Wounded animals, Uncomfortable hunters

Back in November, a fellow hunter and I talked about an essay he’d written. In it, he described stumbling onto a deer that had been wounded by someone else. When the piece was published, he heard from some disgruntled hunters. They didn’t like seeing that kind of story in print.

A couple months later, I was at a public hearing about hunting. During it, a woman voiced concerns about the wounding and loss of deer and moose in archery seasons. When she spoke, disgruntled hunters started muttering loudly. They didn’t like hearing that kind of talk.

A month after that, a filmmaker and I talked about a film she’d made. In it, she showed several hunting scenes, including one where the animal did not go down with the first shot. When the film was shown, she heard from some disgruntled hunters. They didn’t like seeing that kind of story on screen.

I wonder how such disgruntlement sounds to the non-hunting majority. Does it sound like these hunters don’t care about the wounding of animals? Does it sound like they’re trying to hide or minimize something?

It’s not as though wounding is any secret. Hunters have written entire books on how to find wounded animals. Wildlife biologists have done studies on wounding-and-loss rates. You can find discussion threads about wounding on hunting and anti-hunting websites alike.

I also wonder:

  • Do hunters dislike the public dissemination of stories about wounded animals mostly because they fear it will harm hunting’s public image?
  • Or does their discomfort also stem from being reminded that hunting can be messy, that it is not always the clean-killing endeavor we wish it was?

I once saw a broadhead buried in a deer’s skull. The animal apparently survived that way for a year or more.

I once heard a hunter describe a gruesome picture caught by his trail camera: a buck with leg muscles torn apart, presumably by a rifle bullet. He grimaced and shook his head. He doubted the animal would survive.

Do I like seeing such things, or hearing such stories? Hell, no. They make me queasy.

But I think it’s a good kind of queasy. It’s the kind that makes me careful.

© 2011 Tovar Cerulli


  1. I think we dislike seeing these kinds of stories in public forums because we know they’ll be used against us. They ARE used against us, all the time. (Ever notice how anti-hunters rail against us for using guns that give us unfair advantage, but whenever a bow-hunt is proposed, they rail against it as cruel?)

    But I’m a big fan of the Phillip (hog-blog.com) school of honesty about what we do. Trying to minimize the ugly and often inevitable parts of hunting does nothing but make us look bad. We’ve got to face things up front.

    This shouldn’t shame us. As ugly as these stories are, they are a thousand times less ugly than the system that produces most of the meat eaten by Americans, and any meat-eater who has qualms about animals wounded by hunters needs to do a video search for beef/hog/poultry farming and slaughtering operations.

    • Tovar says:

      I’m a fan of Phillip’s school of honesty, too, obviously. I think it can be a good thing even in public forums (including this one). And it’s true: there are lots of things uglier than these stories, not just factory farming, but habitat destruction for the construction of malls, etc, etc.

      I sometimes see that kind of railing (against guns, bows, types of bows, etc) among hunters, too, along pretty much the same lines of fairness and humaneness.

      By the way, nice to see you with a Gravatar!

  2. Arthur says:

    I think hunters are a tad uncomfortable with the wounding aspect of hunting, because it bothers us so much.

    Though we realize that animals are in fact wounded sometimes during the hunt, it’s not something we enjoy. I think that is why we try to shelter it sometimes. Any hunter who is worth anything has laid awake at night, wondering how they could’ve done things different so that the animal was taken cleanly, without any suffering.

    We do realize that it also makes us look bad to the non-hunting public, but more so, for me anyway, I try to cover it a little bit – and put it in a small corner of the brain – because I feel so terrible about it. We put so much time into making the perfect shot, and minimizing suffering, that wounding an animal drives us nuts, and makes us feel like sh*t.

    Any hunter who cares about the animals he hunts has struggled with these exact feelings.

    Great post, Tovar.

  3. douglas says:

    Though I have only come to hunting in middle age, my childhood was steeped in “sportsman culture”. My dad loves hunting and fishing, and approaches both with a minimalist attitude, and a deep commitment to fair chase and the”clean kill”. One of the few times I got to go moose hunting with him, I was puzzled that he stuffed a few bullets in his breast pocket but didn’t load the gun. He assured me that there would be plenty of time to load the rifle if we were lucky enough to spot a moose. “What if its running away?” I queried. “Well, you would never shoot at a moving animal,” was his reasoned reply.

    My re-entry into the world of hunting as an adult has been a bit of a shock. I find that there is a bizarre disconnect between the public face that hunters would like to present, and their sometimes disturbing conduct while out in the bush. Nothing high-lights this incongruity like a wounded animal.

      • douglas says:

        The conduct that worries me is the apparent acceptance of questionable shots to “anchor” or slow down a running animal. Thankfully I haven’t seen this first hand, but rather read (with disbelief) folks bragging about successfully tracking down some trophy buck after initially shooting it through the shoulder.

        A major contributor to our local hunting chat site actually told a long detailed story about wounding a big mule deer one weekend, then waiting till the following weekend to go back and track the poor thing down. The internet seems to have become a primary source of hunting education, and it is not the sort of education you might hope that young hunters would receive.

        Sites such as this one offer some hope that a balanced and thoughtful approach is also presented.

  4. Ingrid says:

    Arthur and Holly speak well for the hunter’s perspective. I know hunters realize that those of us who don’t hunt and who care for animals, can and will be turned by these events and images. My perspective is that the discomfort should, indeed, be felt and acted upon, as Tovar suggests — not glossed over or dismissed. In other words, that reality, as Tovar himself said, makes him more careful.

    It would be refreshing if, instead of shielding the public from these things, the hunters who grumble would work harder to make the sport more respectful rather than simply sanitizing the image of the sport. That, to me is the problem here. There’s a gap between the sanitized image and the reality that non hunters never see unless they’re in the field as I’ve been. And, I think there is understandable trepidation when the the clean image that’s normally reserved for the hunting “club,” is revealed to the public for some of its darker truths. As Holly says, there’s no honor in minimizing the truth.

    I was much more tolerant of hunting until I began witnessing the nature of animal wounds in my rescue efforts. So, Holly is right about the effect these images have on non hunters. But it’s not the images that change us. It’s the nature of the images and the actions portrayed in those images. I think the suffering of an animal by injury should upset us if we have any humanity left. After I witnessed my first archery hunt of a large mammal, I never again could reconcile the intense suffering as that animal writhed and cried out during its long death — while the hunters watched and chatted amiably nearby. It was a wretched juxtaposition that could and probably should turn anyone’s stomach.

    Those incidents — sadly for hunters — can take someone like me from a person who once respected hunting as a more ethical meat-acquiring choice, to someone who has general dislike of the sport because of what I’ve seen. And the worst part was, I felt as though I was lied to by the hunters I knew throughout my life. I can see why hunters are upset by dissemination of what can and does often happen out of the view of nearly everyone but the hunter and her immediate circle. But it’s dishonest to portray killing of animals in any other way.

    Yesterday, I met a young man who was taken pheasant hunting by his grandfather. He told me it took him six tries to kill the bird, and he set that shotgun down forever after his first and only hunt. I think that’s an appropriate response to having caused suffering in another — to promise never to do it again, to the best of one’s ability. The next best thing is the conscientiousness shown by hunters like Tovar and Holly, who won’t lay down the gun but who endeavor to shoot cleanly and reduce the potential for suffering. The worst response, for my money, is pretending that reality doesn’t exist. It may fool a lot of the people for a long time. But once the truth is exposed, the hunter’s credibility is lost.

    • Tovar says:

      Ingrid, I totally agree that we should see improvements in behavior, not improvements in image.

      And I hope that the hunters you saw “chatting amiably” instead of ending an animal’s suffering are in the tiny minority. I doubt I could come up with many hunting behaviors that would make me more disgusted and angry.

      I guess one question, as NorCal points out, is what we make of such things. Do X number of brutal, careless ______s (insert “hunters,” “drivers,” “police officers,” “dentists,” “horse owners” or whatever) lead us to conclude that all such people and their pursuits (hunting, driving, law enforcement, dental work, horse ownership, etc) are bad? Were you lied to, or were the hunters in your life not like the jerks you later witnessed?

      What’s honest/dishonest in the portrayal of animal killing depends on what actually happens. When I portray the deaths of the few deer I’ve killed as instantaneous or nearly so, that’s honest, because that’s how it has happened, thankfully.

      If my early hunting experiences had been like those of the young man you describe, I suspect that I might have made the same choice he did. So far, to my knowledge, I have not wounded an animal; I have only killed quickly. The day I fail to kill cleanly, if it comes, will be a hard one. I know longtime hunters who have seriously contemplated giving up hunting after wounding and losing an animal.

      In my vegan, anti-hunting days, I would have agreed with you that my current actions (and Holly’s) in being conscientious but not “laying down the gun” could only ever be a “next best thing.” Now, I still totally respect the choice not to hunt (or eat meat, etc), but I’m not at all sure that people who choose not to hunt can fairly claim any moral superiority over those of us who do.

      • Tovar says:

        P.S. Let me amend one part of that: To my knowledge, I have never injured-and-not-killed a deer while hunting. I have injured a deer while driving, not fatally or seriously, I think, given the tracks I followed — but I’ll never know for sure.

