Tough Decisions: Ethics In The Field

sunp0201-2I have a few places I have access to hunt. One place is a very large farm with more than enough acreage and gets the majority of my hunting attention. I also have a couple of other places that range from 10-25 acres. Some may think that large, mature deer cannot consistently be harvested off of smaller tracts of land. Those people would be wrong.

This year I let a particular farm sit without any hunting pressure. I let the rut pass and waited until the deer were in a bed-to-feed pattern and the weather was perfect, then I took to the field.

I was set up overlooking the soybean field and had a cutover bordering a swamp on one side and a CRP field on the other side of the soybean field. The evening started with about a dozen does filing into the field. Soon the does began to gaze towards the cutover. I couldn’t see anything but knew from their behavior something was amiss. Then a fine 2.5 year old 8 point buck stepped out and began feeding. He didn’t meet my personal harvest requirements so he got a pass. A few minutes later another doe walked out into the field. She was trying to keep pace with the other does but couldn’t. It was obvious she had some severe damage to her right front leg. She was young, a yearling. I wasn’t out to fill the freezer but even if I were, this doe would have gotten a pass. After watching her for quite sometime I came to the realization that whatever had happened to this young doe was most likely fatal. She would be an easy meal for a coyote too. With an hour of shooting light left, on a small farm with no hunting pressure, on my first hunt there this season, I pulled the trigger on a yearling doe. Not what I had planned.

A true, ethical hunter has a unique relationship with the wild game they pursue. On one hand, we spend countless hours on stand and working in the field for the possibility of killing a deer. On the other hand, killing is not the primary goal nor what drives us to spend time outdoors. Hunters have been trying to describe this strange relationship for years. This particular evening, I chose to ease the pain of the young doe at the expense of costing me a chance at a shooter buck, which I knew was in the area. I found a bullet lodged in her shoulder after I recovered her. It had become infected and she had lost the ability to move the joint.

Aldo Leopold once said “A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunters ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than a mob of onlookers. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact”.

I have an immense respect for the wild game I hunt, especially the whitetail deer. I didn’t want to think about leaving a deer in that shape when I could have done something about it. I know I did right by the yearling doe, so that’s good enough for me. As for the buck…I still have a few days to make it happen. If all else fails, I’ll be back for him next year.


Andrew Walters

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