Someone once asked a friend of mine how he did so well in competitive skeet shooting.

“I cheat,” he said with a smile.

The joke is supposedly that you really can’t cheat in skeet. In the end, the No. 9 shot must leave the shotgun barrel and connect with the target. The essence of the sport is pretty simple.

However, even in skeet there is cheating.

Believe me, I know, I’ve refereed skeet shoots and there’s always somebody trying to game the system. Guys reload their own shells and people who shot Remington hulls in .410 bore were always suspect.

I’m not saying they all did it, but it was widely known that Remington 2 ½-inch hulls could hold more shot than other brands. Some folks were suspected of stuffing more than the legally allowed ½-ounce of shot into their tournament shells.

The referee pulls the target for the shooters. If he doesn’t pull the target immediately when it’s called, it’s considered a “slow pull.” If the shooter refuses it, he gets another target. Some smart shooters can feel when they are mentally off and decline targets that weren’t slow.

And then there are guys who try to intimidate referees into marking a missed target as a broken target. The smart ones got a friend to lobby for them that an unseen chip came off the back of the target. I never fell for it but some younger guys could be bullied.

All in all, these are pretty subtle forms or cheating. Even with overloaded Remington hulls, it’s hard to shoot a good score with a .410. Whose to say whether the shooter thought the pull was slow? And, it’s a referee’s duty to stand fast and trust his eyes.

But other outdoors sports are subject to less subtle forms of cheating. Fishing tournament organizers understand this and require participants to submit to polygraph tests. There are many ways to cheat in a fishing tournament – catching fish in advance and hiding them in an enclosure where they can be retrieved in timely fashion being the most blatant. But there were also illegal methods of fishing and fishing in off-limits areas.

Big Buck and big gobbler contestants are also viewed with a suspicious eye. In the past, winners were always accused of luring the winning entry with a pile of corn. It didn’t matter how upstanding the winner was, somebody would accuse him of it. I guess that will still be an issue with gobbler contests but this year, it will be legal for deer.

At its core, I never really understood why people cheat. In fishing tournaments and big buck and gobbler contests, I guess you could argue that they did it for the prizes and money. People will cheat at cards for money so I guess that it’s only natural that someone would cheat at hunting and fishing.

But people will cheat when money isn’t on the table. That’s the part I can’t understand. Of course, you must define cheating. For instance, I don’t really consider shooting baited doves or ducks cheating.

A baited dove flies as fast as a dove coming to legal feed. A baited duck is still hard to decoy and shoot. Others might differ but I don’t abstain from shooting over bait because I consider it immoral. I avoid it because it is seriously illegal and I don’t have money to pay fines. If it was legal, I’d do it.

I will admit to finding myself on two occasions in an obviously baited situation. The probability of getting caught was low. But I still had to quit, unload my gun and go home. I couldn’t hit anything for looking over my shoulder and I wasn’t enjoying myself at all.

Friends and I debate shooting ducks on the water. I can’t abide shooting one on the water unless it’s to finish a cripple. Other friends say getting them to decoy and land is the real sport.

I understand why someone would want to hang a trophy buck on the wall. But if it got there because you blinded it with spotlight at night while it ate from a pile of corn on someone else’s property, what have you done? The same with a big gobbler shot over a pile of corn or shocking up a 12-pound bass with a telephone magneto.

Everybody else might look at the huge rack on the wall and proclaim you a great hunter. But you look up on the wall and know you’re nothing but a spotlighting poacher. What do other people’s opinions matter when you know you are a fraud?

It’s not that I’m standing on the summit of moral high ground. It’s just that I care what I think of myself. Do cheaters really allow themselves that much self-deception? Do they forget the truth and begin to believe their own lies? Or is their motivation just completely different from mine. I fail to grasp that part of their psyche.

With baiting a contentious topic this year, the debate over what is cheating and what is not is sure to rage. If it’s legal, is it fair? Or is there a higher standard? I’ve never believed in moral relativism but the new law does provide room for debate.

And no matter how loose the laws become, somebody will find a way to cheat.

Robert DeWitt is the Outdoors writer for The Tuscaloosa News. Readers can email him at robert.dewitt@tuscaloosanews.com.