To shoot or not to shoot, at a running deer, that is the question.
Every deer hunter, no doubt, has a different take on this question. As a younger deer hunter, taking a snapshot at a running whitetail was well within the parameters of my fair chase playbook. Today, not so much. My reflexes and vision are not what they once were. I am aware, too, that the odds of wounding deer generally increase with running shots. In fact, one of the reasons I now carry a single-shot, breech loading Ruger One .270 in the deer woods is precisely to limit my shot options to pretty much standing deer.
What about you? As a deer hunter where do you fall in the running-shot debate? Do you think that low-percentage running shots push the margins of fair chase.
Some deer hunters are just very good at running shots. They are in the minority, however. A few weeks ago in Colorado elk country, one of my campmates, who hunts unrelentingly and always shoots well, was taking a noon break at our campsite. He was “slippered up” and enjoying a cup of hot coffee. His handheld radio crackled, “Anyone at camp? Heads up. A big cow elk is headed full tilt down the creek right toward camp!”
Our man grabbed his rifle, stepped out of the aspen grove in his slippers and squinted into the sun up the creek. Sure enough! A cow elk moving fast and about to jump the creek at well over 300 yards. Pow! Pow! He put the elk down, swapped his slippers for some boots, and was field dressing the elk when we caught up with him. From that point on, he will always be known as the Slipper Shooter.
Our most fabled Maine trophy buck hunters clearly do not avoid running shots. Insofar as I can tell, neither the Benoits nor the Berniers ever delved too deeply into the ethics of running shots, either in their seminars or in their writings. In “The Deer Trackers,” the late Dick Bernier wrote, “I have always shot with a screw in and aperture and it has never prevented me from being able to locate running game.”
Big Woods trophy buck hunter Hal Blood, who talks as straight as he shoots, minces no words. In his book, “Hunting Big Woods Bucks,” he writes, “If you don’t learn to make running shots, you may not get many shots at Big Woods bucks.”
Blood says that over the years he has taken his fair share of running shots and has never wounded one — either it was a kill shot or a clean miss. Not a lot of hunters can say this, unfortunately.
Blood does not “lead” his running game. He pulls ahead on an opening and shoots when the deer passes the opening.
At the end of the day, the essence of hunting ethics is how the hunter feels about himself when he leaves the deer woods, all of which makes the running shot question a deeply personal choice. Whatever your ethical boundaries may be as a deer hunter, the most important priorities are to hunt safe, respect others — hunters and non-hunters alike — and for gosh sakes, have fun and make some memories.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]