By Robert L. Doorkees This discussion of hunting sportsmanship was originally published in the 1898 edition of Field and Stream.
The Three Wise Men of Nimrodia had journeyed to a certain inn situated in the clean hills, an inn known to but few, an inn that seemed to typify the very spirit of the country of the Red Gods. The Cares of the City fell away from them like a mantle removed by the hand of God. To them the great, full moon was still a miracle. They breathed deep of the keen, brisk air of fall, but its clean chill drove them shortly to seek the comfort of the old corner by the hearth, where a hickory fire welcomed them merrily. With softly glowing pipes they settled themselves in their chairs. It was the Hunter's Hour of relaxation. Tomorrow they would hunt.
In the peace and quiet of the hills a great contentment fell upon them. In the mind of each of them formed the philosophy of the chase, to each as his nature was.
“No man," said the Economist, as if speaking his thoughts aloud, "is a true lover of Nature and the chase unless every fiber of his being protests against the wanton destruction of game. They are God's creatures and He loves them. They are our prey and we hunt them. That is only natural, because we are but human. Yet we should have progressed so far that our souls and our common sense cry out against needless slaughter and waste. It is but a sign of our civilization that we should conserve our game so that we have good shooting always. A man who does not protest vigorously against every outrage on our wildlife, who does not protest at unjust laws, who does not fight against merciless destruction of cover and cynical disregard of closed seasons, who does not put his entire strength into the fight for conservation, is not a sportsman. That is what he must be judged by."
The Philosopher's pipe had gone out as he listened. Now he sat back in his chair, lit it slowly, and pondered his reply to the vehement outbreak of his friend.
“I can’t agree with you entirely," he replied. "I think conservation of our game should be entirely automatic. The great thing in hunting or fishing is enjoyment, isn't it? It is," he continued, without waiting for a reply, "it is — and to make true sportsmen we should educate them to true enjoyment. I do not know if I am a good sportsman or not. I cannot be the judge. I try to be. I have gone out to the woods or the brookside and I have found that mere hunting or fishing is not everything. I look at the hills and the trees and the clear water. I am at peace with the world. It is the contentment of Nature, freedom from all cares, the solitude that calms a mind, which has been grappling for a year with the anxious cares of life. I do not think I am needlessly wasteful. In fact," he spoke whimsically, "my wife accuses me of never having furnished her with a game dinner. I think, if we could educate our people to a true enjoyment of Nature, that we would never need to worry about our game-covers and the wildlife that is in them."
Pit your skill and experience and strength alone against your quarry. In a word, take no unfair advantage.
The Athlete, the youngest man of the three, had been listening with intense interest to the words of his older friends. Now he broke in impetuously.
“Maybe my ideas are all wrong," he exclaimed, "but I think that they cover all the requirements of true sportsmanship." The two older men smiled gently at his youthful enthusiasm, but he continued, unheeding. "I don't want to say these ideas are all my own, for I was taught them from my cradle by my father and he was the best and truest sportsman that ever lived. He taught me only one thing, but there are many angles to it. And that thing is — 'pit your skill and experience and strength alone against your quarry.' In a word, 'take no unfair advantage.' Isn't it true? If you have a colt you want to break — how I hate that word — if you have a colt you want to train to your wishes, is it fair to use a heavy saddle and a cruel curbed bit to accomplish it? Isn't it far better to pit your own wit against his instincts, to teach him that you are his friend, that you and he can have wonderful times together if only he will consent to be friendly? I tell you, if you use that method and train that colt to love you and consent to serve you through something else besides fear, you have won for yourself the greatest pleasure in life. I think, sirs, that it is true sportsmanship.
“When you go afield it is the same. There are those who go equipped for murder, who return loaded down with a great, selfish burden of game. It is kill, kill, kill, while God's great sun looks down. Compare such work as that with a kindly, decent sportsman in the field. He does not return to be photographed with a grape arbor full of dead birds, but he has pleasant recollections, incidents to cherish in memory's brain cells. It is the same way with old Izaak Walton's disciples. Compare the angler who uses a four-ounce fly rod with his cousin, who uses a pole and a triple hook. Why, there is no comparison. The one is murder, the other is — true sportsmanship. I hope I have not bored you," he concluded, embarrassed by his own impetuosity, "but I feel very strongly about it."
As he leaned back in his chair and silence fell upon the little group, their host, a simple, old, American gentleman, who had lived his whole life amongst his kindly, wise, old hills and knew many of their seldom-whispered secrets, leaned forward and stirred up the dying fire to a red glow.
“If ye'll pardon me," he said slowly, as he leaned back once more, "I think ye're all a bit wrong about it, tho ye are partways right, too. The man who cannot shoot too many birds or animals, the man who cannot use cruel guns and cruel hooks, the man who cannot take a wrong advantage of a dumb animal, be it horse or deer or hare or dog or partridge — is the true sportsman. Ye can find many such, gentlemen. I would place ye among them. Yes, it is the thing within that cannot that makes a true sportsman." And rising, the old man knocked the dead ashes from his pipe and went his way to bed and peaceful slumber. Another silence fell upon the little group of friends. At length the Athlete stirred and sat up.
“Here’s to our host," softly exclaimed the youngest of the three, "a true sportsman."