The literal meaning of “fair chase” is often confused because the word “fair” has many meanings and uses. For example, we go to the fair, there is fair ball, fair weather, fair skin, fair chance, fair play, and the fairway in golf. When the word “fair” is paired with “chase,” it implies hunting is fair or equal. It is not. “Fair” does however, underscore that there are restrictions or limitations we place on the methods and means of hunting designed to prevent the defenses of game animals from being overwhelmed.

A good example of such a restriction occurred in the early days using hounds to drive deer into lakes or ponds where they were easily slaughtered by men in boats. This practice was deemed to be both unsporting and more than what deer populations could bear, and it was outlawed. A more modern example involves banning the use of aircraft to spot or herd game and land in the vicinity to hunt them. Today, we have laws that set the time period from which hunters can fly and hunt the same day.

The use of “fair” in fair chase is actually based on the alternative definition of fair that means legitimate, honorable, genuine, or appropriate in the circumstances. In this context and beyond the laws that are established to maintain a sustainable harvest, it is up to the hunter to apply what fair means to them.

When we do try to apply the literal meaning of fair to hunting, two things happen. One, we squabble among ourselves. Have you ever been in a debate with someone who prefers to hunt on the ground and who thinks tree stands are not fair? The second thing that happens is we play right into the anti-hunters’ hands who constantly misuse and misrepresent fair chase because they believe all hunting is unfair. You can’t shoot holes in legitimate, honorable, genuine, or appropriate circumstances.