The new hunter ethics campaign being launched by one group of Montana volunteers is simply the latest step in what will likely be a long process to educate hunters and nonhunters alike.

Last week the Citizen Advisory Committee for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ region 3 announced the official plan for its Hunt Right campaign. The goal is to promote ethical hunting and educate nonhunters to the fact that the vast majority of sportsmen and women keep ethics at the forefront of their mind while out in the field.

“People won’t tolerate for long the kind of ethical violations we saw last year,” CAC member Dennis Nelson said in a press release. “The future of hunting in Montana depends on social acceptance, which means improved public perception and support for hunters and hunting, based on ethical hunting decisions and actions. Our aim is to help hunters consider things more carefully, which will help them make better choices in the field.”

We agree and are immensely pleased with the effort the CAC has made to move this issue forward. The group now is in search of funding to help with the complete launch of the campaign. We encourage both private citizens and sportsmen’s groups from around the state to get behind the effort.

It might seem like a narrowly focused campaign, but it’s one that could have a long reaching impact. Some of the earliest conservationists in America were hunters. Primarily men, but women as well, who realized the days of unregulated taking of game for pleasure and sustenance was destroying populations.

The near extinction of the North American bison is an example of this. But early on in our country’s march from the Atlantic Ocean west across the Appalachians, the Mississippi bottom lands, the Great Plains and onto the Rocky Mountains, the theme was one of conquest and wildlife and wildlands bent to the will of Manifest Destiny.

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Helena resident, hunting historian and ethics expert Jim Posewitz points to Theodore Roosevelt as the main policymaker and leader who changed the direction our country was heading. Posewitz, in his book “Rifle in Hand: How Hunters Save Wild America,” describes Roosevelt as an avid hunter, but also a man who saw the need and benefit of broad scale conservation for the sake of wildlife and their habitats. He and some other prominent figures, including George Bird Grinnell and Aldo Leopold, worked to not only protect wildlife populations around the country, but to promote ethical hunting and wildlife management. The wildlife regulations we enjoy today have their genesis with these conservation heroes.

But unfortunately not all hunters paid attention. Despite regulations geared at protecting wildlife populations, while providing hunting opportunities, a small population of people still hunt without much respect to season or quota. They find pleasure in outwitting game wardens. They’ll quickly put their wife’s or kid’s tag on an animal they shot, just to keep hunting another day. Wildlife laws are only guidelines and the thrill of the hunt is matched by the cheap thrill of trying to be an outlaw. To be clear, these people are in a distinct minority, but still they exist, giving a black eye to a pursuit many of us enjoy.

The Hunt Right campaign will help draw a clear distinction for the hunting and nonhunting public alike between the unethical hunters and those of us who throw our shoulder to the wheel of ethical hunting and wildlife conservation efforts. It will help make clear why ethical hunting is a vital conservation tool in Montana and around the West.

We can only hope events like we saw last big game season east of Canyon Ferry Lake, where elk got harassed by hunters and bunched up in groups only to be shot at like fish in a barrel, will finally be a thing of the past. It might be too much to hope for. However, the Hunt Right campaign is a fantastic step in the right direction.

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