The moose hunting season has opened around Alaska's Interior.
Some hunters will be taking to the field for the adventure and camaraderie. Others will be embarking on a necessity-driven mission, determined to provide their families with the nutritional bounty of a freezer filled with lean, fresh game meat.
Others may shoulder their rifles with a sense of paying tribute to their heritage.
Whatever the motivation, hunters need to recognize that they are living ambassadors of a pursuit no longer universally embraced, a tradition whose prospects for survival may turn to some degree on the ethics and common courtesy they themselves apply in the field.
Nonhunters make up approximately 80 percent of today's population, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Bob Hunter, the department's hunting education coordinator, advises hunters to take this statistic to heart and look beyond the letter of the law for guidance, taking into account the implications of actions that might be offensive to nonhunters.
For example, he says, it might be legal to shoot that moose by the side of the road, but what impression will it leave on the nonhunter already stopped photographing the majestic creature?
Likewise, Hunter points out, individuals who thoughtlessly leave gut piles sitting alongside the road, near bus stops, in driveways or on trails (where they may even endanger hikers by attracting bears) aren't just being lazy, they are potentially arming the opposition.
''If we want to see hunting continue into the future,'' he says, ''hunters need to clean up their act.''
The advent of four-wheelers often has spared hunters the backbreaking effort of hauling out meat. It's also made hunters themselves more intrusive in some outlying areas. One hay farmer known to fume about motorized trespassers views Friday's opening with the enthusiasm of a German overlooking the beach on D-Day.
Whether or not land is posted with ''no hunting'' or ''no trespassing'' signs, Hunter advises his students, the burden is on them to determine property ownership in advance of a hunt and, if possible, seek permission before venturing into the field.
Recent years have seen new subdivisions sprout in areas that many longtime Alaskans might regard as personal hunting grounds. In the Bush, Native corporations have, in a similar fashion, assumed ownership of many prime hunting areas, and now limit their use to shareholders, or people willing to pay a fee.
Such changes in land ownership set the stage for obvious conflicts. Hunters who choose to ignore that reality aren't helping their cause.
In these times, a hunter's demeanor in the field, backed by reasonable efforts at accommodation, could be as important to concluding a successful hunt as the possession of a valid hunting license and a harvest ticket are in the eyes of the law.
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