By Mark Fike
Each year we hear reports of accidents that occur in the field while hunting. Despite some of the silly accidents that are totally avoidable, hunting remains one of the safest outdoor pursuits despite the use of firearms or archery equipment. We can make our tradition even safer and more accepted by non-hunters by being discriminatory in the shots we take or don’t take this season.
Hopefully everyone that buys a hunting license these days has either been hunting safely for many years or they have taken a hunter safety course to remind them of the common sense practices and ethical behavior we should exhibit in the field.
Notice I typed “common sense.” Some people seem to be lacking this when you read the articles about hunting accidents that should not have been accidents at all.
For instance, we should never shoot at movement in the brush or trees until we see and KNOW what the animal is before pulling the trigger and we should also be able to tell what is behind it to stop the bullet that may pass through.
This brings me to the first point. Never shoot at an animal that is skylined. A skylined animal sets up a scenario where your bullet or arrow may pass through or you might even miss completely. It can be tough to let a nice buck or bull walk when you can easily see his big antlers in the sky but it is unsafe. Just this past week I had to pass on two different deer in such a situation. While they were not big, I needed the meat and could not shoot.
Shooting in the brush even if you can see the animal and are SURE it is what you think it is… probably a bad idea. Here is why. If your bullet or arrow hits branches between you and the animal you may completely miss. Even worse you may wound but not recover the animal. The animal may be a bruiser but what good is it if you never get to recover it? Why take the chance?
Branches, particularly those closer to you and not so close to the animal, are the enemy to a clean kill. I used to read as a kid about “brush busting rifle cartridges”. I’d rather not shoot through brush and hope I hit the animal. You probably are not going to get a clean kill.
We should avoid shots where we think the possibility of a clean kill is not high. This topic goes hand in hand with the discussion above but includes long shots outside of our comfort range, shots that are at moving animals unless we have practiced such shots and shots that are at bad angles where the vitals are not easily hit.
Shots that are iffy set up a situation where you will be tracking and you might be tracking a long time and the animal may never be recovered. Think about a non-hunter coming upon a wounded animal bleeding profusely but still staggering onward. If you were standing there with that person would you feel bad? If you have a conscience the answer is yes. Those things make all of us look bad. If in doubt, don’t do it.
Last, don’t take a shot that might get a feud going with someone. Last Saturday I was in a stand that was 75 yards away from a property line. I was faced away from the line overlooking a field with some fruit trees and tall luscious grass in it. I never have deer come out from behind me during the daylight hours. I noticed movement behind me and to my right and watched as a buck used his antlers to rub a cedar down really hard. It was fun to watch.
I had a shot, the buck was big and would provide plenty of meat for my freezer. However, he was still on the property line. Most of him was on the other side. So I waited. He finally stepped across but I knew if I did not drop him on the spot he was going to wheel and go back onto the other property. Could I legal shoot? Yes. Was it in my best interest? Nope…
I hated to pass, but opted to wait until he was well on my side so there would be proof he was on my side when I shot should I have an encounter with the other landowner. Knowing the adjoining landowner helps. Had I gotten with that person before hunting and asked permission to retrieve any wounded game the situation might have been a bit different. That buck got a pass for the day.
Even having permission to track game onto the other property, I still would have opted to make sure the buck was well onto my side before I pulled the trigger. Doing the right thing and taking a shot that is respectable is going to earn a good reputation and open doors down the road. Mess up and take a shot that leads to gray areas, iffy situations, unsafe situations or the like will earn you a bad reputation the first time you do it.
This season, consider the shots you take and the consequences of sending that bullet or arrow downrange. We all have eyes on us as we head to the woods this year. Our reputation depends on our actions afield.