Shot Placement: Got Hunting Ethics?

Spike Box Ranch and Hunting Manager Tyler Pounds.

Spike Box Ranch and Hunting Manager Tyler Pounds delivered an impromptu speech/pep talk yesterday as we cruised back to the bunkhouse following a somewhat unsuccessful morning of turkey hunting. It wasn’t that we couldn’t find any turkeys; they were simply the wrong ones. Spring turkey in King County, Texas means toms. If you’re very fortunate you might come across a bearded hen, which is also legal, but typical hens can’t be shot. Jakes fall into a grey zone.

Tyler cruised down the main road with a lip full of chew and a thoughtful expression on his face. “Too many hunters come here just wanting to kill,” he began. “They forget there’s more to hunting than the kill, and they forget about ethics. You hunt ethically, and that’s good. Does it mean you walk away with nothing sometimes? Yes. But hunters…” – and here he paused – “hunters have forgotten what it means to be a good, ethical hunter.”

“We didn’t get anything this morning,” he said, “but we hunted ethically, and that’s something to be proud of.”

It was a somewhat amusingly-timed speech because I had delivered a near-identical one to another writer only a handful of days earlier. He’d passed on a number of exotics due to poor shot potential while others were dropping game rather messily around him. Granted,  he definitely knows all this already, but I reminded him anyway: you are an ethical hunter, I told him, and that is a far better thing than being a man with an animal on the ground through questionable means.

So there I sat in Tyler’s work truck, one I’d ridden in many times before over the years, on the receiving end of a speech I’d given myself. I had passed on a beautiful bearded hen because she was surrounded by hens. She was, in fact, so firmly cloistered it would have been flat impossible to shoot her without a high risk of a stray pellet striking one of her female flockmates.

And although I didn’t know it then I would pass on a Jake with a two-inch brush of a beard the very next morning. He was too young to take ethically. Better to let him grow into a mature tom for future hunters.

Which is better? Having meat on the ground through whatever means you feel is passable or only taking shots you’re confident you can land in a single blow – even if it means ending a day or a season with nothing to show for it? Here’s what I think . . .

Yes, feral hogs deserve a fast, ethical kill, too.

Ethics are defined by the ever-popular Google dictionary as the “moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.” (Just to clarify, principles are “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as a foundation for a system of belief or behavior.” Hopefully you all know what morals are and won’t get lost debating the semantics of whether “ethics” on its own must mean good ethics. Let’s just move forward saying it does…because it does.)

Without solid hunting ethics we’re left with a bunch of yahoos in the woods who feel justified killing button bucks and Jakes. Yes, it means removing those males from both the gene pool and maturity, but they don’t care. They just want whatever it is they themselves get out of it whether that’s meat or the thrill of shooting something.

Concepts such as conservation or staying in their shooting-abilities lane to avoid needlessly wounding an animal mean nothing to them. Why? Because they’re selfish.

Look, I get it. I don’t like ending a hunt or season empty-handed. It’s bad enough to be skunked, but getting nothing because you decide not to take a risky shot or an immature animal sometimes adds some salt to the meatless wound. It sucks.

However . . .

I would rather have nothing physical to show for my hunts than have a freezer packed with meat I got through unethical means. I would rather pass on the buck of a lifetime than take a shot that’s outside my skills wheelhouse – or too far outside the realistic capabilities of my gun’s caliber. I would rather leave Texas without any turkey than shoot a bearded hen and be forced to practice the three S’s on out-of-season birds struck by stray pellets. You get the idea.

If you take unethical shots just to get your way, you aren’t a hunter, you’re just SumDood with a gun in the woods. If you think it’s “just an animal” and therefore undeserving of a quick, clean death, you’re cruel. If you think choking a wounded coyote is funny, get off my column.

It’s long past time that ethics returned to hunting. Sure, there will always be idiots out there, just as there will always be those who dramatically and colorfully lie about the shots they take to make themselves look better (well, they think it makes them look better). That doesn’t give you license to be the idiot.

Be an ethical hunter. Teach your kids and friends good ethics. Be willing to go home empty-handed, but with a solid sense of self, knowing that you did the right thing.

