Ethics, those systems of moral principles, pertain to all of us -- whether we are butchers, automobile makers or hunters.
In our professions, the ethic usually is well-defined.
A butcher will trim his cuts of meat so that excess fat is not sold at the pound price of steak; a welder on an assembly line will spot his welds within given tolerances to ensure a vehicle's integrity.
A good hunter also is expected to adhere to a code of ethics.
At a conference held by the Izaak Walton League of America late last year, representatives of nine national and international hunting, fishing and wildlife organizations determined that the future of hunting depends on ethical outdoor conduct.
Pshaw, you say. We always have been able to hunt. We have a right to hunt. We always will be able to hunt.
Take a minute and think.
Think about population trends. Metropolitan areas continue to grow. From 1980 to 1988, the population in metropolitan areas increased 9.7 percent nationally, compared with a 4.5 percent increase in rural areas.
While the numbers of hunters have increased slightly the last few years, they have not increased at the same rate that the general population is increasing.
Think about land-use policies for public property. Maryland has assured us that public hunting lands will not be closed, but the state also wants to encourage more diversified use of public lands -- bird watching, hiking, jogging, picnicking, etc.
Now, think 20 or 30 years ahead -- remembering that our government generally is of, by and for the people -- and wonder what the primary uses for our public lands could be.
Realize also that hunting on public lands is a privilege, a licensed activity like driving a car, and, as such, subject to restrictions determined necessary by the state.
The state government, in theory at least, is to act in the best interests of the majority of the people.
Already, there are about 4.7 million people in Maryland, according to the 1990 census. Among them are, for example, some 110,000 deer hunters who spent a total of one million days in the field last year, according to Maryland's Big Game Report.
Make no mistake, hunters are a minority overall, but clearly a majority in terms of days of use of public lands. Responsible actions while using those lands will help ensure continued use.
After the Izaak Walton League code of conduct conference, Gary Kania of the National Rifle Association and Laury Marshall of the IWLA agreed that hunters who follow a code of ethical conduct will speak loudly to the general public.
"Our membership is committed to the values of responsible behavior while hunting," said Kania, manager of NRA's Wildlife Management Department, "especially now when hunters' actions are being held up to greater scrutiny by the non-hunting public."
At the IWLA conference, the nine participating organizations wrote a hunter's pledge, the key items include:
* Respect the environment and wildlife.
* Respect property and landowners.
* Show consideration for nonhunters.
* Hunt safely.
* Know and obey the law.
* Support wildlife and habitat conservation.
* Pass on an ethical hunting tradition.
* Strive to improve outdoors skills and understanding of wildlife.
* Hunt only with ethical hunters.
Said Marshall, coordinator of the IWLA Outdoor Ethics Program: "The pledge comes at an important time for hunters who continue to search for ways to improve hunter behavior and the image of their sport, while countering the rising pitch of the anti-hunting voice."