      • Ingrid says:

        I guess one question, as NorCal points out, is what we make of such things. Do X number of brutal, careless ______s (insert “hunters,” “drivers,” “police officers,” “dentists,” “horse owners” or whatever) lead us to conclude that all such people and their pursuits (hunting, driving, law enforcement, dental work, horse ownership, etc) are bad?

        No, I wouldn’t make that conclusion. But the variability in behavior and integrity supports the point I’ve made repeatedly: that stricter regulation should be the norm. Hunters definitely disagree with me on that — vehemently. But I don’t trust human nature to do the “right” thing when self policing. And most of hunting is self-policed and away from public and official scrutiny. Even hunting done with game checkpoints doesn’t account for cripples. No one except the hunter knows what they’ve done in terms of shooting and injuring. Even the hunter doesn’t know sometimes, as they see a bird fly off, not realizing that it may fall miles later where someone like me ends up finding it, helpless, immobilized and dying from a septic infection.

        I personally feel, after the many human-inflicted gun and bow injuries I’ve seen, that there is far too much leeway on what can be done to wild animals in the name of hunting. Again, this is my personal opinion as one who rescues and is heartbroken every time I see the wretched effects of these injuries.

        In the hospital where I volunteer, the standards applied by fish and game to the conduct engaged in by medical personal — toward wildlife — are extremely strict. Medical standards of humane euthanasia are strict. Why is it, then, that this same code is not enforced toward wildlife in the field, as they are treated by sportsmen? I do not see applying a stricter standard as remotely unfair. In almost every profession involving the use or exploitation of animals, there are regulations. There should be tougher regulations, given the degree of suffering, but there are baseline norms. In a veterinary setting, shooting a deer with a bow and letting it suffer for, sometimes hours, before it dies would simply not be acceptable. Why is it acceptable in the name of “sport”?

        In my vegan, anti-hunting days, I would have agreed with you that my current actions (and Holly’s) in being conscientious but not “laying down the gun” could only ever be a “next best thing.” Now, I still totally respect the choice not to hunt (or eat meat, etc), but I’m not at all sure that people who choose not to hunt can fairly claim any moral superiority over those of us who do.

        What I meant by this is, that the “best” action in life (in my view) — not applied to in hunting specifically — is for a person to stop engaging in behavior they recognize as causing suffering. But I see in how I wrote it, that I suggested a hierarchy as it applies to hunting. My statement should be revised to say, “if someone recognizes that their actions are causing suffering, the best course of actions would be to stop that action. The next best thing would be to find a way to ameliorate the suffering if one must engage in that action.” Does that change the meaning at all?

        • Tovar says:

          Good and welcome thoughts, Ingrid.

          In answer to your last question, yes. That clarifies and shifts the meaning I hear in your words. It raises these thoughts for me: I know I could cause a lot more harm than I do (to animals, nature, other people, etc); I choose not to, because causing gratuitous harm feels wrong to me. I also know I could cause a lot less harm than I do; in the extreme, I could decide that — since I cause various kinds of suffering just by being alive — I should “stop that action” by offing myself, figuring the planet would be better off without one more human; I choose not to, because that feels wrong, too. For me, it’s a question of balancing things. And hunting is part of that balance for me, part of how I come to terms with being a living, breathing, eating animal in this imperfect world.

          In reply to your earlier point — which I know we’ve discussed before here — I agree that self-policing has its problems. I have serious doubts about Aldo Leopold’s famous lines concerning the moral value of the fact that the hunter acts in solitude, without witnesses. We could make it illegal to intentionally wound-and-not-kill. In principle, I would have no objection to making that moral wrong a legal wrong. In practice, though, I’m not sure it would make much difference. As we know from all kinds of examples (child abuse, toxic dumping in our rivers, etc, etc), legal force is a poor and often ineffectual substitute for moral force, whether the moral force of the individual or the moral force of the wider community.

        • Ingrid, you know I respect you, but sometimes I just don’t know where you’re going with this. It seems what you want is some sort of regulation or self-policing that results in better deaths for the animals we hunt – either instant deaths or heart-lung shots that kill very quickly. This means not only eliminating careless a-holes, but also wind, branches, animals that take a step in the wrong direction, a gun rest that slips and the myriad other factors that can throw a shot.

          There is in fact a way to do this. It’s called a slaughterhouse. It’s called agriculture. Millions of animals get the quick, clean death that way.

          But can we talk about the suffering THAT inflicts? I’m not even talking about CAFOs here. I’m talking about the incredibly glorious “civilized” diet and lifestyle that has given us a population wracked with diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis and more? (And ain’t just the meat doing this, so let’s not even go there.) Can we talk about how this system killed my dad way more slowly than any hunted animal ever died? Can we talk about what it was like for my mom and sister to watch my dad go – and it was so ugly that I won’t even describe it here – when all those glorious diseases of civilization culminated in his death?

          Diets kill, and they kill ugly. All of them. On one end of the spectrum, we can hunt and gather, and leave some wounded animals to suffer horribly. On the other end, we can create this glorious diet designed to feed 7-10 billion people and watch them all go through the hell of these hideous diseases that are saying, “OUR BODIES AREN’T MEANT FOR THIS CRAP!” And in the process, we can dish out crappy lives for the animals too, either stuffing the domestic ones in CAFOs, or eliminating billions of acres of habitat to grow all those nice grains and green things for people who don’t want more direct responsibility for animal deaths.

          I don’t think there’s a person in this discussion who doesn’t think it’s incredibly important to do everything we can to kill cleanly, or when we don’t, to track wounded animals. The system of hunter education makes a point of telling us it’s important to make clean kills and track our animals after the shot if we didn’t make a clean kill. There may be some careless bastards out there, BUT YOU DON’T KNOW if they’re the ones who wounded the animals you find. For all you know, the hunters who inflicted those wounds searched for three days – because people do that, and still come up empty handed.

          So, yeah, we agree with you, it’s important.

          So what will YOU do to support measures that help us track wounded animals better? Will you write letters to legislatures urging them to allow the use of tracking dogs to track wounded game? Will you ask HSUS to support that? Because coming from hunters, people think adding dogs to any of these pursuits is evil; coming from you, folks might trust that it really is for an important purpose.

          How would you go about making sure people don’t take bad shots? What will you do to ensure that the person who can handle a gun at the range – and in a field test – doesn’t make a bad decision in the field? Some of us here write about this stuff, a lot. Phillip has written a couple pieces now chastising a TV show that showed kids taking really long and risky shots at antelope. What more would you have us do or say that we haven’t already said or done, given that we don’t own hunting magazines and hunting television networks?

          In short, where are we going here?

          • Ingrid says:

            Here’s where I’m going (or went), I can’t speak for the “we.” I personally feel there is far too much freedom in what hunters can do legally. I’ve said this before. If I, as a non-vet, euthanize an animal, I am subject to legal consequences. If I shoot an arrow through your cat, I am subject to animal cruelty charges. If I run a slaughterhouse and neglect to follow humane standards, I can be prosecuted. (Well, in the case of certain animals, not chickens, etc. Believe me, I’ve witnessed and understand what goes on in slaughterhouses when I lived in cattle country, and “humane” legality is not nearly humane enough for me. I’d make the exact same point about farm animals as I’m making here about game.)

            My point is, in case it’s not clear from the above, there are enforceable legalities that put limits on how much suffering one can inflict against a living being under the law. Will you see me out your window if I shoot that arrow through your cat and it runs into the neighbor’s yard? Probably not. Are there glass walls into the wretched practices in most slaughterhouses in this country so we can monitor what’s going on? Sadly, no. If I take it upon myself to somehow illegally euthanize an injured migratory bird by the side of the road, will I be found out? In all of the above situations, the truth is, there probably won’t be anyone to witness what’s been done — just, as you suggest, you can’t police every hunter. But the point is, that when it is witnessed, there is recourse and some measure of justice for animals, however and woefully inadequate.

            So, the question I pose, however rhetorical, is why should hunters have as much breadth as they do in terms of how they inflict death?

            If you, as a hunter, incapacitate a deer in the woods in a most inhumane way, even if I am witness to it as I have been with large ungulates, there is NOTHING I can do. I have watched animals suffer for hours and am forced to restrain myself and stay silent, not only because there are no cruelty standards I can bring against that person, but because I am also bound by anti-harassment laws which, in effect, shield hunters from the type of scrutiny I believe any such use and exploitation of animals deserves. That includes slaughter operations and that includes veterinary offices and that should, in my mind, include “sport.” It should also include a wide variety of horrible practices we inflict on animals, but I’m talking specifically about how hunting is exempt from the same cruelty standards that bind some other practices.

            Hunters enjoy a huge measure of freedom in terms of what they can “do” to animals. And although I have had enough discussions with you and other hunters of your ethical standards to have respect for your standards, I have also been witness to so much of the other kind of hunting. As I say, there is absolutely nothing someone like me can do — because the cruelty statutes that apply to your dog or your cat or your horse, do not apply to a deer or an elk or a rabbit with as complex a nervous system and physiological and emotional existence as the animals that are protected. And given our modern understanding of animal behavior and sentience, it doesn’t seem out of line to reexamine this idea.

