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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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Ethical?? Of course this was ethical. That buck was dead in less than 10 seconds. I only wish every buck I shoot would die in 10 seconds. How long would it have taken for the two bucks to die, 1 day, 2 days, maybe longer. They were saved from a slow death. I can't believe anyone would think these two guys didn't do the right thing. I can honestly say that I would have done the same thing.


Was this the right thing to do? Under the circumstances it was the only thing to do. They swiftly killed two bucks that would have died a gruesome death. I can't remember seeing anything about the hunters being proud of what they did. They came upon an unusual situation and made a decision. Maybe they should have done an e-mail poll so they didn't offend anyone. Of course the bucks would have needlessly sufferred. Nature is cruel, much worse than the killing of these two bucks.


What an awesome world we live in today that we get to see such amazing video such as this.

It seems this group is split on this issue. Which to me is very suprising given it is posted on a hunting web site. I am surprised this blog would contain so many anti-hunting comments. Maybe there are a bunch of big talkers in the group that have no problem spouting off from the safety of their computer, but would not say boo in person.

Deer in the wild are fair chase animals, and anyone that has hunted them would probably say it is not fair - the deer have the edge. Trying to draw a line for appropriate animals to shoot in the wild and non-apprporiate ones seems to take the issue too far. The argument should stop at the fact that these animals are in the wild, and that answers the quesiton of fair chase. Not to mention shooting the animals was the humane thing to do rather than let them struggle and eventually die a slow painful death.

It did not seem right to me that the woman waited a day before acting. I am glad these guys did not let their animals suffer for a day before humanely shooting them.

I would have done the same thing.


I have hunted with the guys who shot the vidio for years. Having heard the talks they give all of the young hunters regarding wounded deer, and making clean shots, I can attest to their ethical nature. They have been known to track a wounded deer for days. Most of the "ethical" hunters posting on this site can't hold a candle to either one of these hunters. As many other hunters have already mentioned how stupid it would be to try and free these animals I will not go down that line. If these guys thought it was the right thing to do I believe them, and whole heartedly agree.

There have been comments, (in the lead paragraph) that referrs to the graphic vidio showing blood squrting from the deer. Some how this is seen as a bad thing. Well, hunters, that is what happens when there is a well placed shot. You want blood spraying out of the deer. The more the better. Graphic, yup, but that is the objective when you shot a deer. Lots of blood, quick kill.

Jeff M

Greg D shared this video for what it is, two mature bucks locked together, not because they shot one of them. As for the video, it clearly shows two things. First, these two bucks were locked tight and were not going to get separated at a later time. Secondly, the hunter killed the buck with a perfect shot and it died within seconds of being shot. If not for being shot they would have surely died slowly, probably by drowning in the river. These were two mature whitetail bucks and getting close to them, even locked, would have been dangerous and unwise.

I have been hunting the land were those two bucks were shot for 14 years, the last 2 under Tiger Ridge rules. I have hunted with some bad hunters and some good ones. These two are among the best that I have hunted with, they work extremely hard to ensure that every animal that is hunted gets the respect it deserves, before and after the shot. This was no different.


i think the few posts from those who know the area/hunters involved explain the specific situation are excellent and should be applauded.
for those of you still opposing the death of these animals by a human while they are locked, you really are the ones too far removed from the natural world.

believe it or not, humans are part of the natural environment. so tell me why we can't be compared to the coyote. obviously we are not living in caves, scavenging, and eating raw meat, etc., but we were not put on this planet by aliens or something to live in cities and not interact with "wild" things.

use your brains and really try to understand situations before spouting off with your irrationally harsh criticisms.

Sy Lentze

Imagine a hunting party of Native Americans encountering exactly the same scene 400 years ago in exactly the same spot as the location of this video. Would these hunters, who hunted to survive and who lived in a culture where reverence of the natural world was woven intimately into their lives, have quibbled with each other like a bunch of big city lawyers about the ethical nuances of the situation like some have here? Or, would they perhaps have wrung their hands in indecision like a smartly bearded and soft-handed political science professor about whether or not the "chase" was fair to the deer or whether they were obligated to intervene in the certain death of the deer in this situation like others in this forum? No, they would have seen this same situation exactly as these hunters saw it: as extraordinarily good fortune or as a precious gift from God and certainly as a "once in a lifetime" opportunity. These experienced hunters would have decisively dispatched both deer in this "once in a lifetime" event as quickly and carefully as possible, just as these hunters did. These successful hunters of long ago would have then carried the double bounty of their hunt proudly back to all those under their provision who would have rejoiced with them in their hunt, marveled at the story of their unusual success and retold this story of the ever-changing bounty of nature with reverence and incredulity for generations. Great grandsons of these hunters would never walk past this spot again without a comment, a smile and an intent look into the forest. Today it might be them.