Because Tyler is right: the hunting industry seems to be lacking in ethics. Something to ponder beyond beef jerky and energy drinks next time you’re sitting in a pop-up blind during spring turkey season this year. So please, do your part by hunting in an ethical way (hopefully you already are).

Now get out there and get your gobble on. Ethically, of course.

comments

  1. avatar noob hunter says:

    Be nice if there was a comprehensive list of “unwritten rules” for hunters that are new to the sport. I get that just because something is legal doesn’t necessarily mean it is ethical by some folks’ standards, but there is a lot of grey area involved sometimes. Making an ethical shot is low hanging fruit- folks can generally tell if they have high confidence of hitting a vital zone and whether their rifle is zeroed…but less so some other aspects. If you have a doe tag, ok to shoot a mother with young trailing behind? when it is ok to leave gut piles and when to bury or pack out, etc. I also feel like the decision on whether to take a legal game animal based on someone else’s idea of “right” flies out the window when your family needs the food. everyone whines about baseball’s “unwritten rules” but I feel like there is quite a bit of that in hunting too and opinions are like arseholes.

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      Not an expert hu nter here, but if a doe has fawns following her, aren’t you hun ting out of season? And why would you bury or pack out the gut pile – wouldn’t the coyotes enjoy that?

      Anyway, if opinions were like assholes I’d only have one of them.

      1. avatar noob hunter says:

        yeah thats why I was sure to say “young” and not “fawns”, though dictionary interestingly says “fawn” means a young deer in it’s first year in which case it would be legal to see a mother and fawns trailing during fall when hunting season starts (muzzy starts early which I do). Some folks define fawns as having spots which usually go away by the 4 month mark. They are born sometime in summer. I have seen significantly smaller deer following the mother around in hunting season. may not have the white dots, but clearly less than a year old. funny you mention gut pile…private land so we wanted to get it out so it would not bring in coyotes and either spook deer from future hunts but also to keep coyotes away from yard where landowner has small pets. Also-my hunting partner has a neighbor that begs for gut piles because he actually hunts the coyotes in his backyard and is surprisingly successful at collecting coyote fur.

        1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

          Makes sense on the gut piles. I was thinking in terms of not coming back until next year.

          Not sure on the young. I was thinking they’d be cut loose when the rut comes around anyway, but then after the rut, in mid to late winter the does will herd up into the hundreds around here and I’d suppose there’s a lot of young deer in those herds.

        2. avatar TommyG says:

          Its not unusual for 1st year deer – especially doe’s to follow the mother around for the first year. The mother will push them away shortly before giving birth to the new fawns in early summer.

    2. avatar New Continental Army says:

      Well, as far as gut piles go, I say, why waste the guts? Organ meat is good. You can make Hagis with it. Even if you don’t like organ meat, I bet you can find a weirdo like me, or someone’s dogs, who will love it.

    3. avatar Bloving says:

      I’ve done this more than once: on a slow morning with nothing to see that is worth a bullet but a yearling or two… I’ll take one round out of my .44 or take the cap off the nipple of my muzzleloader and line up my sights to dry-fire at one of the “button bucks”. Their expressions when they hear the hammer drop and realize they weren’t alone is often priceless and the memories are worth more than the meat.
      🤠

  2. avatar James A. "Jim" Farmer says:

    I posted these sentiments beneath a You Tube online video: “Winchester Model 70
    Featherweight 7×57 Mauser.” My point: Is the average American hunter over gunned
    perhaps? As the late Jack O’Conner: Arms and Ammunition Editor of Outdoor Life
    Magazine once correctly stated: “bullet placement, not size, make the difference.”
    Wouldn’t a 7mm Mauser (7×57), .300 Savage, or even .35 Remington (especially the
    latter kept within 100 yards) be just effective on killing big game vs. the magums
    which generate considerably more muzzle blast and recoil which can induce flinching?
    These are my sentiments.