            As you know, I’m especially not a fan of bowhunting. It’s been the source of my worst hunting experiences. It’s often not done well, and the consequences then are horrendous. I can’t think of any human I’ve met who, when asked how they’d prefer to go, would say by bow. I know there are clean kills with skilled marks people who handle bows, but the potential for injury is so high in a form of hunting that’s done mostly for the satisfaction and challenge of the hunter, not for any reason of humaneness. And again, where are the standards of how skilled one has to be before one has a license to kill?

            btw: I lost my dad in a similar fashion many years ago. And I will say, verging onto another commenter’s point here, that when he writhed and grimaced in pain from the cancer, even though he was unconscious and couldn’t say so, the doctors gave him more morphine to quell the suffering. His physiological signs were assumed to indicate pain. And we’re very clear on what that means for human beings. I wish we were more resolute and compassionate when it came to non-humans exhibiting similar physiological mechanisms.

            As far as tracking dogs, there’s a big distinction in my mind between tracking a lost and injured animal, and hunting with dogs that, for instance, tree a bear for the shot. Or fox hunts, which I’ve witnessed, or hunts where the dogs get their taste of the prey first. It’s a lot more complex than you portray it. Do I support the use of dogs for retrieval of birds in the marsh? If, as I understand it, it helps the recovery rate, yes. But I also realize that some of the methods used to train hunting dogs are just awful to the decoy training animal (pigeons, for instance). It’s impossible not to have mixed feelings about this.

            • Ingrid says:

              p.s. Holly . . . I understand what I think (correct me if I’m wrong) is the frustration of your response. You and guys like Phillip and Tovar do so much to address these very issues. The fact that you broach these subjects at all, when many others would gloss them over, says so much about you. So, I can see how my insistence on certain points here would come across as a “what more would you have me do?” You — absolutely nothing, Holly. You are a model and you would exceed the expectations anyone could have of an “ethical” hunter. Even as I say that, I get into the precarious area of judging what is ethical or right — or holding you up to some arbitrary standard I have. I don’t mean to do that. What I’m suggesting in my commentary is that hunters like you are not the types I’ve seen over and over. And because compassion in the hunt relies so heavily upon individual ethics, I argue for increased accountability, legally, because I just don’t see any other way to set a more stringent standard for what is humane. Historically speaking, as I mentioned to Phillip below, humans don’t readily give up their “rights” for the good of another, at least initially, without some measure of enforcement. If you have some good examples to counter this, I am very open to looking at a different way.

            • Oh, believe me, I recognized the double, if not triple, standards of how we treat animals. I believe what we’ve done there is to legislate the common human (and possibly common animal) tendency to protect what is close, dear and profitable to us and show less concern for what is distant.

              But I still don’t know what you can legislate to reduce potential wounding/crippling harm in hunting, because the way you consistently and reliably reduce that harm is by exercising complete control over the animal, and complete control over the mechanism of death. And that is called farming, not hunting.

              We could increase marksmanship requirements, which are nonexistent in some places (California included). But any hunter who’s honest will tell you that marksmanship under perfect conditions where your target is a piece of paper is, no pun intended, a whole different animal. Accidents will still happen.

              Are there any data that indicate lower wounding rates in states where proof of marksmanship is required?

              A key issue here is that YOU DON’T KNOW what percentage of animals you’ve tried to rescue were harmed by hunter negligence or the kinds of things that can go wrong no matter how good a marksman you are. I get the impression you assume it is high, which is easy to do when you see an animal that is obviously suffering because of something a human has done, and you don’t see the human anywhere in sight. Personally, I don’t know what to assume – the variables are too numerous.

              Also, while I am grateful that you appreciate the values you see among the hunters participating in this discussion, it might be a mistake to assume that we are the minority in holding these values. We are the minority in terms of our ability to articulate these values because we’re all writers. But just because other hunters can’t or don’t articulate these values in the same way doesn’t mean they don’t hold them – strong verbal ability is not an indicator of morality; it’s just a means by which one’s morality can be viewed and judged.

              • Ingrid says:

                Holly, you’re obviously right on this: A key issue here is that YOU DON’T KNOW what percentage of animals you’ve tried to rescue were harmed by hunter negligence or the kinds of things that can go wrong no matter how good a marksman you are. I get the impression you assume it is high, which is easy to do when you see an animal that is obviously suffering because of something a human has done, and you don’t see the human anywhere in sight. Personally, I don’t know what to assume – the variables are too numerous.

                It’s absolutely true that I don’t know what type of hunter inflicted an injury. Some of that is immaterial to the discussion of wound rates. Some of the injuries are so grotesque, one can deduce certain things.

                The behavior issues I talk about are incidents I’ve personally witnessed. I don’t know what the “norm” is and I don’t suppose you guys do either, because you tend to hunt with like-minded, thoughtful people. A good friend of mine was in forestry management for years. He was a hunter, a one-large-mammal-per-season hunter, who came to almost disdain hunting because of what he saw other hunters doing out there. There is a lot of bad behavior. Is it the majority or the minority? I don’t know. But it’s enough that almost everyone I know who’s been out hunting or who’s been out witnessing hunting, has some bad stories to tell about what other hunters were doing. It is a problem.

                And I do think stricter standards would help. Yes, including more marksmanship requirements and identification classes. I’ve seen kids horribly maim songbirds in their backyards with air rifles. This is just unacceptable. There has to be a way to better legislate or control this. Of course, gun rights trump what I would deem common sense in those situations.

                Why, for instance, don’t other hunters turn in waterfowling sky busters? Huge, huge potential for injury. I’ve seen it myself in the Delta area. I’ve read articles in hunting publications, horrified by this practice. These are the middle ground practices that aren’t covered anywhere, by anyone. Yet self-policing in the community doesn’t seem to be working here. There’s still a lot of reticence among hunters to say anything about what another hunter is doing, unless it’s outright poaching. Sure, you can blog about it later and try to impress upon the community, the wrongness of this practice. But where is the in-field scrutiny? Where is the low tolerance that decent hunters should have — the conscience and fortitude to mandate better behavior the field? I guarantee you that if I’m out with another rescuer or wildlife observer or photographer, who’s engaged in questionable practices, they will hear from me. I have no problems doing this and have done it.

                I have tried to find statistics on wound rates and the problem is, they are most often dependent on hunters self-reporting. And there have been many suggestions that hunters underreport or don’t report. A few months ago, I found one web page by South Dakota Game Fish & Parks (http://gfp.sd.gov/hunting/waterfowl/wounding-losses.aspx) which suggests an estimate of 25 percent wound rates, which, according to that same piece “means that approximately 3.4 to 3.7 million ducks and geese go unretrieved each year in the U.S. and Canada combined.”

                I also saw this Michigan Department of Resources paper from 1980 (http://bit.ly/g6dsJI) which actually entailed getting cripples in the field after hunting (something I wish I could do, btw, but I’m not allowed where hunters go on “public” land.)

                There clearly hasn’t been nearly enough study on this to establish how many animals, especially birds, are lost each year. I think it’s a significant scar on the sport of hunting, and one I don’t easily reconcile when you consider the potential numbers. A photographer friend of mine went out during the last days of diving-duck hunting season (on the east coast) and in the span of 10 minutes) found one dead diving duck floating, and two cripples flailing on a nearby island beach, unreachable. That’s one photographer, in one small portion of a hunting area. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume the numbers are great.

                • Two thoughts:

                  1) One thing that has to be factored into the equation on lost ducks is the fact that birds one hunter hits and merely cripples often go on to get shot by other hunters in the vicinity. I have brought home many ducks that were already wounded before I shot them because of this, and I have seen other hunters get “my” ducks this way.

                  2) Having gone diver hunting this year for the first time, I can tell you that the wounding loss rate is MUCH higher than it is for puddle ducks because divers … dive. Our instructions on these hunts were that once you knocked a duck down, EVERYONE was to keep shooting until it was very obviously dead and/or a dog was about to retrieve it. Wounded divers are extremely good at ducking under water a fraction of a second before the shot arrives where they’re sitting, and they can go extremely long distances under water to get away from the humans and dogs trying to retrieve them. And when they dive, they often have a good 180 degrees of choices of directions to go to elude people, so your chances of seeing them when they pop up for air (briefly) and getting to them before they dive again are extremely low. I’ve also seen divers belly-up, paddling the air – usually a sign of being DOA – suddenly pop their head up and dive. They are unusually resilient.

                  The diver hunts were fun for a lot of reasons, but the high loss rate was definitely a huge downside, and I’m grateful that diver hunting isn’t my only option, because I sure as hell wouldn’t want to deal with those high loss rates all the time.

                  Oh, and BTW, whenever a wounded duck got out of our gun range, our guides would go out on both of their boats trying to retrieve the duck (something made more difficult because you can’t shoot a duck while you’re motor’s running – a law designed to prevent unfair hunter advantage, but that also has the impact of making retrieving a wounded duck much harder. Unintended consequences. They always did the very best they could to bring in every duck that had been shot.

                  • Ingrid says:

                    I appreciate your candor on this, Holly. I don’t mean to capitalize on that honesty, but hunts like diving duck hunts are so difficult for me to reconcile. I’ve heard and read so many stories of people who don’t even like the taste of diving ducks. And that, combined with the higher loss rate, is very sad to me. A lot of people think that diving ducks die quickly after they’ve been shot and escape. But I’ve known more than one person who’s found diving ducks lying flat and helpless on ice or on land after beaching because of their injury. It’s pretty awful because diving ducks are so immobile on land to begin with, their back-set legs not designed to move on land. And they haul themselves out because of the injury or the hypothermia they’re suffering, and they’re basically left there to die a slow death. These are, indeed, the things that keep me from embracing certain types of hunting, as you know. My experience may be anecdotal, but it’s easily replicated to suggest a pattern. I agree with you that I have no idea what transpired before I happened upon an injured animal. At the same time, people who injure and then are able to leave the scene for the day, have no idea what becomes of the animal they lost — hours, days or even weeks later. And often, it ain’t pretty even remotely.

