They're conscious of their duty to obey state laws and regulations. But more importantly, modern hunters shoulder the burden of simply "doing the right thing" and most often those rights and wrongs aren't spelled out in law books.
Yet hunters almost instinctively know and understand the difference between what is right and what is wrong, as ethical conduct applies to every aspect of hunting, particularly when it comes to taking life.
In the final analysis, when the moment of decision arrives and a hunter commits to putting down an animal, he always should attempt to make a quick, humane kill with whatever weapon he uses. That, ultimately, is an ethical choice for those who hunt; in essence, do we want a clean kill or wounded animal?
This column addresses the basics of consummating a successful hunt - taking and making your best shot.
I'll concentrate primarily on proper arrow placement because bow hunting is my passion. Although the guidelines for hunting with stick and string are stricter, they apply as well to gun hunting.
It's a rare hunter who hasn't heard an old-timer preach to "take the first good shot you get." But more experienced bow and gun hunters have learned to recognize when the best time arrives to raise their weapon and pull the trigger or release the arrow. Often it's not the first opportunity.
Practice and practice should take care of rote duties of having to think about the basics of shooting a bow or gun. Hunters should practice enough that they can go on auto-pilot at the moment of truth.
No good archery hunter actually "thinks" about drawing his bow, holding his aiming point on the target, releasing the arrow (or pulling the trigger) or following through. Those functions should happen automatically.
In my opinion, the follow through is the key skill that's overlooked and where most shooting errors are made that result in poor hits - whether using a bow and arrow or firearm.
Why? Well, hunters instinctively want to see where an arrow goes or the reaction of an animal if or when a bullet strikes. Often, hunters will drop or lower a gun or bow and move their heads up or away from the weapon prematurely, trying to try to see the point of impact.
This one mistake - the "I-gotta-see-it" habit - is one of the worst shooting errors anyone can make. At the target range, it might cost you a few bucks; in the woods it might cost you the buck of a lifetime.
For bow hunters, remember this rule: hold your bow still until the arrow strikes its mark. Gun hunters should hold their sights (iron or telescopic) on the target until the gun has fired and recoil subsides.
If hunters follow this one piece of advice every time, it'll create more and better hits and quicker, cleaner, more humane kills.
Shot selection is also important.
Waiting for the right shot angle, especially with a bow and arrow, is just as important as waiting for the right time to shoot and having perfect shooting form.
I've included a couple of simple sketches that illustrate the basic anatomy of a deer and show the only shot angles to consider when the decision is made to take the shot.
When shooting a bow or gun, hunters also should be aware of their shooting accuracy limitations as well as those of their weapons. Be sure to know the distance to the quarry and whether or not it's within the effective range of the weapon and, more importantly, one's shooting ability.
If the desired situation doesn't exist, the best and ethical approach is to simply pass up the shot and wait for a better situation. It might not come, but what's worse - taking a risky shot that wounds an animal that runs off and dies unfound or passing up a marginal shot and getting another chance, especially if you're hunting a trophy?
A poor shooting situation can evolve into an even poorer tracking situation and possibly lost game if a hunter makes an unwise decision.
When shooting from elevated tree stands, the change in shot angle usually makes little difference to a gun hunter. But bow hunters must be aware their shots normally occur at much closer ranges, and increasingly steeper angles offer less exposure of a deer's vitals.
The position of bones in relation to a whitetail's vitals changes more as one climbs higher in a tree, which is much more important to bow hunters than gun hunters.
Closer shooting distances also affect where a hunter should take his aim at the external point of impact.
The backbone and shoulder/leg bones cover more of a whitetail's chest cavity as one climbs higher in a stand than with closer shots. A slightly quartering-away shot is much more desirable for highly elevated and closer shots.
Many experienced bow hunters advise waiting until the animal travels a few more feet or turns slightly away before taking a shot from a steep angle.
However, quartering away shots aren't advisable for larger game such as elk and moose because the arrow has to penetrate too far to reach the vitals.
Firearms hunters may take frontal shots as well as front quartering shots bow hunters should avoid because bullets will break through heavy bone and cartilage.
Rear-end shots should be passed up by all hunters with bow or gun, although some guides have said a rear-end shot is a good shot. That's their opinion, not what's taught at hunting courses.
Simply hitting the animal isn't good enough and never will be. If that statement doesn't register with anyone, please read it again.
How many times have you heard a hunter say: "I hit him, but I'm not sure where. I had a good blood trail for about 100 yards, then it disappeared."
Such a hunter is just shooting at animals and doesn't wait or take time to pick a spot.
Picking the right time to shoot and the right spot to hit is of utmost importance. Many experienced bow hunters say they actually pick out a specific hair on an animal's body as an aiming point. That may be a bit of an exaggeration but still makes a valid point.
Hitting the right spot will result in a fast, humane kill and quick, easy recovery of the animal - which should be the immediate and ultimate goal, not just hitting an animal with an arrow or bullet.
To do that well, hunters should take extra time to know the anatomy of animals they hunt. I use the whitetail as an example because deer are the most hunted big-game animal in North America.
The first thing to look for when waiting for that right time to shoot is the position of the animal relative to the hunter's position. For optimum archery results, a deer should be directly broadside or slightly quartering away. The point of aim should be the center of the animal's chest where its vital organs are located.
If the animal is quartering slightly away, the point of impact on the animal should be a bit further back than if it were a broadside shot.
Visualize a deer in 3-D. In order to strike the target at the center of the chest, the point of aim is that center; this fact never changes.
However, the initial external point of impact will vary, depending on the angle of the animal's body relative to the hunter. The arrow (or bullet) must strike the vitals and penetrate in order to get the desired result.
Remember that point of impact and point of aim will almost never be the same, depending on the position of the animal.
Renowned bow hunter G. Fred Asbell said a hunter should visualize the animal with a ball inside its chest cavity and aim at the center of the ball. Then allow the external point of impact to fall wherever it may, depending on that mental 3-D image.
It's not quite as simple as it sounds and takes time and experience to adopt this approach successfully.
But once accomplished, results will be dramatic.
***Ramon Bell is an outdoorsman, photographer and freelance writer from Stokesdale. He is president of the N.C. Bow hunters Association and an official measurer for NCBA, P&Y and B&C clubs.
The bow-hunting column will return to North Carolina Sportsman in July 2008.