    James A. “Jim” Farmer
    Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County)

    The 7mm Mauser (7×57) was developed originally in 1892 as a military caliber,
    primarily for Spain, Mexico, Central America, and half of South American governments. Their Armies (soldiers) utilized it extensively. In addition to being chambered in Mauser bolt action rifles, the 7mm Mauser was even chambered in machine guns. In fact, in 1913 during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) a version of the Japanese Arisaka bolt action rifle was produced for the Government of Mexico. This caliber also saw extensive use during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) by both Fascist and Republican factions. No doubt the 7mm Mauser even saw some, but limited use, during both World War 1 (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945). Not to mention the Spanish American War (1898), and South Africa’s Boer War (1899-1902). So much for the military history on
    the 7mm Mauser.

    Sporting use: The 7mm Mauser (7×57),along with the .30-06 Springfield and .375
    Holland and Holland Magnum historically, is a world caliber. Africa, India, Europe,
    North America, and elsewhere it’s seen over a century of use hunting big game of
    the world. Even today (2015) the 7mm Mauser would be an ideal classic dual
    purpose “deer/elk” caliber for the average North American hunter who wishes to
    fill the family freezer with fresh venison and elk meat. A quality bolt action sporter
    such as this gorgeous Winchester Model 70 chambered in 7mm Mauser, topped
    with a good 4x scope, and carry sling would give an entire lifetime of service
    to it’s owner. This is one caliber that deserves to be far more popular than it is.
    It’s also highly useful to both sexes, including youth who desire a rifle with lethal
    killing power on big game, yet has noticeably less recoil than a .30-06 and .270.

    —James A. “Jim” Farmer
    Ashland, Oregon

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      The .30-30 has taken more deer east of the Mississippi than probably all other calibers combined. Probably moose as well. In Scandinavia the go to cartridge for moose is the 6.5×55 Swede. Most hunters aren’t capable of reliably making shots at ranges long enough to justify the magnums.

      1. avatar James A. "Jim" Farmer says:

        Yes. Thus the .300 Savage, .35 Remington, and 7mm Mauser (7×57) are all ballistic-ally
        superior to the venerable .30-30 and .32 Winchester Special. Thus a prudent sensible
        hunter should have no problem dropping not only deer, but likewise caribou, elk, and
        moose, all with the above calibers via a properly placed shot. Bear in mind too modern
        powders, bullets, primers, etc. We have at least 5 times too many rifle calibers. This
        is ridiculous! Many will overlap each other ballistic-ally. Example: the .270 Winchester
        and .280 Remington. Even the 6.5×55 Swede vs the .260 Remington. Or the 7mm O8
        vs. the 7mm Mauser. Why so many rifle calibers?

      2. avatar James A. "Jim" Farmer says:

        By coincidence after I posted twice the 7mm Mauser (7×57) within the last two days
        the May/June 2018 issue of Rifle Shooter Magazine ran an article on page 20 titled:
        “Tactical Technology: How the great 7×57 cartridge can benefit from today’s components”
        by David M. Fortier.

  3. avatar TommyG says:

    Its a personal choice up to each hunter. There is the law of whatever state/county you are hunting in that must be followed. After that there are your own laws about what you will harvest.
    When I first started hunting it was real important to me to just bring something home. Now I pass on a lot of animals just because they aren’t old enough.
    My feeling is I have had easy successes and I don’t NEED the meat. I can buy meat at the grocery store.
    Also I just like being out in the woods. So it doesn’t really bother me if I come home without a harvest.

    1. avatar Kat Ainsworth says:

      You are absolutely correct, Tommy. It’s definitely a personal choice when it comes to whether your ethics are good or bad. And when it comes to going home empty-handed I think we all go through that stage as new hunters where we desperately don’t want to end the season with nothing. Gets a little easier to enjoy the nuances as time goes by although I admit the desire to get something never goes away. 😉

      1. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

        Darling, as old hunters we we go home empty handed. More often than not. You keep hunting and shooting. Our community needs more like you.

  4. avatar RA-15 says:

    If you have no ethics , you have no business hunting. Well written article Mr Zimmerman.

    1. Would love to take the credit, but Kat Ainsworth penned that one. Glad you enjoyed it.

      1. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

        Enjoyed a little back and forth with her a few days ago. Shoot/hunting world could use a few more young ladies like her.

