Five Stages of Fair Chase

The Five Stages of the Hunter is a well-documented look at the progressions a hunter goes through as he or she ages and gains experience. As we age and our experiences accumulate, what we get from hunting and give back changes over time. What defined success, accomplishment, and purpose at age 14 can be very different at ages 24, 34, and 54. Regardless of how careers in hunting evolve, there are some aspects of hunting that remain constant. Doing the right thing is one of them.

Just as there are five stages of the hunter, there are five stages of the fair-chase hunter. Fair chase represents both a personal ethic, as well as that of hunters in general as a community. Fair chase is also based upon principles of how the hunting of game species is to be conducted, which is why it is also the basis of many of our game laws.


For the majority of sportsmen and sportswomen, the choice to be a hunter begins at an early age and grows from a curiosity and fascination for animals. Learning about, seeing, and being close to wildlife satisfies this curiosity. With curiosity comes a sense of appreciation and respect, which are the cornerstones of a hunting ethic. When we care about wildlife, ethical decisions come naturally.


Acquiring the skill and the experience to be a successful and ethical hunter is an ongoing process. The game we hunt is neither helpless nor helpful, which requires us to develop skills. In addition to the skill in knowing animal behavior, where they live, what they eat, how they interact with one another and respond to human presence, skills also include proficiency with hunting methods and weapons. Practice, being proficient with and knowing the capabilities of one’s firearm or bow as well as knowing one’s own capabilities are not only the responsibility for every hunter, they are also the basis of a fair-chase approach.


Having early success is important. A young hunter might shoot his or her first wild turkey resting on a branch, or a duck off the water, or pheasant off the ground. Although not considered in the spirit of the chase, these actions are not illegal, and can be appropriate for a hunter just starting out until they acquire patience and skills. In time, early success like these give way to wanting to experience the challenge of harvesting game a more sporting way.


Having a moral connection to the game we hunt means hunting with a purpose. Success is still the point, but thinking about, planning and preparing to go hunting begins to become more important. Being with family and friends in the outdoors and bringing home healthy, organic protein to share defines a purpose that moves the act of hunting itself above simply killing game. While the reasons for hunting are personal and can vary, they all include a purpose. This purpose helps us achieve the experience we seek. Purpose also includes challenge.

The “no guarantees” nature of hunting is one of its most powerful attractions. Success is built upon success, but in this stage the hunter begins to test his or her experience and skills against more challenging game and conditions. The purposes for hunting have already been established, but now how we hunt begins to matter more. Some choose to heighten the challenge by limiting themselves. Taking up archery hunting is a good example. Being more selective and holding out for a more mature animal—a trophy—can enhance the challenge and a sense of accomplishment.


Just being outdoors, in the woods, fields and wilderness, in camp and on the chase now has a satisfaction all its own, whether game is taken or not. Some would call this this the sportsmen’s or mentoring stage. This is where seeing or helping others get their game replaces one’s own hunt. This is also where feeling the need to give back to the wildlife and hunting itself becomes stronger. Passing on skills and knowledge to others or the next generation is now a reward in itself. Passing on how you do things is also how fair chase and a conservation ethic gets passed on from generation to generation.

Fair chase is a code. It’s a contract we make with ourselves. We are both born with it, and we learn it from others and our own experiences. The parts of it we are born with trace all the way back to man being an animal himself. The rest we learn in stages, and then pass on.