                    • Divers taste excellent, but you have to skin them and remove all the fat to avoid the fishy taste/smell that many hunters disdain.

                      It is the higher risk of loss that will keep me from hunting divers often, but I will likely hunt them again. And I will emotionally/intellectually reconcile the losses there as I do with all harm I inflict, whether it’s buying computers whose production process pollutes; driving cars that kill bugs, birds and rodents; and using guns that sometimes just wound instead of killing: I will minimize the harm where I can, I will know that nature wastes nothing, and I will acknowledge, and decline to wallow in, the empathy that comes with looking at one’s actions honestly.

                  • Hoosierbuck says:

                    I wonder about divers’ resilience being a function of different plumage designed to insulate well while submerged stopping/slowing penetration of shot? I’m not a duck guy-is there a noticeable difference when you pluck a diving duck versus others?
                    Just curious, thanks.

  5. As ever the best cure is sunlight, AKA stone cold just-the-facts-ma’am honesty. I’ve killed a deer that had had a leg shot off, another blogger and I have just made sausages from the body of a deer that lay dying in the road for over an hour until a hunter could be called to dispatch her. Many people reading this have and will kill animals that would otherwise be eaten alive. Nature is brutal. Factory Pharms are organized brutality behind closed doors. We are what we are.

    My aunt and I debated this a while back and once pushed she got to clarity about her position; what she objected to was ‘blasting away’; when she saw the hunt as ‘sit so still small animals and birds will feed at your feet, then fire once, killing a deer that never knew you were there’ she admitted she felt different about it. Nice woman, well meaning, meat eater, just dishonest in the name of being compassionate.

    Tovar, as ever thought provoking

    • Tovar says:

      Yep, those stories make me queasy, too.

      Some hunters do, of course, “blast away.” Like your aunt, I detest that kind of behavior.

  6. The thing the public doesn’t see, at least here in Maine, is that a large part of the required hunter’s safety course talked about proper shot placement with the emphasis on only taking clean shots. I have bow hunted for three years now and have never taken a shot because I was not absolutely confident that I could make a clean kill.

    I have seen first hand the suffering of animals. I raise rabbits for meat, too. My first attempts were horrifying for both the rabbit and me. There is just no question about eating meat for me. But, I feel like if I am going to eat meat, I should be willing to kill and clean it.

    • Tovar says:

      We certainly talked about shot placement when I took hunter education, too.

      When a wounded animal is found, it’s hard to know what happened. Did someone simply not care about careful shooting? Did they make a bad judgment call, despite good intentions? Did something unexpected go wrong? To the animal, of course, it doesn’t matter.

  7. Tovar,
    That which makes us feel “queasy” also pushes us to improve and to stay at peak performance. Such as when I’m driving hairpins on mountainsides, and realize that one little turn of the wheel and we’re over the side, or one cross over the line on a two-way country lane here in Missouri, and a lot of people can get hurt …

    I hope I never lose that sense of the fragility of life — either in my car or when I’m about to shoot a bow or a gun or anywhere that it really matters!

    Great post, and it dispels the myth that hunters enjoy seeing the suffering, or don’t care about the suffering of an animal.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Barbara.

      That’s true, and I hope that the vast majority of hunters take the responsibility as seriously as you do.

      I know there are some who really don’t care about animal suffering, or at least profess not to (in online discussion forums, etc). As Holly points out below, though, I’m not sure that such a sadistic attitude is any more common among hunters than among humans in general.

  8. Nobody wants to wound an animal. And I think it’s perfectly reasonable for anti-hunting activists to make much of what happens when a bad shot causes agony that can go on for a very long time. As several people here have pointed out, facing this problem head-on will make us all more careful.

    What doesn’t make sense to me is that, despite the fact that wounding an animal is the worst thing a hunter can do (short of shooting another human), hunters are still committed to the idea of “fair chase,” which inherently increases the possibility of wounding. It’s not sporting to bait a deer, or to shoot a duck in the water, even though those scenarios make a clean kill easier.

    I understand that some hunters want the satisfaction of getting an animal in difficult circumstances, and I can only hope they have the skills to take those animals cleanly. I hunt for food, and I think fair chase is hooey.

    • Tovar says:

      I think the effect of “fair chase” on wounding depends a great deal on what you mean by “fair chase” and how you implement it. If it means only taking “sporting” shots at flying birds, then, yes, it almost certainly increases the chance of wounding. But if it means choosing to hunt deer in difficult, thickly wooded terrain and limiting yourself to 30 yard shots instead of taking 300 yard shots across open fields, I’m not so sure.

  9. It’s most definitely both – hunting PR but most importantly, for me at least, a sense of failing my duty to kill as swiftly as possible. Luckily I have yet to lose an animal but have had to shoot three that I remember, more than once. I think the grumbling hunters uneasily accept the wounding reality but don’t want to have to explain why they can’t prevent it entirely. Mistakes happen but too often we are guilty of poor preparation. I know a few guys who buy a box of shells every two or three years, no matter that the last box were 150gr Corelokts and these are 180gr Powerpoints. .30-06 is .30-06, right? They fire one or two shots at a random target each year, proclaim the rifle is still sighted in and go afield. They have never had a range membership. With that approach you can expect your wound rate to be unacceptable.

    The trend of super long range hunting is the same. From an ethical standpoint I could care less if someone has the skill to take a deer at 500+ yards but I think way too many hunters believe they and their gear are up to the task when in reality it’s an tiny fraction of shooters who can do that (go to your local range pre hunting season and this will be apparent…and that applies to me too!). I learnt the ‘too-long-a-range’ lesson on a Southern Reedbuck in South Africa many years ago. I misjudged the range, it was well beyond 300m, and ‘luckily’ I broke both its front legs so it couldn’t run and we could finish it… not fun. I recently saw pictures of bear that lived with a broadhead in its spine for at least a year; made my stomach turn. As hunters we know shit happens, but a good start is to look after you gear and PRACTICE…which means more than 5 shots a year!

    • Tovar says:

      Well said, Brian.

      I admit to not doing a huge amount of rifle practice. Then again, it suffices because I’m hunting in places where a 75-yard shot would be extraordinary. The deer I’ve killed have all been at 15-30 yards.

  10. sam says:

    Disgruntlement sounds make hunters look like they are irresponsible and the ones making the noise probably are irresponsible. This is about controlling the message. It’s the group composed of anything goes hunters who don’t care about fairchase and laws in general and also hunters who want to hide the fact that there are anything goes hunters.

    • Tovar says:

      From my past perspective as a longtime non-hunter and sometimes anti-hunter, I agree that disgruntlement can make hunters look/sound irresponsible or callous. Whether they are is another question.

      • sam says:

        Tovar, I’m more of a “if looks and sounds like a duck, it probably is a duck.” type of person.

        • Tovar says:

          What I’m saying is this: If I hear an old-time Vermont hunter grumbling when he hears some young non-hunting flatlander raising questions about wounding rates, I don’t assume he’s an irresponsible hunter. He might be. Or he might just be annoyed, or he might feel threatened, or he might be intolerant of different opinions.

          I don’t think his grumbling is respectful or helps his cause. But I’m not sure that it, alone, tells me much about him as a person or as a hunter.

  11. Ingrid and Sam –

    We would love it if all hunters behaved cautiously and well. But I must point out that hunters as a population display the same spectrum of idiocy-to-perfection that every other population has, be they drivers, politicians, construction workers or school teachers. We can preach ’til we’re blue in the face and there will always be humans of our own ilk that embarrass us.

    And Tamar, you are right about fair chase. Fair chase is designed to make US feel better about what we do – it doesn’t help the animals AT ALL. If we wanted to ensure clean kills, we’d all be hunting over bait at close range.

  12. NorCal, I agree about the fairchase issue. ‘Fair Chase’ became something of a mythical beast while no one was looking. It gained facets and aspects that took on a life of their own and are no taken as some kind of gospel of hunter conduct..

    Boiled-down, fair chase would imply hunting an animal that is wild and self sustaining in a manner that is 1) legal, 2) ensures a rapid as possible death and 3) does the least harm to other animals, people and the environment. The rest are specious questions about ethics and ‘sportsmanship’.

  13. Erik Jensen says:

    Good discussion. I support fair chase, big time, even if it may sometimes result is a few more wounded animals than using bait at close range as Holly said. I think it’s important that it does in fact maintain public support for hunting, especially among non-hunting environmentally conscious people. My parents are non-hunters, but strongly support hunting. Other than a basic understanding of the the food chain, part of their support is based on hearing about hunters having to learn about the biology and habits of animals. I know of no studies to prove this, but I suspect “non-fair chase” hunters (I suppose defined as hunters that are more likely to use more bait and motorized assistance) are less engaged with the biology and nature-loving experience of it all. Certainly, for me, more challenging methods have enhanced my biological knowledge.

    • Tovar says:

      Interesting points, Erik.