        1. avatar Kat Ainsworth says:

          Thank you, Paul. Nice of you to say.

    2. avatar Kat Ainsworth says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, RA-15. It seemed like a timely one to write.

  5. avatar Ralph says:

    Blaming ethics for an unsuccessful hunt while praising one’s own virtue is just embarrassing.

    1. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

      I have to disagree with you Ralph. Integrity and ethics differentiate the sportsman from the poacher. We can start subsistence hunting when the zombie apocalypse begins. I had a debate with someone recently who tried to justify hook lining turkeys and placing fish traps in a river. His justification? “It’s not illegal if you don’t get caught.” How pathetic is that? The author made a well reasoned arguement and I do not feel he was trying to justify an in successful hunt, or pat himself on the back. I passed what would have been the biggest buck of my life last season. 150+ I had named Pitchfork because of the width of his rack and tine length. 300 yards away doing figure 8’s chasing does. Didn’t feel the shot was ethical. But, if he had stood still for a 1001 count the Kimber Montana would have spoke. That’s okay though. He’s still there an I’ll be back.

      1. avatar Kat Ainsworth says:

        I agree, Paul. Absolutely.

        Well, Ralph, my hunt isn’t over yet. And anyway I don’t consider the eleven hogs and two Toms I’ve shot to be unsuccessful. It’s been an awesome week. 😉

        1. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

          Good for you!

        2. avatar Ralph says:

          “I don’t consider the eleven hogs and two Toms I’ve shot to be unsuccessful.”

          Interesting. You spent the whole article telling us that you didn’t kill anything because it would have been unethical, and now you state that you killed eleven hogs and two Toms.

          Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

          Which is Shakespearean for “you’re being insincere.”

    2. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

      I think the article was a dissertation on integrity and ethics while hunting. Not necessarily an account of a hunt.

  6. avatar Gun Free School Zones are a crime against humanity says:

    I pass up shots on a regular basis. I am a meat hunter, except when going after vermin or pest animals. I have gone on a hunt and returned empty handed. Rarely because there were no shots to be made. But because of my own sense of fair play and sense of humor. Sometimes the pure joy of being in the boonies colors my outlook and I let an animal slide cause of my good mood.

    My old man was country. Deep fried southern country. He taught me to track and hunt. I’ve watched him stalk up so close to a deer that he could have touched it before it realized he was there. And then watched him laugh at the shock and surprise shown by the deer and let it off the hook.

    A sense of fair play coupled with a sense of humor gets me thru a lot.

    1. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

      Outdoors needs more men like your dad.

    2. avatar Kat Ainsworth says:

      Gun Free School Zones (long username there, dude…): I think that is an excellent way to see it. It does sound like your dad was a cool guy as well.

      1. avatar OmnivorousBeorn says:

        He went from 3 letters to 9 words one day after FL. My name isn’t short, but yeah 9 words is pretty long. Free country, though.

      2. avatar ACP_arms says:

        Just a FYI, he went by JWM before.

      3. avatar Gun Free School Zones are a crime against humanity says:

        He was. If it makes it easier just call me jwm. I’m making a statement after Florida.

  7. avatar New Continental Army says:

    What’s with the choking a wounded coyote Shit? Did some wacko really do that? Also, that seems quite foolish, trying to man handle a wounded animal sounds like a quick and deserving trip to the ER. Anyways, I personally don’t shoot a mother with their offspring.

    1. avatar noob hunter says:

      my hunting partner last year actually felt the same way…didnt feel good about shooting the mother doe and the universe rewarded him 2 minutes later when a 9 pointer came through from the same direction (obviously following and pushing/annoying the doe). On the negative side, was a lot harder helping him drag that big bastard up and down hills than it would have the doe, but got a ton of sausage out of the deal. During the rut I now always consider the possibility of moving does having twitterpated bucks behind em.

      1. avatar TommyG says:

        You know more than one experienced hunter has told me that if you want a mature buck you need to let the doe’s pass. The bucks will let them go out first and wait around to see if they get wacked before coming out to feed.

