ESCANABA - Hunter safety instructors who attended a workshop in Lower Michigan last spring were issued a book written by Bob Norton, Ph.D. The publication is titled The Hunter - Developmental Stages and Ethics.
The book is the first application of research I've ever seen that ties to what we teach in the hunter safety classes. It breaks down behavioral patterns based on history and theory from surveys and interviews of countless numbers of hunters, conservation officers, land owners and game managers.
It also details the five stages of hunter development in greater detail than what is printed for students. The information provided will help me better explain what we are all about and the importance of hunting ethics and the spirit of the rules.
The five stages are: Shooting Stage, Limiting-Out Stage, Trophy Stage, Method Stage and Sportsman Stage. It should be noted that not everyone passes through all of these stages, nor do they necessarily do it in the same order, per the 2007 teaching text.
The detail of each stage follows:
Shooting Stage - The priority is getting off a shot, rather than patiently waiting for a good shot. This eagerness to shoot can lead to bad decisions that endanger others. A combination of target practice and mentoring helps most hunters move quickly out of this stage.
Limiting-Out Stage - Success is determined by bagging the limit. In extreme cases, this need to limit out also can cause hunters to take unsafe shots. Spending time with more mature hunters helps hunters grow out of this phase.
Trophy Stage - The hunter is selective and judges success by quality rather than quantity. Typically, the focus is on big game. Anything that doesn't measure up to the desired trophy is ignored.
Method Stage - In this stage, the process of hunting becomes the focus. A hunter may still want to limit out but places a higher priority on how it's accomplished.
The Sportsman Stage - Success is measured by the total experience - the appreciation of the out-of-doors and the animal being hunted, the process of the hunt, and the companionship of other hunters.
I used to include my own additional category and called it the "Burned Out Stage".
At this level, the hunter is not getting any enjoyment out of the experience and seeks to blame others for it. The burned out hunter is angry because his skills have either diminished or game isn't easy for the taking like it may have been in earlier times. They reflect themselves as being good at the craft but aren't having fun anymore.
Dr. Norton's book offers a better perspective, one that I think is better than what I developed and will no longer use for reference. He refers to the hunter ethics and profiles the good and bad.
Norton warns it takes time to distinguish the ethical hunter from his unethical counterpart. In time there are certain characteristics that set them apart.
He writes, "When ethical hunters talked about hunting, you could hear their commitment to the sport, their deep and keen sense of the woods and wetlands, the thrill of pursuit of the game, the perfection of the skills of hunting, their depth of knowledge of the game they pursue, and the joy that comes when experiences are recalled.
The ethical hunter always abides by the law and always demonstrates safe gun handling and hunting practices. They express strong negative feeling toward violators and categorize them as the most unethical.
The ethical hunters respects the land, the land owner, the non-hunter, the fellow hunter, and abides by fair chase.
When unethical hunters talk, they quickly identify themselves. They express a strong dislike for the Department of Natural Resources and always know more than the game managers about the size of the deer herd or about the duck population.
They know how to manage the resources far better than those college-trained department people do. They never have the chance to shoot as many ducks as the people do down river; steel shot is bad, and wardens (conservation officers) are the lowest of all life forms. They show their arrogance by expressing a selfish goal of the hunt.
Much of their information about wildlife is based on folklore that has long been disproved.
A short time into the conversation they are telling of their progress as a hunter by expounding on their shooting ability and expertise to take trophy animals or limit of ducks. Most of them like to talk, seldom listen, and have the answer to all the questions about wildlife management, guns, shooting, and harvesting game."
The book breaks down facets of discussion in great detail and is good reading for those who are in the process of mentoring a new hunter.
Dr. Norton's book is published through Riverbend Publishing, P.O. Box 5833, Helena, MT 59604. You can phone them toll free at (866)787-2363 or via the internet at www.riverbendpublishing.com.