      On the one hand, I’m inclined to agree with you that certain kinds of hunting (backwoods hiking and tracking, for instance) require more knowledge and intimacy with the land than others (driving a 4-wheeler across a corn field to a stand, for instance). On the other hand, as soon as we pin our ideas to one behavior (like baiting, which I personally don’t do), we run into exceptions and complications.

      I encourage everyone interested in these things to check out Jim Tantillo’s essay on “Ethics vs Preferences” (http://www.huntfairchase.com/docs/7aa88a58.pdf). Jim and I disagree on some matters, but he makes excellent points in this essay.

    • I’m totally not into using bait, but I’ll never say never, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. My bedrock ethic is clean kill. I’d rather explain a clean kill over bait to a skeptical public than to try to explain why a more sportsmanlike wounding was somehow superior.

      I think you’re correct in assuming that the non-hunting public places some value on this. I’m quite certain the non-hunting public could not immediately divine the benefit of bait in terms of clean kill – I sure didn’t. But I think in the case of public misinformation, my first step will always be to attempt education rather than concede the point.

      • Erik Jensen says:

        Good points, Tovar and Holly. I think on the general topic, it is best for us as hunters to acknowledge to the broader public that we work hard to make clean kills, but inevitably, some animals are wounded, w/out being defensive about it. Somehow there is a follow-up to this, but there is a question of how to articulate it best…and one wonders how it will go over: animals die all sorts of painful deaths in nature, through predation and other means, and it is just part of the natural process. While we as hunters strive to not impose unnecessary suffering, it is inevitable that it will happen sometimes, it is unreasonable for us to think people are not going to be part of this natural process sometimes. I often think hunting forces us to confront what is sometimes the harshness or even brutality of our existence, but that is a heavy point forboth hunters and non-hunters to accept.

  14. Al Cambronne says:

    As an adult-onset hunter, I may have thought about this issue more than most people do. (But maybe I just don’t give those other hunters enough credit. If they grew up hunting, they may have been taught the same values I came to by a different route.) I feel self-conscious about using a word like this, but I believe the responsibility to kill humanely is something almost sacred. If I can feel confident of doing that, then the act of killing feels much easier to accept.

    I don’t want to cause unnecessary suffering, and I’d rather regret a shot I didn’t take than one I did take but shouldn’t have. I pass on shots every now and then, and I also make time to practice–especially in the summer and fall as hunting season approaches. But I know that someday I could still wound a deer and not recover it. I’m not perfect, and I don’t want to sound self-righteous here.

    I’m amazed, however, at how many hunters have a completely different attitude about all this. I’ve often heard people speak casually of having made a “hail Mary” shot at a deer disappearing into the brush. I’m not a Catholic, and I’m not sure exactly what that means. But I’m pretty sure it’s not how Jesus would shoot.

    The other day at an outdoor expo I was talking with a bowhunter who, without me really asking, started telling me about how last fall he’d seen his son make a successful 65-yard shot on a mule deer, and this with a recurve, not a compound bow with sights. He actually used that “Hail Mary” phrase while telling the story–and without shame or embarassment, but actually with pride. This was someone who was otherwise a really nice guy, and a pillar of his hunting community.

    That would be a fun story if were about shooting at a paper target. But it wasn’t. The story might have had a very different ending, one featuring a gut-shot deer that was never recovered. Quite often, those stories probably do end that way. They’re the ones that don’t get told.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for the great comment, Al. I feel much the way you do.

      Those “Hail Mary” shots, whether with bow or firearm, whether at deer or waterfowl, are inexcusable. If my family and I absolutely depended on hunting for survival, that would be one thing, and desperation might reasonably trump care and caution. But we don’t.

  15. I believe we must be careful not to conflate ethics with notions of challenge or ‘sportsmanship’. I agree that it’s a very slippery slope to elitism if we begin rate the superiority of one form of hunting over others. I have no doubt that a backpack sheep hunt or a tracked Bongo is a much harder hunt than a cornfield stand for whitetail doe BUT often the challenge is a function of the species and its environment, as well as the techniques we use.

    Unfortunately the outdoor world is a victim of loads of this, Kayakers vs. Canoeists vs. Rafters, Skiers vs. Snowboarders, Flyfishers vs. Bait anglers etc etc ad nauseum. I honestly could not give a hoot if someone takes an animal from their truck as long they do it well and safely. Bait? Not my style but it gives you the ability to have time to select particular animals and take careful shots, and by virtue of that has many redeeming qualities.
    In an activity with an unfortunate PR issue like we hunters have, the last thing we need are hunters fighting over ‘whose discipline is superior’. There are basic fundamental standards of conduct we almost all agree on and hiking in for elk for 2 days or sitting over bear bait a mile from the quad are both totally acceptable forms of hunting IMO.

    We only aid the antis with divide and conquer when we quibble over ethical non-issues. I love to debate things like .270win vs. 280Rem because I’m a gun crank but it’s a non-issue in reality, just like hard mountain hunting vs. tree stands is not a question or acceptable vs. unacceptable conduct. Gross hunter misconduct and irresponsible actions that violate basic norms are however genuine issues, I agree. They just need to be addressed without the descent into ‘traditional archers are the zenith of the hunting art while quad cruisers are slobs’ nonsense.

    PS I agree, ‘taking a poke’ in the vain hope you’ll anchor an animal is totally unacceptable be it a running deer at 10 yrds or a long shot at a distance you’ve never tried. Pass shots up if you don’t feel confident…

  16. Dave Proulx says:

    Great topic, Tovar.

    I think your two points about the non hunting public’s reactions to woundings and the regret we feel as hunters when we lose an animal are at the core of many hunters grumblings about not wanting to see this information in print or in the public forums.

    After thirty plus years of hunting, I have also come to realize that the bumper sticker for my approach to hunting would read ” Kill swiftly, waste nothing, offer no apologies”. I’m never happy about wounding animals, but I will not dance around the issue of killing and the fact that occasional crippling losses do occur.

    With that said, I am very interested in perfecting my skills, both for the satisfaction it brings to me and as a way to show respect for the game I pursue (which are mainly ducks and geese). My commitment to improving my skills includes frequent off season clay target shooting, year round dog training and a practice of only shooting at birds that we’ve “fooled” by called them into close gun range, ideally right over the decoy spread.

    Regarding fair chase, I must admit that shooting birds sitting on the ground would give me little satisfaction as a hunter. My level of satisfaction in shooting ducks and geese is directly related to the amount of work I’ve done in preparation for the hunt, coupled with solid techniques in decoy placement, calling, blind placement, bird identification and shooting. The occasional “easy” hunt is fine and often welcome, but there’s much greater satisfaction in a successful hunt that required me to test myself physically, mentally or both.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Dave.

      There’s no question that hunters hunt, in part, because the activity itself is engaging in a variety of ways. Part of the engagement involves improving one’s skills. It sounds like you strive to make sure your self-testing isn’t about making long distance shots, but rather about skills relevant to the entire hunt, including getting the birds into very close range.

      • Dave Proulx says:

        I get plenty of chances to test myself making long difficult shots at the 5 stand clays course. The ammo is cheaper and there’s no worries when I miss! 🙂

        • True Dave,
          I am as impressed by shooters who can ring 12″ gongs at 700 yards as I am by those who kill elk at the same distance. However if you hit the edge of the gong its till makes a ‘gong’ sound…hit the elk ‘on the edge’ and it may become wolf food. Testing out shooting skills shouldn’t happen in the field!

  17. Pretending that the wounded game problem is unimportant or non-existent is a policy that doesn’t work. However, there is much that hunters can say as a response to criticism by non-hunters and even the antis.

    The use of leashed tracking dogs to find wounded big game has now been legalized in 22 states. I have personally tracked 975 wounded deer and bear for hunters over 35 years. Using a trained tracking dog to find wounded big game that cannot be tracked by eye really works! When animals are seriously wounded and destined to die, finding them quickly shortens their suffering. Gut shots, when waiting before tracking is a necessity, are still a problem. For more information about tracking dogs go to http://www.unitedbloodtrackers.org and http://www.born-to-track.com.

    Another point that is seldom mentioned is the role of shock in reducing pain during the initial period after an animal has been shot and wounded. I have interviewed a combat veteran and a hunter who each took a bullet through a lung and survived. They both told me that for quite some time after the shot they felt drowsiness and disorientation but no pain. The pain came later. Probably many mortally wounded deer feel no pain before they die. I am following up on this topic with more interviews, talks with combat medics and studies of the literature of combat medicine.

    • Erik Jensen says:

      Good points, John. I don’t know if you know, but in Norway and I think Sweden, both countries where hunting participation is higher than in the U.S. (for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here) it is the law that you have to use dogs to hunt moose. It is part of an ethical kill/no waste of game tradition. I wouldn’t support such a law here, but it definitely keeps support for hunting strong. My dad is Norwegian, my sister is living there, and there the animal rights movement is basically non-existent (much weaker than in the U.S.), and these strong ethical hunting laws may have something to do with it.

    • Ingrid says:

      John said, Another point that is seldom mentioned is the role of shock in reducing pain during the initial period after an animal has been shot and wounded.