        1. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

          During the pre-rut and rut? Absolutely! Other times? Not necessarily.

        2. avatar TommyG says:

          In my experience mature bucks go nocturnal post rut. I see them at night on my trail cams, but nothing during legal shooting hours.

    2. avatar Kat Ainsworth says:

      @New Continental Army…yes, a known predator hunter filmed himself choking a wounded coyote and shared the footage on social media last week. He thought it was funny as did some of his buddies who also shared it.

      I feel the same way about mothers with offspring.

  8. avatar Hunter427 says:

    I’ve been banned from long range Hunter website, I know why but don’t want to get into it. I did meet a clown that shoot an elk 950 yrds across a river mountain range. I was coming up the trail to cross over the river when heard the shoot I did not say a word, no congrats from me. What a hunter. I hope wolves got it first

  9. avatar OmnivorousBeorn says:

    I really like your work so far, but I have to say, I understand where hog eradicators are coming from. I can’t make a logical argument for it, but sometimes pest control isn’t as glamorous as hunting. Feel free to educate me.

    1. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

      Hogs and coyote shot on sight on the farm. If I invite you and learn you passed on either, you’ll never be invited again. Serious decline in quail and turkey population since their arrival. I’m not a wildlife biologist. Also not a big believer in coincidence. They’re not indigenous to the area. On the other hand the bobcat gets a pass. After all, he’s from here and he’s only hunting. Same as me.

      1. avatar ironicatbest says:

        I’ve seen turkeys eat up a batch of baby quai.,

        1. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

          Really? I haven’t, but don’t doubt it. Sounds like the natural way of things. Haven’t seen any turkeys eat a nest of fish hooks either. Have you?

        2. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

          Have seen a crow clean a nest of song birds though. What do you think we should do about that? I’ve got it! Let’s trap fish!

    2. avatar Kat Ainsworth says:

      Hogs are a serious problem. I’ve shot eleven this week and it won’t even make a dent in the population. This is a working ranch and the hogs destroy a ridiculous amount of wheat and land. I do my best to kill them quickly, though. Same goes for coyotes.

      That said, I also hunt them every legal way possible which is a rather long list in Texas.

      1. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

        You would be surprised the difference you made. You didn’t say anything about boar to sow ratio, but around here a sow will drop at least two litters a year, average eight pigs a litter. They reproduce exponentially. Keep hammering them. It makes a difference

  10. avatar Michael Bane says:

    Ah Kat, wading into the ethical swamp! I was in a conference call last week with the producers of pretty much every hunting show on earth discussing this very subject. It is an important subject, but a minefield nonetheless. Good luck, and damned sorry I couldn’t make the Texas trip.

    Michael B

    PS: Got skunked on whitetail last year; couldn’t even find an exotic Fallow…stuff happens…

    1. avatar Kat Ainsworth says:

      Hey Michael, fancy seeing you here. I’m sorry you could not make it as well, you’re missing one helluva hunt. We’ll have to do one in the near future.

      It is a minefield, isn’t it? It’s come up so many times in recent weeks it got stuck in my head as a good topic to throw my unasked-for two cents in on.

      1. avatar OmnivorousBeorn says:

        Hey, giving your “unasked-for two cents” is part of your job. Enjoy it and keep doing what you’re doing.

  11. avatar Hannibal says:

    “If you take unethical shots just to get your way, you aren’t a hunter, you’re just SumDood with a gun in the woods…”

    I think plenty of hunters who have needed to put food on their table or face hunger would call bullshit on you, and rightfully so. “Hunting” may be a hobby for you, but it has been more than that for many others.

    1. avatar Kat Ainsworth says:

      Be careful what you assume, Hannibal.

