The recent furor over hunting ducks at shooting preserves is a classic example of why hunters must be increasingly vigilant to educate the non-hunting public about ethical hunting.

The South Carolina Legislature last year closed a loophole in a shooting preserve law that allowed pen-reared ducks to be shot on the same terms as other game birds such as quail, pheasants and chukar partridges - a six-month season and no bag limits.

The change, deleting mallards from the list of approved birds, was sought by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources because migratory ducks coming to ponds containing food for the preserve birds could be shot outside regular duck season at those sites.

Sen. John Land of Manning introduced the bill in the Senate and Rep. Mike Pitts of Laurens led efforts to pass it in the House. In a newspaper article about the duck-shooting operations, Pitts recounted seeing a man and his son kill 40 ducks at one operation.

"I would not classify people who do this as hunters," Pitts was quoted as saying. "It was the unethical way they did it - and that it was even allowed to begin with."

The next line - not a quote by Pitts - read: "At shooting preserves, sportsmen can legally kill as many ducks as they want for six months of the year."

That created two gross misconceptions. One was that the story was about shooting preserves in general. The other was using the word "sportsmen" in a sentence describing unethical behavior.

Pitts, who led the effort to organize the South Carolina Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus, said the quote was accurate, but not as a generality.

"It was about a specific incident, a specific individual at a specific location," he said. "What he did was certainly not what any true and ethical hunter would be proud of."

Emphatically proclaiming his support of ethical operations, Pitts said he frequently hunts at S.C. preserves.

"My objection comes from shooting preserves for migratory waterfowl," he said. "The season on preserves is six months long with no bag limits, while the regular waterfowl season is approximately two months with a four mallard-a-day bag limit. Wild mallards are attracted to the preserves since there is ample food provided for the preserve-released ducks. In a hunting situation, it's impossible to tell a released greenhead from a wild one in flight."

Chris Grant, owner of The Clinton House, an upstate preserve that caters to hunters only during duck season, said the article is a classic example of why the Sportsmen's Caucus is needed.

"A lot of the public has no idea of what the truth is concerning hunting, including many of our legislators," Grant said. "Without educating those people, which is why the Caucus was organized, we lose the battle with anti-hunters."

The problem is not with ethical hunting practices, but with the few situations that paint all hunters as bad to the uninformed public. Even in a state with such a strong hunting tradition as South Carolina that perception is growing.

"We, as hunters, must become increasingly aware of how what we do is viewed by non-hunters. There are many more of them than of us, therefore, a larger voting block," Pitts said. "We must strive to keep our sport ethical to protect it for future generations."