By David T. Cobb
“Manner of Take” is legalese used by regulatory agencies to define methods hunters, fishermen, and trappers can use to kill game animals. In the beginning, the best methods provided optimal types and amounts of food at optimal times. I suspect no one cared how an animal was killed as long as it was done in a way that the animal could be retrieved. Whether by rock, stick, fire or dog the goal was meat in hand. But as most hunting, fishing, and trapping evolved from subsistence to market to recreational motives, perspectives on manner of take have changed. The focus herein is hunting, but most points also pertain to fishing and trapping. And there are, of course, some exceptions where subsistence hunting, fishing, and trapping is still common.
Many hunters are critical of other hunters’ methods. As a benchmark, I’ll go back to the invention of the semi-auto shotgun. At that time, hardcore waterfowl hunters criticized hunters using semi-autos because they thought the new gun gave hunters an unfair advantage with 3 shells instead of 2, allowing them to kill more birds. Hunters accustomed to side-by-sides also thought duck populations would be decimated. History clearly demonstrates that neither concern was valid.
In the Southeast, if you want to get a bunch of deer hunters riled up, start a debate on stand hunting (i.e. ambush-style hunting) versus hunting with hounds. And just for fun, mix in baiting issues, because bait is used by plenty of stand hunters these days. Most houndsmen do not stand hunt and fewer stand hunters have ever participated in a hunt with hounds. Often both groups question the validity of methods used by the other.
Hunting with hounds originated, at least in part, to move deer and other species from areas of dense cover into areas where they could be killed. Arguably, the use of bait or other food sources for stand hunting, while often not needed in today’s world, serves the same purpose. Also, using bait allows people to deer hunt on small tracts of land in many areas where hunting with hounds is no longer possible. We need to have both houndsmen and still hunters in our ranks.
Access for hunting is a critical issue and varies significantly across the country. With the percentage of public versus private lands in states varying from less than 10 percent to over 85 percent, hunters that have access to any lands are fortunate. It often sounds like folks who focus their hunting on one particular land type think their orientation superior. Accessing public or private lands has both advantages and disadvantages. Land-type specific enthusiasts should be thankful and not judgmental. Or better yet, they should utilize the opportunities they have to hunt on both.
As a final and stark example of manner-of-take debates, I offer up archers. Whether using crossbow, longbow, recurve or compound bow, slingbow, or airbow, some archers view themselves as purists and do not think other types of archery equipment should be included in established archery-only seasons. These debates have raged for decades. The most common argument is that new technologies are not real archery equipment (whatever that is) and so adding them into established archery-only seasons deprives real archers of opportunities. Under this logic, users of every new advancement in weaponry rob those using earlier versions of opportunities. Is this really the case?
In most situations, weapons-specific seasons like archery, muzzleloading, and regular gun were partitioned because of different levels of efficacy among weapons. So having different seasons gave more overall hunting opportunity at a time when many wildlife populations were at much lower levels than today.
But all the modernization doesn’t just apply to bows. Now muzzleloaders and rifles are more effective than ever; so should hunters preferring flintlock muzzleloaders or lever-action 30-30’s demand separate seasons? Maybe we should consider an “all legal weapons” season and then have the debates as to the weapons that should be allowed.
If one does not know another hunter’s ability or preference to use certain weapons, or the status of the wildlife population being hunted, are all these purist “manners of take” comparisons valid? I think not. As long as the wildlife population in question is not being overhunted, does it matter which legal method is used?
To me personally, yes, it does matter. But I will not impart my standards on someone else outside of my hunting family as long as they are acting legally, responsibly, and respectfully. If someone opposes a particular method, they should lobby the appropriate regulatory agency to have its legality changed. Or perhaps, all hunters should ask ourselves what hunting really is to us, and why and how it matters. And we all should criticize others carefully and thoughtfully, or better yet … not at all.