For most of its history hunting has not been concerned with what is fair for the animal. Subsistence hunters throughout history have few qualms about taking an animal by any means necessary. When your very survival depends on your next meal, you would never let an opportunity to eat go to waste because of concerns over what is fair. That situation is life or death. You either kill or die. The market hunters of the 19th century were surely not worried about any sense of fairness either. Their only goal was to stack up as many animals as possible to make a profit.
Emergence of The Concept
As the industrial revolution changed the landscape of the United States, more people were moving into cities where their basic needs (food, shelter, security) would be met by trading the product of their specialized labor with others. As the need to hunt for survival diminished, the idea of hunting as a sport emerged. Teddy Roosevelt was one of the most influential hunters leading this new group of hunters. The formation of the Boone and Crockett Club was in direct response to the market hunting and “unsportsmanlike” behavior that had occurred up to this point. A set of rules were established by the club ranging from not shooting animals while in the water to not snagging fish with a treble hook.
Modern Fair Chase
In today’s world, most states have now adopted many fair chase rules. Hunters are taught to ensure that if they shoot an animal that they can make a clean and ethical kill. Jim Posewitz, in his book Beyond Fair Chase, writes that fair chase is “a balance that allows hunters to occasionally succeed while animals generally avoid being taken.” Thus we can view fair chase as a concept where if we are hunting an animal we are not guaranteed success. We have to chase the animal and it needs to have a chance to escape for a hunt to truly be fair chase. There are, of course, ethical quagmires that come up. Is using a scent control suit fair chase? Is hunting with a crossbow or high powered rifle fair chase? These are all questions that an individual hunter needs to answer for himself. Beyond the obvious question, is it legal, I try to ask myself if I feel like I am acting as an ethical hunter. If I take a shot with my bow that is too long for me and wound an animal then I do not feel that I have acted ethically.
Fair chase is the concept that enables us to feel pride in our success at a hunt. If a hunt is too easy or a guaranteed success then we do not get the deep satisfaction that comes from doing something difficult and succeeding.