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December 06, 2006

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The Pernicious Lure Of The One-Shot Kill

This rant was inspired by Mike, who put four shots in a grizzly even though the first one was perfect. His guide gave him exactly the right instruction—on any dangerous-game animal, you keep shooting until there is no sign of life. More than one hunter has ended up in the obituaries after firing one “perfect” shot and letting it go at that.

And I’d take it one step beyond that. If you have an animal down, and dying, you shoot it again and end its suffering. There is nothing worse in the sport than watching someone stand over a creature that is expiring and refusing to fire a second, merciful shot because he wants a one-shot kill.

There is only one thing you can decently do if you have an animal down—end it. Right now. Even if it spares the creature only a few seconds of suffering, you are obliged to pull that trigger.  Sorry to preach, but I have seen a number of very bad sights over the years and they all involved some poor animal writhing in pain for the sake of some “hunter’s” ego.


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Anybody who believes consistently in one shot kills, for bragging rights or whatever, needs to get clipped by an 18-wheel semi doing 70mph. In any and every case, hunters have the ethical responsibility to dispatch the critter swiftly. If you want something edible, never, ever forget: ammo is still cheap.

Ralph the Rifleman

Dave is right on target with this one, and I was taught a hard lesson on it many years ago.
I had shot a nice sized doe,knocking her down cleanly, but she needed a finishing shot. I regret to say I listened to my hunting partner/friend that used the throat slit method. I will spare everyone the sad ending and death throws of that poor animal to save a few coins in the cost of another bullet, but suffice to say I learned a valuable lesson that day ,and I wish no one would need to endure.


Hunters owe it to the game we persue to put them down and out as cleanly as possible. Saving a bullet to brag to your buddies is just stupid. Down is down, but dead is what we are after.


I had this very scenario come up while deer hunting this year. I had a family member who took a nice doe with one shot but she was in paral and we asked him to put her down but he would not pull the trigger. So another family member who had his gun in hand took the shot for him and started a fued amonst us and the debate continues today. I believe if roles were reversed and my family member was the one on the ground he would appreciate the second shot. Always kill quickly and effectively when hunting. Good article Dave


Good God I'm glad to hear you say that. I was so torqued at a fellow with his suffering deer this past Saturday that I vowed never to hunt around him again. He used to be my friend.


I made this mistake on the first deer I ever shot, but it had little to do with ego or economics. I'd read a lot of articles that call for waiting 20 minutes or more to let the animal die peacefully after a shot to avoid spooking wounded game. I'm sure in retrospect that advice was intended for an animal that was out of sight. I lost that buck, however, as a green hunter with no family hunting experience because after it piled up and I could see it still moving but fading, I let it sit. After a minute or two it struggled out of site into a small gully. When I did get down to pursue it was clear that it had managed to get out of sight, then drag itself (painfully by the looks of things) about 20 yards further down hill into a swollen river. I spent the next day and a half looking across and downstream for sign of that deer, some of it with help, and never saw a thing. Two seasons later I shot a doe that went down in sight but didn't immediately die and I took a follow up shot to the head. I'm neither defending the one shot mentality nor demonizing those who stick to it. My point is that these publications, and even some of you experienced hunters out there are the only reference a lot of people getting into hunting have. Be careful what you preach. When you emphasize the importance of a clean shot and kill, be clear on the exceptions as much as the rule.


I took a doe in November while hunting in Maine. I was sitting on a powerline cut when 3 does walked out. I picked the biggest one that happened to be standing almost straight on and fired. Once I picked out the one that was limping, I was a split second away from firing again when she just rolled over backwards and fell out of my sight picture. Turns out she was quartering a little more than I though and the bullet angled in across her lungs after hitting the shoulder. I only tell this story because my father told me to keep shooting until the animal hits the ground, and then finish it if you have too. My fathers 1st kill was a doe he shot in full run and the bullet passed through both shoulders leaving her crippled. He said the hardest thing he ever had to do was walk up to that deer and finish her by shooting it in the head. As hunters, we have to take responsibility for ending the life of an animal, and we owe it to the animal to make the kill as quickly as possible.

David Honish

It is the only decent thing to do on deer or smaller game. It is the only prudent thing to do on dangerous game. Same rule for grizzlies & bad guys, keep shooting until they stop moving.

JA Demko

Anybody who can stand and watch an animal endure suffering for the sake of his own ego is not only not a sportsman, he is a disgusting pervert.

Bubby Douglas

All BS aside, I honestly have a hard time accepting the concept that there are people who won't take a second shot to put an animal down because of "ego". That is so far beyond my comprehension and experience that I almost doubt these situations actually exist. Thank God I hunt with coonasses and rednecks who care only about making damn sure whatever they shoot at dies quickly, if for no other reason than to make sure it doesn't get away so they can eat it. Down here, you will catch endless grief for losing an animal and nothing more than a perfunctary "nice shot" if you do take it with one shot.

Bubby Douglas

All BS aside, I honestly have a hard time accepting the concept that there are people who won't take a second shot to put an animal down because of "ego". That is so far beyond my comprehension and experience that I almost doubt these situations actually exist. Thank God I hunt with coonasses and rednecks who care only about making damn sure whatever they shoot at dies quickly, if for no other reason than to make sure it doesn't get away so they can eat it. Down here, you will catch endless grief for losing an animal and nothing more than a perfunctary "nice shot" if you do it with one shot.

