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No topic more polarizing than long-range hunting

Ask Bwana

Dear Bwana,

What is your opinion on long-range hunting/shooting?


Ethan, Kenny, Josh and every other sportsman I’ve talked to this fall....


Larry Hatter

Ask Bwana By Larry Hatter

As another hunting season comes to a close, a time to reflect on the issues that affect the sport of hunting presents itself. Our typical concerns remain, but one in particular has catapulted to the forefront of all conversations. Is long-range hunting fair chase or a technological overreach? 

I’m confronted with this very question on a regular basis and, in recent memory, can’t think of a more polarizing subject between sportsmen. It has become so controversial that friends are not speaking over coffee at the B & B, families are arguing amongst themselves and I’ve heard, but can’t confirm, it caused a doughnut fight at a recent Idaho State Police luncheon! I personally haven’t taken a side as yet, but predict the debate will only grow in intensity and eventually come to a head.

The desire to shoot longer distances has at least crossed the mind of every hunter. As a youngster, the farther I could reach with my open-sight squirrel rifle, the faster my satchel would fill. As the years progressed, so did my ambition to shoot larger caliber rifles at greater distances. If I could become proficient at three, four or even five hundred yards with my deer rifle, mounted with an eight-power scope, then my chances of bagging a trophy were that much greater.

Now, with today’s advances in technology, the opportunity to shoot even farther has become very real. Scopes with twice the magnification have become commonplace. Many scopes have adjustable turrets factory calibrated for your caliber, bullet weight, velocity and ballistic coefficient. Range finders with thousand plus yard capabilities are the norm and there are more shooting apps on hunters’ smart phones than there are pictures of Miley Cyrus twerking Santa Claus!

Let me be clear on one thing. It takes a tremendous amount of practice, money and dedication to become proficient at long-range shooting. My point simply is that now the tools are there for the enterprising shootist to become accurate at greater distances.

The question remains, is long range hunting ethical? In all honesty, I believe a long-range capable weapon in the hands of conservative sportsmen poses no more threat to game herd health than my old deer rifle. Most likely, these hunters have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars honing their craft and these typically aren’t the type of people who abuse big game or the means used to take them. My concerns lie with a smaller percentage of unscrupulous individuals who care little about the future of our game populations. Mankind has always exuded glutinous characteristics dating back well before the days of the buffalo. Some people can control the urge to abuse an advantage and some are incapable. They take ill-advised shots at distances outside their capabilities. They wound or leave game to spoil and shoot multiple animals from the same herd. If we do eventually lose our right to hunt with long-range weaponry, the unscrupulous few will be to blame.

There is another factor that plays a role in the race for long-range weaponry. The quality of deer and elk hunting in Idaho County is an absolute abomination. I fully support the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, especially our local officers, but the IDFG has implemented a failed managerial policy that focuses on more tag sales, not quality game populations. Ungulate numbers have become so poor that many hunters are looking for any advantage they can muster and shooting farther is the next logical step.

Our elk numbers, not to mention mule deer and whitetail, have been on the decline for 20 years and what has the managerial answer been? Longer seasons and more tags! I mean, seriously, in what universe is it acceptable to sell multiple bull elk tags to hunters in units where there are now arguably more hunters than elk? Take unit 14 for example: If you are brave enough to spend any time between Dairy Mountain and the Dentist Parlor during general rifle season, I suggest you have your last will and testament in order. The amount of lead flying at the few dozen elk who reside in the national forest portion of that unit would make General Douglas MacArthur duck and run for cover! 

Why no action from the individuals charged with the stewardship of our natural resources? Very simply put, their ledger is in the red. The IDFG is in such poor financial shape that, regardless of what the data shows, they won’t cut tags or implement anything that would potentially be construed as a loss of income. They just can’t afford it. 

It’s this writer’s opinion, that if we had healthy game populations, the great debate over long-range shooting wouldn’t even exist. Unfortunately, since our herds are in such poor shape, the sport is being looked at with a magnifying glass. We have precious few resources, and anything deemed as an advantage is frowned upon.

With a new year in sight I’m reminded of something Alexander Pope once said, “Hope springs eternal.” Let’s hope a few greedy individuals don’t cost the conservative sportsmen a chance to enjoy long-range hunting. Maybe the Fish and Game Department will have an epiphany and reduce some elk tags in Idaho County. Finally, here’s hoping that I don’t mysteriously end up as a bear turd come spring. Sometimes the truth can have dangerous consequences.


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