness made up of mostly unwritten rules–a vague yet useful guiding principal. And whereas what’s legal may not be ethical or fair chase, and what’s ethical may not be legal or fair chase, what’s fair chase is usually ethical but not necessarily legal. For example, about half of you think baiting is fair chase, yet it is illegal in many states.

There, clear as a bell, right?