Ethics Articles

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Cry of the wounded


“A particular virtue of wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience ….”

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Alex Gale
“A particular virtue of wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of 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.”
Aldo Leopold-Sand

I’m no expert in this. In fact I’d go further and say I have no intention of becoming an ‘expert’. So what right do I have to give comment? Shouldn’t I leave that to those who know best, the ones who in fact are the chief contributors. Well, it’s a bit like politics in this case – the chief contributors, or those responsible, generally head for cover when things don’t quite work out as planned and strangely enough no one will take responsibility. Sounds like the old Cave Creek disaster all over again, or the political scene, doesn’t it. So what am I taking about? What is it I don’t want to be an expert in – quite simply, it’s wounding deer!
What prompted this article was an email from a keen hunter that read, “I have found two deer in the last three years with legs shot and still alive! Damn shame. Both were at the bottom of a big clearing that is 300m to the base and 400m to the top. Had the hunters even looked, they would have found them in the river. One had shots in both back legs. Not a pretty sight.”

I may not be an expert in wounding deer, but that’s not going to stop me making a few pertinent comments. I’d like to think that most Kiwi hunters are really responsible, and I don’t think that wounded deer are a big problem, but let’s face a few facts before further commentary. If you go hunting deer or any other big game in New Zealand, sooner or later you will probably wound something. I’m no exception. It may be because you have messed up or because the deer moved at the moment you shot. Whatever the reason, you have a wounded animal on your hands. Not desirable, not nice and not ideal, but you now have a prime responsibility to find it and dispatch it humanely asap. While that is the cure, what I’m going to comment on now is the prevention. More on finding wounded deer later.

What can you do to minimise the possibility of wounding a magnificent animal such as this?

Improve your skill levels. Make sure you can place a hit on a deer in a good killing zone in the chest by improving your shooting ability. You can do this by dry firing (i.e. practice shooting with an EMPTY case) at home, small game hunting and/or some range shooting where you can simulate shooting at game.

Be specific in your aim. Make sure you know where to aim when firing at an animal and try to eliminate shots that have a 50/50 chance of success.

Improve your stalking skills. Rather than shooting at longer distances, aim to get closer, especially if your game is out in the open. Be a stalker of deer, rather than a sniper. The stalk is the exciting part of hunting. Move when they feed, stay off skylines, try and keep hidden, keep your noise levels down, watch the wind and try and keep it in your face, and try and position yourself so you have a good field of view and a good clear shot.

Know your limits and stick to them. Many hunters think their limits are determined by the power or reputation of the cartridge and rifle they are using, or the power of their scope. Not so – you may own an incredibly flat shooting and accurate rifle with a great scope, but if you are not capable of placing a shot accurately at certain distances then don’t fire at deer at those distances. My opinion is that the skill level of most hunters doesn’t quite match what they think they are capable of. Also, don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “If I use a powerful enough gun, I can hit them anywhere and still get them!” Not so, as a gut shot deer is a gut shot deer, is a deer still alive …..

Appreciate that range shooting ability does not equal shooting ability in the field. I know guys who can knock the nose off a fly at 100 metres on the range, but take them into the bush and I reckon I’d do better with a blunderbuss. Such things as the hunter’s experience, personality, buck fever, the need for a quick shot, tiredness, no perfect rests and unideal conditions all come into play. Instead of thinking that because you can shoot great groups at 100 metres from a bench rest, you should be able to shoot a deer at 400m or more, lower your unrealistic expectations. Tell yourself 300 metres is your maximum. It may well be a lot less than that.

