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Not by a long shot?

When Bill Leever hunts deer or elk, he strips down to the basic essence of what "fair chase" means to him.

His rifle is equipped with only old iron sights, no optics. He carries no range finder. He relies of cover, wind and his five decades of hunting to pick out his target and put a big sneak on to get close enough for a good, clean shot.

Though it's legal and well celebrated, squeezing off a shot at an animal 700 yards away is never part of Leever's arsenal. Not by a long shot.

"I've always gotten a lot of satisfaction in matching my wits and skills against whatever animal I am hunting," Leever says. "A lot of things can go wrong with a 700-yard shot. It has to be a good, clean and close shot. We owe it to the animal.

"It's the ethos of hunting," he says.

Technological advances are now inviting hunters to take substantially longer shots in the field, spurring a public debate about whether relying more on improved weaponry over field skills is blurring the lines of hunting's historic fair-chase credo.

The Boone and Crockett Club this spring weighed in on the debate, saying long-range shooting threatens that fundamental relationship between predator and prey that is at the core of what hunters dating back to Teddy Roosevelt have considered the ultimate respect given to animals.

The club states in its paper that long-range shooting takes unfair advantage of the animal, eliminates the chance for the animal to sense danger, and it "demeans" the predator-prey relationship.

In short, it can transfer what most know and cherish as hunting into simply shooting at live targets.

"If your intent is just to turn animals into targets, you've moved into something else," says Keith Balfourd of the Boone and Crockett Club, based in Montana. "It's not hunting. This celebrating the shooting of animals at extreme range that you see on TV and YouTube, this isn't fair chase."

There is no set standard for how long is too long. A combination of factors come into play, ranging from the type of weapon, ballistics, environmental conditions, the animal being hunted and, most importantly, the skills of the shooter.

The ultimate arbiter is whether the distance and type of shot increases or decreases the likelihood of wounding the animal, and longer shots are widely accepted as increasing that risk.

There also exists, however, a set of highly skilled hunters in more open country who understand maximum effective range of their weapons and run through thousands of rounds at the range specifically so they can pull off these shots when they present themselves.

But the general public more and more is enticed to buy into new gun and optics technologies as a short-cut around long-term investment in honing personal shooting skills.

"There's this 'buying skills' thing that's at play here, and the public is being tempted by these new technologies," Balfourd says.

That's why Boone and Crockett weighed in on long-range shooting as it relates to fair chase, focusing on intent and imploring hunters to work on getting closer to their quarry for better shots and eschewing the celebrating of long shots for shots' sake, Balfourd says.

"Ethics have always united hunters," Balfourd says. "There's a lot of historical precedence where a code, call it 'fair chase' if you want, brought people together. It's taught in hunter-education. That's how fair chase has stuck.

"The 'Hail Mary' shots have been around forever, but it's never been an acceptable practice," Balfourd says.

It's a personal message that hunters like Duane Dungannon know they have to be honest with themselves about.

Dungannon, who is the secretary of the Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association, says he regularly debates with himself over what the effective length of his deer and elk shots can be. Most often, the "get closer" side in him wins out, but he knows "close enough" differs for everyone.

"You have to know your range," Dungannon says. "It's different for everybody, and it depends upon what you're shooting.

"If you shoot 60 yards with a bow, they can hear the string before the arrow gets there," he says.

Mental exercises like this became starkly concrete for Leever on Sept. 13, while on a short dove-hunting foray on property he owns north of Medford.

While walking around one of his ponds, he discovered a seven-point bull elk dead in the water, with an arrow protruding from its left rump.

A mistake, but not a crime.

"I immediately put two and two together," Leever says. "Obviously, it had been stuck by some hunter, it ran onto my property and died from its wound.

"Who's to say it was too long a shot? But it sure points to someone indiscriminately loosing arrows at an animal to see if he can hit it," Leever says. "That's not sound to me."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

 

 

 

 

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