      John, this is a precarious trajectory of argument because: 1) there is no way for a human to know what it is like for an animal to be writhing on the ground (as I’ve seen), mortally wounded, for hours, not fully comprehending the visceral effects of their nervous response; 2) There is immense variability even in human response to trauma. At this very board, a hunter and I exchanged thoughts on this, and she claimed that her initial reaction to a traumatic injury was anger, not pain. Well, I’ve been injured traumatically, in car accidents, with a knife wound, etc. and I felt pain immediately and intensely. There is tremendous and, in my mind, impossible-to-verify variability about the pain response; 3) The “they don’t feel pain” rationalization has been used historically to justify wretched treatment of humans and non-humans across the board. Beyond the scientific and physiological aspects, there are serious ethical problems in taking this course of argument.

      Where I volunteer with life or death issues for animals, it is NEVER assumed that the animal feels no pain. Ever. It is assumed that pain is inevitable and all measures are taken to reduce or eliminate that pain, through the use of pain killers in injury or through humane euthanasia when rehabilitation is not possible.

      • I agree with Ingrid that using the delayed pain stimulus theory opens the door to a convenient moral bypass that legitimizes committing painful action to animals without conscience. However, the veterinary evidence that nociception does delay the feelings of pain after the mechanism of injury is quite strong, from what I have read.

        Also, without sounding like a heartless Cartesian, writhing, yelping, grimacing etc are no guarantee that pain is being felt at the moment of the injury mechanism, they can quite possibly be defence or escape mechanisms. HOWEVER I agree that these responses are highly individual and there is no way of knowing if the pain is delayed or instant between different animals, even with the same mechanism. I, like others, have had injuries that hurt like hell almost instantly and others that took a good few seconds to become painful. I knew they were there; they were traumatic, but not painful for a ‘while’. Gunshot victims often describe a feeling of being ‘punched’ without pain for a few seconds – nociception is a response that helps us escape the mechanism of injury before the pain debilitates us, hence its existence.

        But I repeat – this is to add to the discussion NOT to use it as a catch-all conscience rinse for causing pain! That is not my ethic…

  18. Erik, thanks for your European insights. Much of the inspiration for the North American tracking dog movement does come from Europe. I learned about it while studying there. In most western European countries it is mandated by law to have a tracking dog available when hunting big game. In Germany, Denmark and France it is also legally required to check out every shot with a tracking dog to indicate whether the animal has actually been wounded. (This is difficult to enforce in practice!)

    The concern about killing cleanly and not losing wounded animals is much more developed in Europe than here in North America. A cultural desire to minimize animal suffering has contributed to this, but it is also important that there is a long tradition of using tracking dogs going back to the Middle Ages. European hunters know that there is a method of finding wounded animals that take off without leaving a blood trail.

    New Mexico recently legalized the use of tracking dogs. An elk outfitter told me, “Our rifle and bowhunting clients were losing a certain percentage of elk. This had been accepted. Now we realize that something can be done about this!”

    Many of our own hunting traditions come out of the frontier past , when game was plentiful and there was no time for humanitarian niceties. Today we are in transition.

  19. Hello Ingrid,

    I’m a newcomer to Tovar’s blog, and I now realize that I was insufficiently aware of the attitudinal and emotional contexts of the discussion about animals wounded by hunters. In no way did I wish to imply that the “shock factor” should be the basis for dismissing concerns about animal suffering. I do believe that the shock factor is a neglected topic worthy of investigation. It is also a very complex one. How long does shock block pain in different types of wounds? Why do black bears appear to be much more sensitive to pain than whitetails?

    Suffering cannot be eliminated in hunting, but it can be reduced. If one insists upon the total elimination of pain, then the only solution is to oppose hunting with all the zeal of the hunter. Stricter regulation of hunting cannot work as a general means of reducing animal suffering. I would support regulation that prohibits inadequate cartridges and archery equipment, but shot placement can’t be legislated.

    We must realize that the hunting environment is very different from the more controlled environment of the hospital or veterinary office. I know from long experience working with hunters that many animals are wounded because the animal did not “cooperate”or because unsuspected variables intervened. The deer took a step just as the arrow was released or the the rifle shot was squeezed off. An unseen twig deflected the shot. Realistically our goal should be to reduce and shorten animal suffering, not to totally eliminate it This is why I think that the use of leashed tracking dogs is so important.

  20. Tovar says:

    John, Erik, Ingrid, Brian: Thanks for all your thoughts above.

    John’s example of mandating the presence of tracking dogs is one example of a law that might have an effect on hunters finding wounded animals. To what degree it would affect wounding rates, I don’t know.

    My brain is getting foggy, but I may have something more to add after I’ve had some sleep.

    Do check out Tamar’s post on this subject, from earlier today: http://www.starvingofftheland.com/2011/03/23/alls-fair-2/

    • sam says:

      “John’s example of mandating the presence of tracking dogs is one example of a law that might have an effect on hunters finding wounded animals”

      You’ll never get that to pass here. It’s a version of the Wanton Waste bill that was wounded and never found.

      I’m waiting to see what becomes of H.66.

  21. Al Cambronne says:

    I might feel OK about the idea of legalizing the use of tracking hounds. It’s something I haven’t given much thought until now.

    I wouldn’t, however, like the idea of requiring their presence. That would mean I couldn’t hunt deer unless I owned dogs or could pay someone else to make them available. And how close would they have to be as I’m actually hunting? Wouldn’t that make me even less stealthy than I already am? And why should I have to be penalized with all the hassle when I aim carefully and probably won’t ever need the dogs?

    Finally, could these laws have the unintended consequences of making hunters more likely to take uncertain shots, just because they know they can fall back on the dogs? Not saying anyone would consciously make that choice, but wouldn’t it shade some hunters’ decision-making process just slightly?

    Anyone know more about the Scandinavian context? Is it difficult, in the thick woods, to get anything but a running shot at a moose? Is that part of the equation?

    • +1 Al

      I think tracking dogs are a great idea but to be required to use one by law would be too much IMO.

      The cost and time required to own and train such a dog would drive many hunters away, especially urbanites who may live in condos for example.

    • Tovar says:

      I wondered the same thing, Al: Whether having a dog nearby might make some hunters take riskier shots.

      I don’t think mandating the use of hounds would be politically feasible, even if it was desirable — which I don’t think it is. In theory, though, it would have an effect on finding wounded animals.

      My aim (pun intended) is not to wound in the first place. Here in Vermont, though, I could legally call in a dog-tracker if I needed to.

      • Nobody in the United States is trying to mandate the use of tracking dogs for finding wounded game. But in many states it is still illegal to use such dogs. There are two organizations that are fully dedicated to helping hunters find their wounded deer. Deer Search (www.deersearch.org) is a NY based organization, and it has been in existence for more than 30 years. In the first 30 years Deer Search members have found 2777 wounded deer and bear for hunters. Deer Search has a hotline, and a hunter with a wounded deer calls Deer Search’s dispatcher, who tries to find a handler with a dog closest to the hunter’s location. IN NY a leashed tracking dog handler has to have a special license from DEC, and we are not allowed to charge anyhting for our services.

        United Blood Trackers http://www.unitedbloodtrackers.org is a national organization and has members in many states. If you go to the website, click on “find a tracker” link and on a map click on your state. A list of available trackers will be displayed for this particular state. In Vermont, where it is legal to use blood tracking dogs, there are a number of trackers. Go to http://www.vtdeertracking.com/ or http://www.unitedbloodtrackers.org/index.php?option=com_tracker&view=trackers&st=vt

        Tracking regulations differ from state to state. In some states a special license is required, in others it is not. In Vermont a handler needs a license, just like in NY, NH and Maine. In MA it is still illegal to use tracking dogs.

        • I really appreciate seeing this information Jolanta – great to know that such a service is available somewhere out there, even though it’s not available to me.

  22. Phillip says:

    Late to the game on this one, but what the heck?

    I’ve been lately working through some similar thoughts and trying to find a new way to put them together in a coherent format. Unfortunately, almost every “definitive” statement tends to spiral down into one of those rabbit holes, and all of them end at the same place… the only way to eliminate wounding and animal suffering caused by hunting is to stop hunting.

    Ingrid is not “wrong”. Her only error, if that’s what it is, is the idea that somehow legislating ethical behavior will make any sort of difference. It won’t. Perhaps in some sci-fi future, when we have smart bullets that automatically locate and attack the heart or spine while avoiding obstructions, we can mandate that every hunter must use this ammunition and that will end wounding.

    As far as the idea of animal suffering and the “shock” theories, I think most of us are willing to consider them as a salve for our consciences, but I also think most of us absolutely recognize the reality that animals feel pain, especially when they’re wounded. That’s one of the reasons we try so hard to avoid wounding, and one of the reasons many hunters are uncomfortable when this eventuality is exposed outside of the hunting community.

    Anyway, for me I’m hung up digging through my personal thoughts about how much is too much? How much should we, as hunters, accept, and how perfect should we be… or try to be?

    It’s kind of like all the hoohaw right now about the nuclear plants… the NRC and the politicians are all over the board right now about the risk of damage from a major earthquake. None of them seem to be willing to accept the fact that there is no such thing as an earthquake-proof building. Eventualities will always defeat preparation. The question is one of acceptable risk. We shouldn’t lose sight of that.

    • Ingrid says:

      Phillip, you say, “Ingrid is not “wrong”. Her only error, if that’s what it is, is the idea that somehow legislating ethical behavior will make any sort of difference. It won’t.”

