It was a text message I didn’t want to receive. It came from my buddy whose property I’d been hunting, chasing down a 150 plus class whitetail. Without going into a lot of detail, another hunter used his “municipally appointed authority” to also gain access to this property to rifle hunt. The text message included a grainy, off-center picture of mainbeams and an ear and included the word, “Sorry.”
That buck was taken with a rifle a couple days before the same hunter took another nice buck off the same property with the same gun. In Missouri, you’re only allowed one antlered deer during the firearms season. What made the situation even more frustrating was that, from second hand report, the first deer was taken on this guy’s buddy’s tag, the second one he shot on his son’s. It was an injustice that still spikes my blood pressure. The kicker was I couldn’t file a report without potentially putting my buddy in an even more precarious position. I remember sitting in the car with my wife after getting that text and complaining to her that my deer fell to a “point and click” hunter (no offense to my gun hunting friends, I was pretty worked up).
The reality is there isn’t always a game officer watching every movement we make in the woods. It’s our responsibility as hunters to behave ethically and within the laws of the areas we hunt. In fact, we don’t want there to have to be a warden in every gravel pull off or river access. As it is, there are enough regulations without having to add more. Laws are made for lawbreakers, not for those of us who respect our prey and appreciate their habitats. We must govern ourselves.
Typing out a treatise on ethical outdoorsmanship is easy, almost as easy as pointing out wildlife code infractions committed by others. The real test comes when following the law negatively impacts your season.
Two weeks into the 2013 season, I finally had a doe at 35 yards that I was able to put a good arrow through. A few minutes later, another deer came through at 25 yards that I also arrowed, but when I walked up on that second deer, my heart sank. What I thought was another doe was actually a spike with chocolatey dark brown, six inch antlers that I didn’t see from my high vantage point. It wasn’t the kind of deer I wanted to take off the property, but more importantly, the deer regulations in my state prohibit taking two bucks before the November 16th rifle season. My quest for a trophy buck would have to go on hiatus.
I wish I could say that there was never any doubt in my mind as to how to register that deer. It officially had antlers, so it should be telechecked as an antlered deer…but that would mean almost a month and a half of hunting without the possibility of shooting a nice buck. Immediately my mind went to visions of a Pope & Young bruiser upwind of me at 20 yards. The thought of hunting hard, then passing on the very thing that drives me to the woods was sickening, but so was the notion of doing the same thing I detested in someone else the year before.
Given enough time to waiver, I probably could have talked myself into fudging and calling it in as antlerless. I process all my deer at the house, so no one else would have known. What if both antlers mysteriously broke off on the way out? It was a little like the scene in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve start to parse God’s command with the serpent. No good can come of that. As soon as I got back to the vehicle with the deer, I telechecked him as antlered and felt a sense of relief that my moral dilemma was over.
In going the inconvenient but lawful route, I hamstrung a good portion of my season, but also added tone and strength to the character muscle (I also all but guaranteed that I’d see a trophy buck sometime before rifle season, which I did…twice). As hunters, we should be known for our character and law abiding nature, especially in situations where it doesn’t benefit us. Of all their contacts with the public, game officers and conservation agents should have positive interactions with us. There should be a bright line in the minds of the non-hunting public between poachers and hunters. They may use similar equipment, but that’s where the similarities end.
Finally, our trophies are only trophies when we do things by the book. We don’t want to taint a great day in the field or a successful shot with that bit of knowledge that we cheated to success. We work too hard to get close to the game we hunt, just to sully their harvest with a cheap shortcut.
While we may not be able to change the behaviors of poachers and rule benders, we can control our own. Do the right thing wherever you are, regardless of circumstance and you can spend your time afield with a clear conscience. When you finally harvest your trophy, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you did it the right way.