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There was an incident in California involving a hunter killing a deer in a suburban area recently that has gathered some steam amongst non-hunters and hunters alike. While there are more details to the story than I will share here, the hunter said, in short, that he killed the deer because it was already wounded.
The compass one must take in this situation can wobble in different directions. Morally and ethically, one is drawn to putting the animal down. While legally, the pin firmly points towards a path in which one must just let things end on their own.
As a hunter, it is easy to come into this dilemma.
When I used to teach hunter education, at the end of the second of three nights, we would provide this scenario for the students to think about before the next class. You shoot a deer 30 minutes before legal light vanishes, wait a brief period for the deer to die, and then begin to track him.
Upon finding the deer, you see it is still living. However, it is laboring in breath. It is now 20 minutes after dark. Do you kill the deer or do you wait?
Personally, I have run into a similar issue, just involving the weapon rather than the time of day.
I was bowhunting on a Sunday when I made a shot on a doe. The doe scampered maybe 20 yards and fell in the bean field. The shot was clean and the arrow passed through.
Upon approaching the deer, I could see she was not dead, and even though I had a pass-through, she was not bleeding out.
It was clear she would die, it was just impossible to tell how long.
I did not want to shoot an arrow at basically 2 feet from her while standing over top of her. There are several risks involved, one of which is having the arrow shatter at close range.
I also did not have a knife with me where I was. Even if I did, I wasn’t comfortable in finishing her off that way.
So, I made a call to the district warden and explained what had happened. He told me to go ahead and take my pistol to finish her even though it was illegal to hunt with firearms on Sunday at that time. It was the ethical thing to do.
We have had stories in the past where hunters have finished off deer after hours, and some that skirted the rules. One in which a hunter took a deer with a muzzle loader during that short season. The warden happened to hear the firearm blast and went to investigate. The hunter tried to explain that he finished the deer off because he had already shot it and wounded it, but the warden only heard that one shot. He explained to the hunter there had better be two wounds on the animal when they went to it or a ticket would be forthcoming. And there was.
I have also had this discussion with several different wardens, and although most say to go ahead and put the animal down after wounding it — even if after legal hunting time — there are a few with different opinions. As explained to me, the warden’s job is to write a ticket based on the law not morals. It would then be the judge’s concern as to whether the person did the right thing in finishing the kill.
It may be wise to keep the number of the local warden in case you ever must make such a decision. Personally though, I would side on the ethical thing to do and then try to explain my decision afterwards.
Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.