      So you are saying that legislating ethical behavior has never produced a more ethical culture? If you look at the history of most oppression, it is often ONLY through legislation that the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the practice is ultimately ordained. And it is often through legal mandate first, that a society comes around to understanding why new mores had to be enforced before they became commonly accepted as “right.” Many cruelty statutes in the United States and elsewhere faced resistance against the idea of enforced ethics. I’m speaking primarily of human to human behavior, racism, etc. Humans rarely easily accede to change that benefits others or the whole, at the cost of their own personal “freedoms.” But our country has been a history of balancing that individual liberty with the rights of others to be protected from the freedom of cruelty from others.

      • Phillip says:

        Ingrid, that is not what I am saying at all, and you know it very well.

        Humane despatch is already coded into the hunting regulations of every state. Minimum caliber requirements, broadhead size (or the requirement to use broadheads at all), draw-weight requirements for bows, and other methods of take regulations are all in place to legislate, to the point possible, clean kill. Some states require proficiency testing for bowhunters, and all of them require hunter education for every hunter… education which includes the tenet of making a clean kill.

        In many cases, animal cruelty law has also been applied to “hunters”, but only when the cruelty was witnessed, of course, and only when it was intentional. Which is as it should be. Am I to be prosecuted for cruelty when I hit an animal with my vehicle?

        But laws only affect the lawful. It’s no different in any other aspect of human society. Why would you honestly expect it from hunters?

        More law and regulation is not the answer. To reduce inhumane activity(because you’ll never eliminate the depraved and stupid), the change needs to come from within the hunting community. When it is no longer accepted by the majority, only then will it become less prevalent. And that’s happening. Folks are realizing that the “old guard” who kept every dirty secret to themselves are failing, and a new hunting community is coming of age. People are using those “1-800-poacher” numbers to report unethical and illegal behavior. And more and more groups of hunters are shutting out the scofflaws and slobs from their camps.

        Of course some of your desires will never be met, Ingrid. Bowhunting is a rapidly growing sport, and it’s also recognized as a useful and necessary part of suburban wildlife management strategy. Your concerns over its efficiency are not totally invalid, but that is also beyond the scope of the law to address. You’re not going to find much support for a bowhunting ban, even amongst this group of hunters.

        There’s no simple solution. Like any other human pursuit, hunting is fraught with imperfection.

          • Ingrid says:

            That’s obviously a slippery slope of a moral argument that neither side “wins.” And although I don’t claim to be a philosophy or legal scholar, I do realize that the term “rights” is so contentious, even as it pertains to human rights, that within the short history of our own country, the term has been the subject of ongoing debate and uncertainty for more than 200 years.

            That’s not to be evasive with respect to your question. But you know as well as I do, that if you want to get into a debate about whether or not animals “deserve” the same rights as humans, you’ll venture into a bog of what constitutes viability, humanity, equality, etc. I’ve been there before — in a much more rudimentary fashion than the preeminent philosophers throughout time. And the truth is, it doesn’t matter whether or not anyone views animals as equal to humans. What matters, in my mind, is how we — as conscious individuals who make choices about how we treat others — view animals over which we exercise such great power. And that, of course, is why in almost any debate on hunting, animal rights, etc., the discussion ends in an impasse.

            This is what I believe, though: That because of the variability in how humans treat others, it is incumbent upon a civil society to protect the interests of those who cannot protect themselves from humans who might otherwise do harm, e.g. children, babies. And yes, I would include animals under the umbrella of entities deserving of our protections. In a “civil” society that is. What constitutes civil is an element of evolutionary thought, and I do think historical precedent shouldn’t be used to rationalize policies or systems that pre-date the knowledge or understanding we currently have. My idea of civility entails much more compassion that we often show to those who are subject to the consequences of our actions.

        • Ingrid says:

          Phillip, on some level I know what you’re saying, based on our previous discussions. But when it comes to the idea you presented about not legislating ethics, I totally disagree. You have much more faith in human nature than I do.

          As far as the car analogy, hunting presents a different scenario because of the purposefulness of killing for sport. Even if the end result of that sport is using the quarry as food. I don’t think there’s a fair equivalency between accidentally hitting a deer on the road (or anywhere) — and maiming a deer in a deliberate effort to kill it. I would draw a closer comparison between maiming an animal as I was deliberately gunning it down with my car at high speed which, yes, would be a highly dubious — and in some cases, illegal act — on my part.

          • Phillip says:

            Our in-line replies are getting into the skinny columns now, so I’ll try to be brief, but I do think you got one thing completely backward, Ingrid.

            It’s not my faith in human nature that leads me to believe legislation won’t work… it’s completely the opposite. I have NO faith in human nature, in general. If there’s one thing I rely on from people, it’s the propensity to do exactly the wrong thing… even when it’s absolutely unnecessary.

            If I were more positive about human nature, I’d believe that laws would work perfectly to control behavior… up to and including laws against taking low-percentage shots on game.

            And the car analogy is dead-on. When I get in my car to drive someplace, particularly at a distance, I know there is a very good chance that I’ll kill or maim some animal (for right now, I’ll leave bugs out of the equation… although I shouldn’t). The only intent is to get where I want to go, but there’s always the risk of that accident. There are things I can choose to do that can either increase or decrease the risk, but in the end, it can still happen and it is still unintentional.

            When I go hunting, I know there’s a very good chance that I’ll kill an animal, and a small chance that I’ll maim one. The very definite intent is to kill, but there’s always the possibility of that accident (along with the very real possibility that I’ll neither kill nor maim). There are things I can do to increase or decrease the risk of that accident, but the only way to completely eliminate that risk is not to be there in the first place.

            You can’t legislate against accidents… even those that result from bad judgement. It doesn’t work on the highway, and it doesn’t work in the woods.

            • Ingrid says:

              Phillip, I see your equivalency argument and raise you one.

              Actually, no I don’t. Just kidding. 🙂 Point taken.

              I will say that a society could, in fact, legislate skill requirements that far exceed what’s expected now. In some professions where firearms are required (police work, for instance) there are minimum standards that are much greater than, say, what a 16-year-old hunter is expected to acquire for skill. I think there ought to be minimum skills tests, and minimum range hours each year and certification thereof. I honestly don’t think that’s too much to ask when taking the responsibility for another life. I do not see hunter’s education as it exists now, as remotely adequate in this regard.

              I realize hunters will probably argue that this inhibits further their hunting freedoms. But I go back, again, to the idea of using a firearm against another living thing as a sacred privilege, not a right without responsibility. Yes, there are many who take that responsibility seriously. But because there are enough who don’t, I do believe stricter standards should be in play.

              As I wrote to Holly above, shooters are not the ones picking up the pieces for the animals left behind. People like the rescuers I’ve worked with are — often under-funded, short-handed — are the ones who end up with animals injured by people. If those animals are even lucky enough to be found.

              I’ve mentioned this at Tovar’s blog before, but as a bare, bare minimum, hunter’s education should require knowledge of what a sustained injury looks like in an animal. Classes should see the bird with the missing wing, the duck with the septic infection, the deer with the dangling leg. They should understand not only what it entails for the animal, but also what it entails if and when that animal is found. There ought to be some way to impress upon the community at large that a word like “cripple” doesn’t even begin to encompass what that injury means in real terms.

              btw: I feel exactly the same way about people who drive recklessly or engage in other activities where it’s not just their own well-being at stake. Remember the driver’s ed of old, where we were forced to sit and watch those gruesome films of traffic accidents? I’m not saying that’s the solution, but there ought to be some understanding for real cause and effect.

              • Ingrid, I’m all for making gruesome photos of injuries part of the process, for the same reason it was important to see those in driver’s ed. Some in hunting would construe that to be the equivalent of showing aborted fetus pictures to women seeking abortions, but I definitely would not see it that way. I often tell new hunters about the gruesomely infected duck I brought home one day after a fellow hunter’s dog found it and he gave it to me. We ought not shy from understanding those realities.

                As for the marksmanship requirements: I don’t think they’d infringe my freedoms as a hunter, per se, but if they were ongoing requirements, they would definitely add to my costs and time demands.

                The objection you’ll get to that idea is that eats into hunter recruitment, bigtime, and that’s an area in which the hunting community is loathe to accept further losses. The fact that HSUS would undoubtedly promote such an idea would cause it to be seen as a de facto anti-hunting move.

              • Tovar says:

                You’ll be glad to know, Ingrid, that my book manuscript — in the chapter where I recount taking hunter education — includes a brief passage on the potential value of showing just such images. 🙂

  23. This particular discussion seems to be winding down now, but I think that ii has been very useful. I have a few closing comments.

    Many doubters wonder whether the availability of a tracking dog will encourage hunters to take long, irresponsible shots on big game. No one ever proposes that the presence of a Lab in the blind will promote long, sky busting shots on ducks!

    Proposing the mandatory availability of a tracking dog for big game hunters would be a disastrous political mistake in the US. It would turn hunters against the whole tracking dog movement. Unlike the Europeans we are far from having an adequate network of available tracking dogs across the country.

    More important most hunters would oppose in principle this sort of regulation. For American hunters, unlike their German counterparts, hunting is, in good part, an escape to freedom. They will not accept regulation that reaches beyond safety and wildlife management.

