Guns & Cornbread: Baiting, Ethics, and other Moral Dilemmas

I don’t know about you, but I have never been a big fan of the ancient Greeks. I know they are credited for bringing a lot to civilization. They gave us many ideas on moral philosophy and ethics, and that is all well and good. I just can’t get past my perceptions of how they lived day to day. There was entirely too much prancing around in togas, lying around at supper, peeling grapes and what not. I’m afraid they might have been what one of my hunting buddies would call “prissy”.

Togas and grape peeling aside there is no doubt that Socrates and some of his posse brought us many of the concepts in philosophy and ethics that are still used today. Ethics will be the main focus of our discussion today, so please pay attention class.

Simply defining ethics may not be as easy as you think. As with many things in life, there is a dictionary definition and there is what the general populace believes it might be. So, you are now bursting to ask, what in the world has all this got to do with hunting, fishing, rifles, shotguns, tree stands, or anything else that an outdoor column should be talking about? Glad you asked.

There is much talk these days about hunting and ethics. On the wonderful internet, where no one is required to actually be an expert, only say that you are, there is a wealth of information. Usually, you hear a lot of flowery language where hunting becomes some kind of spiritual endeavor. Let me off of that train.

Nothing comes under the ethics microscope in the hunting world as much as baiting, that is the placing food enticements to draw game animals into range. Opinions on whether baiting is right or wrong, ethical or unethical vary as much as what is the best rifle caliber for whitetail deer, and that is a lot. Where you stand on this issue seems to have a lot to do with your home state and your past hunting experience.

In the beautiful and impoverished state of West Virginia it has long been legal to hunt over bait for deer. In recent years it has become illegal to bait on public land, but it is still legal on private. Baiting for turkeys and bear has always been illegal and is usually strictly enforced, I know because once upon a time I did a lot of it. If you think allowing the baiting of one animal but not others is an enforcement problem, you are right.

Virginia allows the feeding of deer but not during the hunting seasons, Pennsylvania allows baiting in one part of the state but not others, and Georgia is the same. Tennessee allows feeding but all bait must be removed 10 days prior to hunting in that location. The point is that no two states are the same, check your local regulations!

Defining baiting, just like ethics, may not be a simple matter. If I grow and tend a food plot (very popular these days) specifically to hunt over, isn’t that the same as dumping corn and apples on the ground? How about hunting over a waterhole or an apple tree, is that the same as baiting? Many of you say yes, many say no.

Somewhere in any discussion like this the time-honored phrase “fair chase” always rears comes into play. Nobody, (except the internet experts) knows exactly what this means. The Boone and Crockett Club however, a prestigious, long-standing conservation-minded group has the best definition that I know.

“Fair Chase, as defined by the Boone and Crockett Club, is the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.”

One problem, of course, is this. “Improper advantage” to me may not mean the same thing to you. What is ethical to you may be a grievous sin to me. Most of us would agree that chasing animals with a snowmobile or an airplane would be an improper advantage. How about using a duck call, turkey call, a scope on your rifle, bait, or a GPS locator on your hunting dog? Are these improper advantages?

I am not handing down any judgments here folks, just giving you something to fight about at the water cooler and the barber shop.

I hate to tell you this boys and girls, but hunting is not “fair”. It never was and never will be. We humans (well, most of us) are way smarter than the game animals we pursue. Plus we have things like opposable thumbs and whole bunch of fancy guns and other gadgets at our disposal.

If you could, how would you make hunting “fair”? Maybe if we hunted in a loin cloth and carried nothing but a sharp stick, would that be “fair”? I don’t know, but I can tell you right now that I am not going to do it. The thought of me or any of my hunting buddies showing up like that on someone’s trail camera, well, let’s just not go there.

As usual, we have brought up more questions than I have given you answers. It is my humble opinion that hunting ethics, like making cornbread, should be simple. Don’t over think it. If baiting is legal in your area and you want to do it, do it. If you are an experienced hunter you know what is right and wrong. Mentor and guide the up and comers to hunting.

Socrates, Aristotle and the boys gave us some good stuff about ethics; I just can’t get past that toga thing. Maybe if they made one in Mossy Oak….

– Larry Case, HashtagWV #99. March 2018. If you would like to contact Larry, email him at See Larry’s online blog at | Find this column at

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