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Hunters: Aim to be educated, ethical

Richard Sullivan, right, a volunteer hunter safety instructor with the Wyoming Antelope Club, shows a student how to sight a .22-caliber rifle on the range.

TERRY TOMALIN | Times

Richard Sullivan, right, a volunteer hunter safety instructor with the Wyoming Antelope Club, shows a student how to sight a .22-caliber rifle on the range.

My 9-year-old son loves the opening scene in the movie The Last of the Mohicans. In case you haven't seen it, the film adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper's novel begins with three hunters running through the woods.

Chingachgook, a Mohican chief, his heir, Uncas, and his adopted "white" son, Hawkeye, chase an elk through the woods. Hawkeye fires his long rifle and the animal stumbles down an embankment. The three men kneel, in thanks and prayer, by the dying elk's side.

"We are sorry to kill you, Brother," Chingachgook says. "We do honor to your courage and speed, your strength."

My boy had probably watched that sequence a dozen times before he finally got the nerve to ask me to take him hunting. I agreed but told him I had a rule: "You shoot it, you eat it."

Knowing that spring turkey season was nearing, I logged on to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's website and looked for the nearest hunter education class.

Florida law requires anyone born after June 1, 1975, 16 years or older, to pass a FWC hunter safety course before they can purchase a hunting license.

The law allows a youth to hunt with a licensed adult for up to a year on a trial basis but sooner or later they must take and pass the class.

The course, which is designed for 12-year-olds and older, takes two days to complete. I took it 20 years ago but decided to retake it with my son, thinking that when it comes to firearm safety you can never have too much training.

I was prepared for a certain amount of backlash from friends and family who do not understand why I would want to catch or kill my dinner.

"If you are hungry," my wife told me, "go to Publix."

As my hunting safety instructors would later explain, my son and I are in the minority.

Roughly 5 percent of the population is hunters. Roughly 5 percent of the population is against hunting. (These are the folks who are going to e-mail the newspaper and complain that I let my son watch the previously mentioned elk hunting scene again and again.)

The remainder, roughly 90 percent of the population, doesn't hunt, but those folks also don't actively oppose hunting.

That is why it is critical that the next generation of hunters, boys and girls my son's age, learn the finer points of being a responsible hunter. The first things young hunters learn are ethics, conservation and respect for both land and property.

They're also introduced to more complex issues, such as the rules of "fair chase," a concept that had been around since the Middle Ages. Even then, hunters understood that there must be balance in the pursuit of game.

In the late 1800s, the Boone and Crockett Club, founded by Teddy Roosevelt, established the "Fair Chase Principle," which according to the club's website, "… is the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of free-ranging wild game animals in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage over the animal."

My son and I have since had many a long and spirited discussion over the concept of fair chase, and what it means to be an ethical hunter.

We both agree that three guys armed with flintlocks chasing a large animal through the woods equals fair chase. More often than not, the elk gets away. Occasionally, the hunter's shot flies true and the whole village eats for a week.

We also agree that there is nothing fair about a "hunter" with a high-powered rifle hanging out of the window of an airplane taking shots at wolves. Unless, of course, the plane banks unexpectedly, the hunter falls out, lands in the snow and finds themselves face to face with some angry canines. Then it's game on.

However, all this talk about "chasing" could be a moot point. Turkey hunting, you see, doesn't involve much moving around. Successful turkey hunters can sit for hours in a blind just hoping that a gobbler will come wandering by their hiding place.

Turkey hunting takes patience. And that is one thing you cannot learn in class.

. fast facts

Florida spring turkey season

When: Saturday-April 24 in most of the state.

Where: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers 42 public hunting areas statewide where hunters need only to "walk on" to hunt spring turkeys.

Permits: Hunters need a hunting license ($17), management area permit ($26.50) and turkey permit ($10) for spring turkey.

Shooting hours and info: A half-hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. New this year, the only firearms allowed during spring turkey hunts on wildlife management areas are shotguns and muzzleloading shotguns. Bows and crossbows also may be used.

Other rules: Only gobblers (male) and bearded turkeys may be taken. The daily bag limit is one turkey, and the season limit is two. Baiting is against the law, but using decoys is allowed. Hunters may not use dogs, use recorded turkey calls or sounds, or shoot turkeys while they are on the roost (in a tree).

Hunters: Aim to be educated, ethical 03/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 17, 2011 7:34pm]

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