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December 19, 2007

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BuckTracker: Is Shooting a Locked Buck Ethical?

Last week we ran a slide show depicting one couple’s efforts to free a whitetail buck that had become "locked up" with an opponent. These photos struck a chord with people, many of whom applauded Terry and Sherri Bolding for sawing off the dead buck’s antlers and giving the surviving buck another shot at life.

Cheer all you want, but there are some hunters who have no qualms about shooting a buck that’s hopelessly entangled with a rival. As Exhibit A, check out the video clip linked here (which contains content graphic enough that we didn’t want to post it on this page). Filmed in Wisconsin this fall, the encounter shows a pair of bucks locked up in a streambed. They were found by a pair of bowhunters (one obviously armed with a video camera) who decided to shoot one of the fighters and tag him. The other buck was eventually killed and tagged by another bowhunter.

Exhibit B was sent to me this week by a reader/hunter who grew up in North Dakota, but now lives in Wyoming. According to the accompanying message, the ND hunter pictured spotted one of the bucks the day before the firearms season opener and realized it had locked horns with another whitetail. She took no action. The next morning she came back to the scene, shot one of the bucks, called a game warden, and received a special permit for the other deer.


Obviously (the Internet being what it is) I have no way of knowing if the details of this particular hunt are entirely factual. But even if they’re not, this story—and the video—bring up an interesting dilemma: Assuming it’s legal to do so, is the shooting of one (or both) locked-up bucks an ethical act?


I’d like to hear the thoughts of BuckTracker readers on this one. Though it’s stretching things to classify such a hunt as "fair chase" (locked-up bucks obviously cannot flee their pursuers, even if they are free-ranging deer), the case can surely be made that killing one or both bucks is not unethical.

Obviously, had someone not happened on the scene, Nature would have provided a much crueler fate for these animals than a bullet or an arrow. Also, consider the stress these fighters had already endured. Even if a "rescued" buck walks away, will he indeed survive…or is he little more than a dead-deer-walking? 


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It is surprising to me that some hunters even think this is a question.

The definition of ethics is the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.

I would hope that any hunter would try and do whats best for the deer rather than himself. Imagine seeing the buck of a lifetime exhausted and about to starve to death tangled up on a dead buck. Would you honestly feel a sense of accomplishment shooting the deer. What a great story to tell your kids about the deer head you proudly display. I am in no away opposed to euthnization of a deer if said hunter feels thats whats best for the deer. To me though it would be immoral and unethical to shoot the deer if you thought you could save him. Who knows if you got him later it would be a great story to tell. you should always be honorable when hunting and be as ethical as you can. Especially sense our traditions are being scrutinized by some people in certain areas of the country. Dont do anything you might regret

Just what I think




BS! What about fair chase?Did the hunter take the animal because it was ethical or was he a lazy greedy slob that puts a black eye on our sport? Even though the video is very graphic we have no way of knowing what the hunter's agenda was. Taking an arrow or starving...I'll take the arrow.

his agenda was taking an animal period.


NO it's rather disturbing even to think about it. Where would the sport be? Cutting it loose would be more humane.


Just read an article yesterday in another magazine, something Ted Nugent wrote about ethics. Maybe he's wrong, maybe we don't talk about it ENOUGH. Save the deer if possible--at least give them a chance. Real skill spotting locked up bucks and coming back to shot one. Couldn't call the warden the day you found them?

joe b

In the case of the Bolding's, they did exactly the right thing. One buck was locked up to a dead one, the correct choice was made to release the other. Should both bucks be alive and unable to free themselves, I believe it would be totally ethical to dispatch one for the sake of the other. It would be a much more humane death to the one, than to let them both slowly die.


It's not something to feel good about, but it was the right thing to do.

Mike O.

Man, what a terrible video. That was seriously disturbing. What the hell is wrong with some people? How could you ever possibly be proud of how you took that deer. I am an avid hunter and sportsman but that video truly made me cringe in disgust. Neither deer ever had a sporting chance and the two selfish assholes that shot those deer should be facing some sort of punishment. How could that ever be considered fair chase?! The right, ethical, morally correct thing to do would have been to try and release the deer from the tangle and try and harvest them when the deer stood a sporting chance later that season or in the future. Talk about giving hunters a bad name.


For a trophy? Or because the animals are at high risk of dying in that condition, and taking one is the more ethical thing to do... if so, pride may have little to do with it. The story behind the antlers may be worth more than the trophy.

Now - here's a question: given a chance to tag a really good buck, would you be willing to pass on that one to take one of a pair of smaller deer that got locked up?



In regards to 17yearolddeerhunter. I also think it is surprising that some hunters even think this is a question.
The rules of conduct of a hunt dictate that if you are in the field, pursuing game with the purpose of hunting, and because of the hunt, the possibility of a kill is a reality, then the question of ethics becomes mute. A deer, killed in the closing minutes of the season after a grueling all day hike, or a deer killed on thirty minutes before sunrise on opening day following a doe in the heat of the rut, or a deer killed in the middle of a fight with locked horns are all following their proper conduct as dictated by their nature, and therefore, become part of the hunt,. The Spanish philosopher and poet, Ortega, says that in order for a hunt to exist, the possibility of a kill also must exist. Our ethical guidelines then are to follow the conduct for legality in hunting and our respect for the environment, not to sympathize with the prey species for following his conduct.


for the animal right's type folks making comments, wouldn't not hunting at all be the most humane thing to do. we are hunters, and we hunt and kill animals. obviously there are certain ethis and morals involved, but it's not a simple of a situation as you might think. know one knows how long the've been locked up. the buck(s) could be so worn down at that point that they may not surive either way. you would have to be there for every single one of these events in order to make that type of judgement call.
would you sneak up on a pair of bucks while they are fighting and not "locked up"? is that fair? maybe we shouldn't be allowed to hunt bucks during the rut at all because they are too vulnerable.
i would probably kill that buck that is still alive (unless of course they were on property i didn't have permission to hunt). it would be a cool story and experience, and i would not jeopardize that buck running off and eventually dying as a result.
people do things and think they are doing wildlife favors all the time (i.e., picking up 'abandoned' fawns, feeding deer in the winter, etc.), when in fact they are doing the opposite.


