Today is Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A lesson in ethics

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Archery hunting affords a great time to teach ethics.

I felt this was an appropriate time to talk about ethics. Our archery deer season opens next Tuesday (Sept. 29) and many youngsters will be hunting for the first time. You might suggest they read this or better yet, read it to them. Then, maybe discuss it. Start them off right. JLS --

Shadows stretched across the yard. The old man sat peacefully in the shade of the chinaberry tree. At his right hand, sitting squarely on an old, handcrafted oak stool, a quart fruit jar of sweet ice tea sweated in the warm air. At his feet, a young puppy dreamed of days to come, kicking from time to time, probably chasing birds in a golden field in a far-off land.

The man sighed contentedly as he rubbed Cornhusker's lotion into his hands. That last bluegill had stuck a fin under one fingernail. Those things can hurt like the dickens, he thought. His grandson, now 12 and full of himself, finished putting the rods and reels in the garage and came to sit beside him, a can of pop in his left hand, worm dirt on both.

What an afternoon. Fillets from 35 thick bream were draining in the sink. All but a double handful would go in the freezer. The rest would be supper. There'd be some fresh tomatoes from the garden and some good, green onions and fries and maybe cornbread. His mouth watered and he sipped his tea.

The boy slurped his pop. "Gramps," he said, just what is ethics?"

The old man swallowed his tea and looked at the boy. "Ethics? What brought that on?"

"You know I took that hunter education course last week." The boy said. "The instructor talked a lot about ethics, but he didn't exactly explain what ethics is. Does that mean obeying all the laws?"

Lemme study on this a minute, boy. Lemme see can I explain it better. See, ethics is not easy to explain or easy to understand. It's kinda like a special sunrise. Hard to put in words.

Now this afternoon we caught how many bream? Fifty, maybe 75? According to the law, we could have kept all of them right?

The boy nodded and started to speak.

"But," the old man broke in quickly, "we only kept 35. Why is that you reckon?"

"Well, you said we only needed 35 to make a good couple messes," the boy replied. "That was all we could use."

"Right," the old man nodded. "We could have kept 70 and been legal. But that would have been hoggish. It wouldn't have been ethical even though it was legal. So ethics doesn't always mean the same as legal. See what I mean?"

The boy sucked some pop and scratched the pup's ears. "I see that, but does that mean ethical means keeping less than the limit?"

"No son, that aint exactly it either. In some ways, ethical means keeping only what you can use. But that is just one example. Here's another. You recall last year when we went dove hunting and that dove lit right over your head? You recall, I didn't let you shoot it? See, you could have shot it easy. It would have been legal. But it wouldn't have been ethical for the dove would not have had a chance. It wouldn't have been sporting.

The boy looked up. "I understood that. It wasn't fair to the bird." The pup nudged the boy's hand.

"Right," the old man continued. "And remember last fall when you killed that nice doe and wanted to drive all over town showing her off. That was plumb legal, and lots of folks would have done it. But it wasn't ethical. You recall what I told you?"

"You said the most people didn't give a tinker's damn about my deer, and it wasn't right to rub their noses in the gut pile. You said it was fine to be proud of my doe, but that it was a personal thing and the deer should be treated with respect."

"That's exactly right," the man said. "Now think on this. This fall, when you come to hunting camp, you'll be bowhunting for the first time. Some days you'll be hunting alone. Won't be nobody but you there to make decisions of what's right and what's wrong. An ole deer comes along, only you decide if you have a shot or not. Aint no law says you can't shoot it in the butt. Is it the right thing to do? Is it ethical to an ole deer in the butt?"

The boy was silent, thinking about the situation and stroking the pup's belly. "I guess it wouldn't be fair to the deer. We might not find it. I'd wait for a close, broadside shot."

"Now think on this." The old man sipped his tea while he formed the words. "You found that big deer crossing at the head of the draw last year, and I said it would be your stand this year. We put that good ladder stand there just for you and trimmed the shooting lanes and all. It is your stand. But, if when you get there opening day, some other hunter is already set up there. What do you do? Remember boy, we don't own that land."

The boy piped up, "I'd tell him it was my place and he'd have to move. I found it first."

"How do you know you found it first? Lemme get this straight. You figger you're the first person, white or red to ever see that trail? Son, think on that a minute."

"But it's my stand," the boy pleaded. "You said it was."

"Yes I did," the man agreed. "But was it mine to give? I don't own that land. As far as I'm concerned, it is your stand. But I can't speak for the other hunters that might have found it. Maybe they found it before you. Maybe they figure it's their stand. How do you deal with that ethically?"

Silence. The pup sprawled full length in the boy's lap. "Is it first come-first served?" The old man quizzed and waited for the boy's thoughts.

"I guess it would be," the boy said. "But what is the ethical thing to do? Should I explain I thought it was my stand and ask him to move?"

The old man chuckled. "Reverse the situation, boy. What if you were there first? What would you want him to do?"

"Well, I'd want him to just go quietly away and find another spot to hunt. I'd want him to try and not disturb my stand."

The old man stretched and smiled. "Right. That's the ethical thing to do," he said.

The boy grinned. "So ethics is kinda like the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

"Yes," the man said. "It's that and more. "It's doing what is right and what is fair and responsible. It's more than that, too and I'll tell you, son, it's too dadgummed hard for an old man like me to explain. Ethics, son, is the way you are. The way you think. With good examples and good teachers, you'll understand as you grow. And son, you've got good teachers. I've seen to that."

The old man searched for a match, filled his pipe and got it sucking and gurgling to suit him. "You know Miz Beckman, Paulie's mother?"

The boy nodded. She and Paulie were in my hunter education class. I wondered what she was doing there. Paulie's a year older than me. He likes to hunt and can shoot a bow real well, but his dad was sick last year and couldn't take him much.

"I know," the old man said, "That's why Sue-Miz Beckman was taking the class. See, Paul, that's Paulie's dad, has cancer. They caught it late. It looks as though there isn't much they can do for him. Sue-Miz Beckman, she knows Paulie wants to hunt and is figurin' on takin' him next fall. Trouble is, she doesn't know the woods and doesn't really have any place to take him." The old man leaned back looked across the field where a mockingbird was dive-bombing a transient crow.

After a bit, the boy looked up from the pup. "Why couldn't they go with us?" he asked his grandfather. "Mostly during bow season, there will just be me and you at the camp. There will be plenty of room. I could show Paulie where to set up. Maybe he could hunt down by that big slough or maybe even I could let Paulie hunt my stand up at the head of the draw."

The old man rubbed something off his forehead and managed to sneak a finger to the corner of his eye.

"Why yes, I 'spect they could." he said. "I hadn't thought of that. That would be a nice thing to do, an ethical thing, I reckon I'll mention it next time I see Sue," he nodded. "Good teachers." He thought.

Contact the author at jsloan1944@gmail.com.

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