    I find that going out with a hunter. talking with him and finding his deer is an excellent way to raise his consciousness and persuade him to be more careful.
    It works better than preaching or regulation

  24. Hoosierbuck says:

    “there is no way for a human to know what it is like for an animal to be writhing on the ground (as I’ve seen), mortally wounded, for hours,”

    It happens to humans frequently. We call them crime victims, war casualties, accident victims, and such. Animals do not have the market cornered on suffering. Hunters don’t have the market cornered on causing animal suffering, either. Nature is often not kind.

    The big difference between mortally wounded animals and humans-between Ingrid and myself- if I come across an animal in that condition, it will not suffer any longer. I care too much. I have humanely ended suffering of more animals caused illness and car crashes than poorly placed shots. There is no joy in that, only the relief that I know the animal is no longer suffering. Even got a hug from a stranger lady down in a ditch one time over a little white dog and my ability to finish what a speeding van started.

    Lots of good points and posts. Shoot straight, eat meat.

  25. douglas says:

    Wow! Quite a discussion. If I could offer a (perhaps too obvious) point…it seems that the risk of wounding when hunting increases exponentially when, for whatever reason, the hunter is just a little too desperate to get something. Desperate measures may come about for a variety of reasons, limited time, unreasonable expectations, perceived competition with other hunters…

    i don’t think that the average human is immune to these forces. What we do have is the potential for a personal ethic, and a community ethic which may inform our actions for the better. At the beginning of this thread I shared a little story about hunting with my dad. I hoped it didn’t come across as too sentimental. The point I was hoping to make, is that ethics are learned. Ethics well learned give us that extra motivation to wait for the clean shot, or to come home empty handed but happy to have spend another great day wandering through the woods.

  26. NorCal Cazadora wrote:
    “But just because other hunters can’t or don’t articulate these values in the same way doesn’t mean they don’t hold them – strong verbal ability is not an indicator of morality; it’s just a means by which one’s morality can be viewed and judged.”

    I think the colloquial response would be: ‘BAM! Right on the money’. Articulating ones morality and ethical beliefs is challenge, like verbally articulating love. You feel it, strongly, but it easily fails when you attempt a coherent explanation. A lack of eloquence is not akin to fecklessness.

    • Ingrid, I may have a bizarre form of backup for you – it’s a blog post I’ve had on my list for a while, and I hope to get to it before my spring break ends. But here’s a short-version excerpt: I believe animals and humans actually DO have the same rights, but they are natural rights, not the artificial rights engineered by humans to cope with the inequities created by our obscene population density.

      In other words, once born, we all have the right to try to keep living, to try to reproduce, to try to protect ourselves from harm. But here’s where you and I may disagree: There is no such thing as a right to succeed at any of those pursuits.

      Good lord, Tovar, look at what you’ve done. Again.

  27. Tovar says:

    Hey, all, thanks for the fantastic discussion. I’m in the wings here, but busy as all get-out with a bunch of other things. So, for the moment, I’m just hanging on for the ride!

    I agree that the “rights” discussion doesn’t normally lead anywhere useful.

    I think everyone engaged in this exchange knows that some degree of suffering is inevitable in every creature’s life, human or non-human. I think we all agree that animals should not be made to suffer gratuitously. I think we also all agree that we wouldn’t want to be the cause of gratuitous suffering.

    How we each define “gratuitous” is another matter. Many of us hunt; at least one of us (Ingrid, brave and honest soul that she is) does not, and has some serious objections to hunting.

    When hunting is practiced carelessly — or, worst of all and hopefully rarest of all, with the intent to wound rather than to kill cleanly — I think we all have serious objections.

  28. Al Cambronne says:

    My word! Last time I saw a discussion that went on like this, I believe it involved booth babes.

    Poor Tovar! Next month, he’ll probably be hit with extra hosting charges because of the high traffic volume. Perhaps we could all chip in somehow. Maybe a pre-chilled, well-insulated shipment of humanely harvested venison and vegetarian beer?

    • Ingrid says:

      Poor Tovar!

      Me thinks not. What blogger doesn’t love a chain reaction of 1000 comments, plus resident instigator and irritant? 😉

  29. Kevin Peer says:

    Fascinating discussion here, as always.

    Discussions about ‘ethical hunting behavior’ with less thoughtful hunters often end quickly and badly perhaps because so many of them perceive questioning the way they choose to hunt as an individual rights issue akin to the 1st and 2nd amendments of the Constitution. The issue becomes neutered immediately because the very possibility of having their behavior questioned is seen in the context of having their God-given rights taken away.

    I don’t know what the solution to this is, except for each of us to speak up whenever we hear a hunter brag about a ‘hail Mary’ shot, or whenever we hear someone talk in a knuckleheaded way about wounding an animal. Otherwise our silence lets them know their behavior is acceptable.

    Unfortunately some sports equipment manufacturers are contributing to the problem as well, through the kind of advertising they do. The Bugle magazine of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation ran two ads in their last issue that I dearly hope is not a trend (or they will lose my membership). The first one was from an ammunition manufacturer and the ad featured a buck’s face with a surprised quasi-comical grimace on its face. The text included the phrase ‘They won’t know what hit em!’ The second ad was for a Tikka hunting rifle, and it showed a trophy buck standing in a field with a wall mount plaque around its neck. The text read “What a hunter sees at 450 yards.” Good work Tikka – encourage people to take 450+ yard shots! I wrote to Bugle in protest, and will be contacting the manufacturers to let them know my displeasure as well.

  30. Dave Proulx says:


    My hunch is that the hunting community has too many ‘less than thoughtful’ hunters. The problem is that many of these hunters pull the trigger far too often and at ranges that are way beyond their ability.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but my approach is to try to educate the new hunters I meet in Connecticut hunter safety classes. We have a very good video that is titled “Shoot/Don’t Shoot” that shows a variety of situations where a hunter is faced with a shooting decision. While the video focuses on the safety implications of that decision, there is a natural tie in to the question of wounding versus a clean kill. We drive this message home after the video and every chance we get during the class nights.

    My hope is that most new recruits to hunting are receiving this type of message as part of their basic training course and maybe over time behaviors will change.

  31. Kevin Peer says:

    Hello Dave,

    That is heartening to know that there are hunter education classes like yours which emphasize the conditions required for a safe and ethical shot. The class that I attended here in Northern California had a lot on hunter safety, but nothing about ethics. I was the guy in the class who brought the subject up and watched it land with a dull thud. I became the annoying guy in the class that brought it up two more times before the class was over. Just couldn’t help it…

    Archery forums are one place where ethics are a much wrassled-about topic, with far too many archers for my taste siding with the ‘any range you can hit it at is fine’ philosophy. As compound bows get more powerful in their capacity to sling an arrow, it seems like the ‘maximum ethical range’ increases, which I think is not a good thing.

    I do believe however that there is a slow but broad movement towards an increased concern for minimizing the factors that lead to wounding game.

    • Wow, Dave, that’s terrible to hear. Guess I was lucky in my class in Sacramento back in ’06: If I had to do a shot for every time my teacher said the words “clean, sportsmanlike kill,” I would’ve passed out before the test. He really drilled that into us.

      I’m actually thinking about becoming a hunter ed instructor, and it would be interesting to see what the direction from the state is on that topic. Sadly, I’m guessing that it’s going to be a while before I can find time to chase that dream.

      • Kevin Peer says:

        Yeh, the main guy teaching my hunter ed class was the owner of a sporting goods store who was pretty full of himself and probably thought that talk of ethics was something that sissies did. It could also have had something to do with the fact that this class took place in the middle of logging country (Eureka), so it was pretty much a manly men and their sons kind of crowd. Perhaps the instructor didn’t want to be tellin’ them what all to do in an area that is left up to personal discretion – maybe he thought it would hurt his business.

        NorCal, I hope you can wrangle the time to fulfill that dream of being a hunter ed instructor someday – I think you would be terrific and would influence many new hunters in very positive ways.

  32. Dave Proulx says:


    I highly recommend becoming an instructor and echo Kevin’s comments that you’d be a very good one. Its been very satisfying for me and I suspect you would find it satisfying, too. I became a hunter safety instructor by accident, as a result of sitting through the course as a refresher with my oldest son ten years ago. Decided that I liked the course so much that I applied and joined a team of instructors and have enjoyed teaching pieces of it over the last ten years.

    The good news for me was that unlike Kevin’s experience, the group I joined was very focused on the conservation message and our team includes our regional DEP wildlife biologist, who gives a ninety minute presentation on Ct’s wildlife and factors that contribute to population carrying capacities, etc. We want new hunters to know where we fit in the bigger picture. We also have a another video and section on ethics, where we talk about hunting being a privilege, not a right. The message during the ethics discussion is that its all about doing what is right when we think no one else is watching us.

    Finally, the demand for classes is high in our little state, and we get many youngsters as well as their parents in the class. That makes me hopeful that we’re getting a new crop of hunters who will bring a new perspective to the ranks.

    • Tovar says:

      From what you three have said, and from what I’ve heard elsewhere, it seems as though there is a vast range out there, in terms of how hunter safety courses deal (or don’t deal) with ethics issues.

      Like Holly, I’m thinking about becoming a hunter ed instructor. Also like Holly, I doubt it will happen all that soon. In a week and a half, though, I hope to have the opportunity to sit in on a portion of a course led by some folks I know and respect. I can imagine teaching alongside them someday.

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