If given the opportunity to harvest a deer that was locked I would probably do so. I am not a "Trophy Hunter" but hunt for the enjoyment and for "meat in the freezer". If I saw a live buck locked to a dead one, I would almost suredly take the shot, but am not sure what I would do if they were both alive and I was by myself. Shooting 2 bucks is not an option where I hunt. If I shot one I would not have a way to free it from the other one. Now if I was out with a buddy we would probably both take one and would both have our "meat in the freezer. If they happened to be nice racks that would be a bonus, but that's not why me or my closest hunting friends hunt deer.


very good post Bigdeerkiller, i must have been writing as you posted.

Mike O.

Man I thought hunters were smarter than this. I am not an animal rights activist in the least, I hunt every opportunity I get and obviously the goal when I hunt is to kill an animal. But being the superior intelligent being that I am, as opposed to an animal, I have a responsibility to act ethically when hunting. It is not fair chase to kill an animal that is locked up. PERIOD!

Mike O.

All you justifying idiots out there that think that because you are trying to kill an animal anyway, why not kill a deer that presents a less than fair opportunity at a shot. The bottom line is that anyone that would shoot a deer or any other animal for that matter, under anything less than total fair chase conditions is not a hunter, but a killer. I don't know about you guys but I like pitting my wits against animals that have all their available faculties at their disposal and not hopping out of a truck and shooting a deer that is utterly defenseless. And if you think that any deer or antlered animal is not defenseless when they are locked up, then you need to pull your head out of your ass and join the real world.

Mike O.

There is a huge difference between two rutting bucks or bulls that are fighting and two locked up animals. The difference is that the non locked up animals can and given the chance will flee a hunter that is standing 20 or 30 yards away broadside and in plain view. The to deer in the story obviously could not flee even though they knew the hunters were there. If you read the story written by the hunter to go along with the video then you will see and understand that the deer knew full well that the men were there but they had no chance of fleeing.

Mike O.

There is a dvd out there and I can't remember the name of it but on the dvd there is footage of a hunter going after elk in Colorado I believe. He comes across two awesome bulls fighting like mad. He got into position and waited for the perfect shot. As soon as he released that arrow both elk took as if a grizzly had just wandered into the fray. He drilled the elk with a good shot and had a beautiful trophy and story to tell.

If the elk on that dvd were as vulnerable as the two deer in the link above then don't you think the deer both would have gotten the hell out of there as soon as they heard the hunters get off of their atvs? I think they would have and I know had the elk known that hunter was there on that dvd, they sure as anything would have stopped fighting and taken for cover before he could get a shot off. It is irresponsible and idiotic to think otherwise.


You guys that are suggesting to "release" 2 live locked up deer are nuts. Show me one person who has ever freed up 2 live bucks that were locked. Of the 2 deer in the one story, one was dead and the other was exhausted so he didn't fight the "nice guy" who freed him from the dead deer. I have approached wounded bucks before thinking I would finish them off with a knife cut to the throat. Yeah right. Even in a weakend state a buck will thrash at you with all he has. I'd like to see any one of you guys that thinks someone should walk up to these bucks and try to free them to do it yourself. It simply isn't going to happen until one of the deer finally dies and the other is just too exhausted to be able to do anything about a human working on him. PERIOD!


The only humane thing to do in a case of two locked bucks is to shoot them both. Maybe it isn't as some of you put it ( fair-chase) but it would take a real idiot to try and free the two deer. And it surely would be better than leaving them to starve or die from exhaustion. Some of you people who are crying about fair chase are probably some of the same people who set in thier fancy box stands with windows and easy chairs overlooking a food plot, I suppose thats fair chase.


I hunt for the challenge, not to go out in the woods and kill anything. No I would not shoot a locked up buck. If anyone would, then I wouldn't call them a sportsman.


So,birddog, as a real sportsman if you would not shoot them what would a sportsman do in a case like that!


Were the bucks in the wild? YES! It was a fair chase kill, too many people are quick to judge right from wrong. How many of you from Texas shoot at deer by a feeder? Sporting? I think not. As one comment stated, some of you shoot out of blinds that rival houses. Don't need much in the way of a sportsman there, it was either go out with a quick kill or days of starvation. I'll take the bullet, thanks.


Some hunt for sport and some to put meat on the table. I didn't view the video, but two locked up deer who can't get apart would have died anyway. What would an ethical coyote have done if it came upon these two deer?

Mike O.

Wow, there sure are a lot of chicken shit hunters out there. You guys are too afraid to at least try and release them and the ethical thing to do would be to let nature take its course and not shoot. And since when do we compare ourselves to coyotes. Paul maybe you have the brain of a coyote but I don't. What would a game warden do. Interfere with nature or kill them both, one of them? I would venture to say they would do their best to free them even though that might b not letting nature take its course.

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