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Many times the word ethics is used to describe “responsible” behavior. While the two terms are related, ethics are moral codes or values that go beyond formal laws and regulations. They are referred to as “unwritten laws”—the rights and wrongs that dictate proper behavior. Safety education teaches you how to be a responsible hunter by helping to lay the foundation for a personal code of ethics.

A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than by a mob of onlookers.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Ethics are what you use to make decisions about what to do when nobody is watching, or when there are no formal rules to tell you what is right or wrong. In a nutshell, ethics are what you think is right or wrong. When you’re hunting, you must make the decisions—not your instructors, or even your friends or relatives. And just as you practice to become a good shot, you must practice ethical behavior to act consistently.

Your ethical code doesn’t just happen all by itself. Thinking about what you consider right or wrong is important. Consider how you’d feel after acting on a decision—would you feel proud or ashamed? And how would it affect other people?

To make ethics work for you, there are three steps to follow:

  1. Realize that there are moral decisions to make for many of your actions, such as: “Should I shoot now and risk merely wounding the game, or should I wait for a better shot?”
  2. Think about the consequences of those decisions and how they might affect you and others.
  3. Do the right thing.

That sounds simple; in real life, however, few answers are black and white. Your personal ethics will help you sort through the gray areas and any moral dilemmas you might encounter.

Laws are everything you must and must not do; ethics are those things you should and should not do…

T.D. Carroll, former hunter and education administrator
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