hunting ethicsI know how exciting it is to shoot a deer. I know that having something to show for your many hours sitting quietly in the cold is a right of passage for some. Believe me, I get it. But, there is a clear line between ethical and unethical when it comes to hunting, and everyone should know when to put the rifle down and not take the shot.

I am not going to say that we have never taken a deer we maybe shouldn’t have. Last year, for example, we took a young doe that I am not proud of. I honestly felt bad. The thing is, it was the last day and we needed the meat. That happens and sometimes you need to take what you can get. However, there comes a time when maybe you aren’t so desperate for the meat. When that time comes I hope you know when to pass on a deer.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is pass on the deer and let it grow. Then, in a year or two it could be a really nice sized deer, and you will gain the respect of your fellow hunters. When do you say when? Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself before you pull the trigger.

#1 Are you sure that you have a nice clean shot?

Rule #1 of hunting ethics (Ok, maybe #2) is do you have a good clean shot? If the answer is no, don’t pull the trigger. Only take the shot when you know you have a good shot that will kill the deer as quickly and humanely as possible. You don’t want to drag out the suffering by taking a bad shot.

For those of you that don’t know, you should shoot a deer through the heart and lungs area, behind the shoulder blades. The best way to ensure you can make the shot is if the deer is broadside towards you. Once again let me say, don’t try if you aren’t sure you can make it. This is unethical and if you take a bad shot you are more likely to miss, or could potentially ruin a lot of meat that way.

#2 Is the deer too young?

Another thing to consider is, how old is the deer? Is it practically a Bambi? If so, maybe the best thing is to let it grow. Give it a couple of years to grow into a nice, mature buck. Unless, of course you are in a situation like I have been where you have to put some meat in the freezer. My dad really lives by this philosophy. He has passed up some nice bucks to let them grow. In the end, this may benefit you more in the long run. If you let a young buck mature, you may have your trophy buck in a couple of years.

#3 Would it be legal to shoot the deer?

Maybe the deer isn’t on your property. Do you have permission from your neighbor to shoot a deer on their land? If not, don’t pull that trigger. Believe me, it’s not worth it. Wait for the deer to cross onto your land. Heck, even pull out your grunt call or rattle some antlers together and try to encourage it to come closer. Make sure that whatever you do shoot, you have the correct deer tag and are in the right zone according to your state’s laws and regulations. On that note, follow every law and regulation that your state has. They are enforced for a reason.

#4 Are you unsure of what is beyond your target?

Ok, this may be rule #1 in ethical hunting. If you are not 100% sure of where your bullet is going to go if you miss your target, do not take that shot.

Let me tell you a story about a distant family member of mine. My dad was in the woods hunting, while my relative was in their land that is right next to ours. One thing we all do before opener is find out where everyone is going to be. We like to make sure we know where everyone is, so we know where to shoot, and where to steer clear of. Well, as my dad is sitting there, in the distant he hears a gun shot. Seconds after, he hears the bullet whiz by his head and hit the tree behind him. WOW! Let me say, that guy should be thanking his lucky stars that it didn’t turn out a whole lot worse. This is a prime example of why you always need to be aware of where your bullet is going to go if you miss your target.

#5 Will you be proud of your deer?

If you are considering to shoot a deer just to get one, think about this:

  1. Will you be proud of that deer?
  2. Or will you find yourself justifying your kill to others?

If its the latter, let it go. Do you want to make it seem like you are desperate? Unless you genuinely are desperate, why would you want to look like you are? I like to go out just to sit in the woods and watch. I can’t explain the feeling I get when I catch a glimpse of the first deer of the season. I go out just for the experience, and to feed our family.

On an end note, know when to say when. Before you pull that trigger, have a moment of reflection and ask yourself the questions laid out in front of you right now. Keep the ethics of hunting that were passed down to us, and lets pass them down to our children. May we never take this land and the game we get to hunt for granted.

Lastly – always, above all else, be safe. Know what is behind your target and do not take a shot if you are second-guessing yourself. You do not want to be wishing you hadn’t taken the shot.

I hope you read what I have to say, and maybe you agree with me. Did you have a time when you decided not to take the shot? Are you glad you didn’t? Leave a comment below and share your story!