  12. avatar ironicatbest says:

    Hunting and ethics, WDM Bel would you consider his slaughter of elephants for ivory ethical, personally I don’t. Elmer Keith, would you consider his shooting at a deer 500 yards away with a 44 handgun and wounding it ethical? I dont. The great John Conner took some pretty unethical shots himself while chasing big Horn sheep, in fact he writes of losing a few…… There’s a reason the hog problem has sprang up in the last fifteen years. . The old time hillbillies kept the razorbacks in check because there weren’t purple fence post and, leased land . Personally I believe spending money to kill an animal because it’s a 330 BnC record wall hanger or trying to make a chain mail suit of duck bands is unethical. Poor people like to hunt also, record book bragging and money to get those records have forced many poor to become unethical game harvesters, The “Kings Game” is not for the poor. And before someone jumps to a conclusion, I used to lease out my property for hunting, but decided three things. 1- I don’t need the extra money. 2 – Anyone wanting to pay me $7000 for a big rack of horns is nutz. 3- If you drive up in an old POS pickup with your kid your welcome to hunt, fish or whatever.

    1. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

      Ironicatbest, really, things change. Sure Bell slaughtered elephants for the ivory trade. Cody slaughtered buffalo for the railroad. Men didn’t know then what we know now. I wish we had it all to do over again; but we don’t. All we can do is try to rebuild on what we have left. We all have to work together to improve hunting and fishing for everyone.

    2. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

      Also, someone who owns a 640 ace farm and a 1/2 mile of river bank (on both sides) could not be considered poor. I think Linin and Stalin would have considered you a member of the elite land owners. Why don’t you go over there and see how your ideas of land ownership work out for you?

  13. avatar ironicatbest says:

    I am fortunate to have what I have. Notice my decision ..#3 only beat up pos pickups a dad and kids( the whole family for that matter) are welcome to hunt fish, whatever. …they need it worse then a guy that fly’s a plane in to hunt. I certainly hope by me being fair to the poor your not calling me Stalinist. That would be ironic at best.

    1. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

      Well we can agree on one thing. If anyone asks me to take them hunting, or shooting, especially if they’re new to the game, I jump at the chance. Only new blood will keep our sports alive and the antis at bay. However, if I catch a poacher he’ll wake up in jail the next morning.

    2. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

      Also, I have POS pick-up. 95 Chevy with 200,000+ miles on it. Never flew anywhere to hunt. Wish I could afford to. Alaska, Africa? Here I come! You sound like you resent people with money. I wish I had some.

  14. avatar rdsii64 says:

    The problem with someone telling me to “hunt ethically” is they never tell me whose “ethics” we are talking about. WHO GETS TO DECIDE WHAT “ETHICAL HUNTING” IS!! Whats “ethical” to you, may not be to the the next hunter.
    If a game animal in question is legal to take, and the shot is within my skill set and comfort zone, I’m dropp’n the hammer.

    1. avatar Paul Mcmichael says:

      And you’re right do so. If it’s legal, it’s ethical.

  15. avatar Kenneth says:

    For me, it’s not about the ethics, it’s about the challenge. I like to get as close as possible to the quarry without it becoming aware of me. Animal’s are very smart and to take one up close cleanly is a real accomplishment. I don’t see it as “being ethical”, but as “enlightened self interest”. It’s also about what I get out of it.
    My most memorable hunt was in super dense cover for whitetails. I stalked one for over an hour. Never saw him but he was always right in front of me. I could hear him in the brush. I followed as quietly as possible, single step by single step, for maybe half a mile, and the wind stayed right. Finally, I got a view through the brush at about 15 yards. It turned out to be a doe and I didn’t want to use my “A” tag on her, so I let her go. But left empty handed or not, that was a real accomplishment. Very difficult.

  16. avatar Maxi says:

    “Which is better? Having meat on the ground through whatever means you feel is passable or only taking shots you’re confident you can land in a single blow – even if it means ending a day or a season with nothing to show for it?”
    Here’s what I think:

    Only a dead hog is a good hog, just like with mosquitos. Only a intact corn field is a good one, a field with hogs is not good. When hunting game animals, shot placement is important. But with varmint/pest? You gotta take what you get, and if all you can get is shooting a hog into the bum and have it die slowly – so be it. Going home without killing it would be worse for all farmers and the ecosystem. You wouldn’t complain if you only hit the mosquito with the side of your hand either, as long as it dies before it stings you should be happy.
    You hunt pigs with a minigun? Cool, as long as it gets the job done…

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