Steve Lekwa: Ethics are just as important as rules when hunting in Story County

Steve Lekwa
Ames Tribune

Nature is no longer just whispering that a change in seasons is on the way. The signs are plain to see and increase with each passing week. Humans, too, are getting into fall mode with football games and cross country meets. The first small game hunting seasons for squirrels and cotton-tailed rabbits opened on Sept. 4.

There are rules for the various sports we participate in. Some, like Iowa’s Hunting, Trapping, and Migratory Game Bird Regulations can be read in a booklet available wherever those licenses are sold. Other “rules” aren’t in books but may be just as important. These fall into the area of ethics.

Aldo Leopold was a famous Iowan who is known as the “father of modern wildlife management.” He also wrote extensively on ethical use of our natural resources. He defined ethics as “doing the right thing even when no one is looking, and even when doing the wrong thing is legal.” I have also heard that it means behaving as if your grandma was watching.

Story County is blessed with a number of public hunting areas. Several larger ones are managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, but some county-managed areas are small, and can’t safely support more than one hunting party at a time. It may be legal to enter a public hunting area even if others are using it, but doing so could place you or others using the area in danger, or at the very least diminish the experience of hunting there for all parties.

What do you do if you find the area you planned to hunt already has several vehicles in the parking area? Will you pull in anyway and hope that you can find an out-of-the-way corner to hunt where you won’t disturb the others? Will it be safe? The others may not see you or even be aware of your presence. You might be able to see them, either.

Modern shot shells can still pack a mean punch several hundred yards down range, and rifle bullets can reach out more than a mile. The ethical answer is conditional. How large is the area? Perhaps you could hunt a different part of it safely. Better yet, you could try a different time and hope that other people will respect your use of the area.

Some hunting will take place on private land, too. Iowa law requires that a person have permission from the landowner to hunt, fish or trap on private land. The fact that you hunted there before with permission does not mean you have permission to hunt there again without asking first. The law doesn’t say when or how to ask permission.

When is the best time to ask permission? It’s certainly not the morning you plan to hunt. Ask early and make sure to learn of any special concerns the landowner may have. They may be different than last year — or even last week. Harvest season has begun, and farmers will be busy in the weeks ahead. Perhaps you could offer to help in some way.

It’s quite a privilege to be granted permission to hunt good habitat on private land where you can be reasonably sure you won’t be disturbed by other parties. You owe the landowner something for that. Perhaps you could share some of the game taken from that land. It would better show your gratitude if the game was already cleaned and processed (perhaps some deer sausage or a cleaned pheasant?).

Treat public and private areas where hunting is still possible as the precious gems they are. Show the people who care for them how much they are appreciated. Lastly, show the deep respect and care that is due to our wildlife and game resources, and insist that others you hunt with do the same.