Don’t place undue reliance on technology. Back yourself in the stalk. Technology is rapidly replacing stalking skills as higher powered rifles with ‘dial the range’ scopes with higher powers are being seen as the answer to the challenge of getting deer. You see, it’s not as simple as having better technology, in spite of what the adverts may say. There are simply so many factors when you are in the field that no dial up system or flat shooting and accurate rifle may account for. Take the 165gr Sierra Boattail bullet fired at 2930 fps from a lightweight, custom built, 30/06. First, the rifle has about the maximum recoil most hunters would be comfortable with. Then the bullet, which is a well designed one for long range shooting, is moved 27.3 cm at 320 metres (350 yards) by a 16 kph (10 mph wind), more than enough to move the bullet from the kill zone to a gut shot. At 410 m (450 yards) that same 10mph wind will deflect the bullet 46.8 cm. That’s a long way. And, appreciate too that wind is only one factor. Temperature, altitude, consistency of your loads, your rifles inherent accuracy and your own ability all play a part.

Now note this: with a wind speed of 12-18 kph, the leaves on the trees move, but between 19-30 kph small branches on trees move – the latter, by the way is described as a moderate breeze. That’s not much wind in the hills. And, how do you know the velocity of wind at 300 metres, let alone 400 metres? In all honesty, you don’t. In my experience the wind can be blowing one way where you are and in an opposite direction 300 metres out. Your guess of how much to allow for the wind is often at best a lousy guess. Don’t overestimate your ability here. A range finder will tell you the distance, but it will be of no help with wind speed and direction. And, remember the wind blows up, down, around and sometimes, just when you have allowed for it in your shot, it dies down. Don’t fool yourself. ‘She’ll be right,’ may equal one wounded deer. Some interesting tests have been done with hunters on ranges where they knew the exact distance of the target and the results were quite revealing. Most guys had trouble hitting the right areas on game sized targets at 350 metres or so in near perfect conditions.

• Learn to respect the game you hunt. Deer and our other game animals are beautiful creatures and deserve our respect. Hunting is a great sport and responsible hunters take all due care in the way they treat their quarry.

So you have fired a shot and you think you may have connected. Here are some brief tips to help you find the animal, if indeed you have shot it.
1. Note what you hear and see when you fire. Sometimes you will hear the bullet hit or sometimes the deer will leap as if shot and may hunch its back as it takes off. They may all be good signs. Note too that a deer hard hit will generally go downhill.

2. Determine to get off your butt and go and have a look. It’s pretty difficult to see if a deer is hit or wounded at longer distances, especially if when you fire, it is close to bush and disappears quickly, or if you have a big recoiling cannon. If the animal is some distance away you may then be tempted to move on, especially if it just ran off and you think you missed. Not all deer will fall down in respect of your rifle’s reputation or your shooting ability – in fact deer are individuals and react accordingly. It may take some time and effort to walk across that gully, thick as it may be, but you may have wounded that deer and it may be lying just inside the bush edge. It’s your responsibility to check it out.

3. Before you go, mark where you fired from with some toilet paper or similar, and if you have a range finder take note of the distance to where you last saw the animal. That way you can go to the exact spot.

4. Look behind where the animal was when you shot, for hair or even blood. If you find some, that’s a good sign. However no hair and no blood may not necessarily equate with no deer. Last year I had a client who shot at a deer across a gully about 140 metres away. At the shot the animal took off and I then glimpsed it flashing through some clearings. I wasn’t sure whether he’d hit it or not. We found no sign of hair or blood initially, but as I carefully followed the prints, about 50 metres around the hill I saw a few drops of blood and then a minute or so later spotted the animal lying dead in a small creek, shot through the chest. If we’d been too lazy to look, it would have been another lost deer.

5. Think like a deer – ask yourself, “If I were a wounded deer, where would I go?” Then don’t give up – if you are with someone else spread out about 10 to 15 metres apart and give the area a good going over. Look for signs like flies (they will smell blood and guts before you) and small drops of blood either on the ground or rubbed off on bushes. If you see any sign, mark the spot so you can come back there and slowly continue with your search.

So there you have it. I don’t like wounding deer any more than you do and tracking wounded animals is one of the least pleasant tasks when out hunting. Let’s hope all your outcomes are good ones, but remember prevention is always better than cure.

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