John Broussard

As a Coon-ass of some distinction, I can only chime in my support of everyone else's responses to this thread.

"One shot," belongs where it became famous - a Grade B movie.

Sportsmen and gentlemen offer a coup du grace.


I have to agree. I never heard anyone speak of "one shot, one kill" until that stupid movie Sniper came out.

Three years ago, I was hunting in less than ideal conditions when I shot a doe. Do to shooter error, the bullet missed its' mark and the poor creature was suffering. Unfortunately ice had built up on the action of my rifle and I couldn't get another round to chamber.

Needless to say, it was the worst day I have ever had hunting.


I have never had to deal with anyone who didn't do the right thing in this area, and I can't imagine anyone not doing it. Wow, I'm stunned. There are some real jewels out there I suppose.


This fall I was sitting in a stand while drive was going on. Three does came out of the woods about 100 yards away into knee-high brush. I followed one in my scope until I had a clean shot. I thought my first one was clean, but she was still running, so I took another shot. I was sure she would be dead by the time I got down and walked over to her. When I got there, she was laying on the ground, bleating like no tommorow. I had to put a round into her neck at twenty yards, the grizzliest kill I've ever made. The first shot hit and destroyed her left shoulder, the second took out her right hip. I had a horrible feeling of guilt for the next two days after I put that deer through so much suffering. I still think about it today.


I have made several one shot kills in my life time on deer. The first was last year on a doe at about ten feet and the slug drove her sideways. The second was this year and the slug broke her spine just behind the head. No matter what happens I always put a finisher into the head.


Taking an animal's life is a serious thing, and I am in absolute agreement with everything written above on this particular topic. And, honestly, I'm glad to read the words of those who have felt remorse over the instances of lost animals, animals that lingered, etc. Been there - it is horrible for the hunter, but more so for the animal. Even quick, clean, humane kills should cause us to take pause at the ending of a life. Good words, Dave, and everyone else who has added to this discussion.


David, there's another part to this: ethically, what _should_ we do with animals that we see hit on the highway? I watched the entire back half of an adult Lynx get crushed flat at highway speed by a SUV. As the Lynx crawled off the highway (screaming), the SUV driver stopper turned around and came back, planning to try somehow to dispatch the animal. Instead, I did the deed with my trusty s/s 12 ga coach gun down in the ditch. For that, I could have been jailed and had both gun(s) and licences suspended.
What say you all?


brian i was handcuffed and placed in a patrol car and on my way to jail for the same thing. a driver hit a small doe and pulled over i saw the whole thing and pulled over also(never pass up free and easy venison) the deer was not dead so i asked them to return to there car and i would finish the deed with a sidearm i always carry. when the police arrived shortly thereafter i was arrested for discharge of a firearm on a state right of way. when the game warden got there he told barney he would have done the same thing, and to let me out of the cruiser and give me back my pistol as long as it was a legal firearm. the deer was in great pain with only one broken leg and shoulder and was causing an unsafe traffic problem trying to get back on the road.

Lee B.

If Im in a tree stand, I give it 10-15 seconds at the most, then I shoot again.
If Im near enough on the ground, and its not dead by the time i walk up, it gets another round.

No head shots though, that is wayyyyy to messy

Dennis Bender

Not committing to a second shot can be agony for the animal but it also can kill a human. My nephew walked up to a supposed kill and was very nearly gored. He learned his lesson. I too came up on a car-deer accident and the deer had multiple injuries and was squealing in pain. I took my registered handgun from my trunk and dispatched the animal. The authorities did not charge me and even asked if I wanted the meat.


Watching collision-injured wildlife scream and writhe in agony is very disturbing to everyone, particularly the nonshooting, nonhunting public. I've hunted for 45+ yrs and I am still upset by what I believed I had to do by dispatching the partly crushed Lynx. I will do the same, if and when there is a "next time." How your actions are viewed looks like it depends on the jurisdiction & laws in your area.


Amen to everything said above. We should all remember the rest of the equation. We have a duty as hunters to take ethical shots. Shooting a deer in the hip, gut, etc. is at best suspect, and in my opinion, as bad as not taking the second shot to humanely dispatch a suffering animal.


If you're after bragging rights for accurate shooting, there are all kinds of target competitions to enter. Any man who won't finish what he started, well, isn't much of a man. The guys I hunt with would never speak to me again if I left an animal writhing on the ground to prove I killed it with one shot...and I would expect no less from them.

Lt. Kuhns

I was confronted by a PA Game Commission Warden and two deputies for dispatching a fatally struck deer with a 12 gauge alongside of our family's farm. I only got off because the one deputy said, and I'm not making this up, "animals don't suffer". My father and a farm worker were there with me to hear it, and the warden was so dumbstruck with his deputie's ignorance they left me alone. Up until then I was in danger of losing my hunting licences and a couple hundred dollars in fines. I'd do it again in a heartbeat to in order to save that deer from suffering.

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