Many hunters go years, some a lifetime, without seeing a deer like either of these two in the video in a position to make a proper shot and a sure kill. Every once in a while, a fortunate, diligent or persistent hunter is able to put himself or herself in the position of HUNTING animals like these. Sometimes getting into position requires hours of sitting in the cold and rain. It requires scouting and planning. Most of the time, when all goes right, all of this time, effort and attention presents the hunter with a scant few seconds of opportunity to make the shot...and the kill. The long preparation does not guarantee a thing: preparation does not CAUSE success. The true hunter can only prepare himself for the situation, but ultimately the hunter is always in the position of reacting to a myriad of potential situations. The true hunter hunts in the world of his quarry and to be successful must adapt himself to the ever changing events in that world. There is no script.

True hunting is not about following some prepared script by some pseudo-expert, or just about reading a high fallutin' sports magazines for armchair sportsman who are never cold or tired or frustrated. True hunting is not memorizing the tactics of celebrity hunters in other situations. Rather, true hunting is about pitting yourself, one-on-one, against the animal, the environment and the situation in real time. True hunting is about improvisation, adapting and outthinking the prey. Every once in a great while a hunter or two will find themselves in the enviable situation of having nature present him with the hunting equivalent of a hole-in-one. Such is this situation and this video. Nothing more.

For those of you who wrongly criticize this bit of good fortune, or more likely diligent hunting, for somehow being "unfair" to the deer: I seriously ask you to consider whether you actually understand how deer live, fight, breed, and die in the real world. In you, I hear a profound ignorance in the ways of the forest and in the competition for life that goes on there while you are home sitting on your couch. In some of you, I also hear a profound lack of understanding in the ways and mind of a true hunter. Please, if you cannot, after sober reflection, understand the true hunters proper and only response to this hunting situation, please do all of us predators a favor and opt out of further hunts. There are several very nice video games for sale these days that dutifully follow all the "rules' programmed into them and they will never confront you with this "ethical dilemma". Here you will be much more comfortable in a small and predicable world. Worst of all, in some of you I hear the discordant tones of jealously. True hunters do not heckle each other: hunters do not compete with each other, they compete with the prey alone. A true hunter will always rejoice in a successful hunt with any of his brethren, even when he himself has been beaten by the quarry that day. True hunters are always willing to share the joy of the hunt and the optimism of tomorrow.

When I look at the video, I see two deer I would be proud to take. I see a perfectly placed shot. The kind of shot that is made by a person who has shot an arrow before many times in a heart pounding situation. A beautiful deer succumbs to a true hunter. Twice. Bravo.


WOW.....Amen Brother!!

If you live in Wisconsin - or ever visit there (especially in Oct or November) contact me at HuntTigerRidge.com. I would love to share a beer, or better yet a hunt and a campfire with you.

Greg Duerr
[email protected]


After spending more time than ever on a blog site reading about a particular topic, I must say the longest comment is the best comment. Sy, you must be a philosopher! (or a salesman :-)

If you're reading this blog from the bottom up, just stop after Sy's message (unless your looking for entertainment.) The rest is just mindless chatter that isn't thought through and the necessary responses from folks that were actually involved.

To guys like Charles, I pose the following question. If YOU were in a situation that would certainly result in a slow painful death, but were suddenly presented with a way out that would be quick and easy, what would you do? Would you consider the offering something from an "angel of mercy" or a "cold-blooded killer"? Unless you're a masochist, most would consider it merciful.

NH Philosopher

I would've killed them both. Clean, ethical shots...End of debate.


Life can be cruel. We all know that. I see this the same as finding a dog (or deer) having been hit by a car and mortally wounded but dying a slow death. Do you allow nature to take it's course or dispatch the animal quickly and humanely? This is no different. I think you dispatch the animal(s) out of a somber sense of responsibility based on your particular situation. There is NO exact right answer to this. Only a duty to respect the animals and our wonderful sport. We have enough Non-Hunters judging us and our rights, let's not resort to namecalling and infighting amoung ourselves over hypothetical situations most of us will never encounter and that have no 'set in stone' answer.


I may be young, but ive hunted since age four. Ive seen locked up deer in my years also. And i agree with the post by "whitetailgallery". Anyone whos dumb enough to even approach two wild bucks is a pure idiot. that deer's natural insticnt is to get away by any means necessary, wether that means goring, kicking or even killing YOU. Why do you think you approach a deer so ready to shoot? So to anyone STUPID enough to try to release a wild deer, you WILL get messed up.
Yeah, sure its a nice gesture to try to save a deers life, but grow a pair or go hug a tree for Christ's sake.


It's stories like this that prove to all of the conservationists that they are right in the way they they think of us. As an ethical hunter, I would do all I could to free up the locked bucks. As a case in point, a few seasons ago I came across a yearling calf elk entangled in a downed barbwire fence. This youngster had three of his four feet hitched up tight. The harder he pulled, the worase it got for him. A short distance away, 4 cows waited for him to break free. While my hunting partner and I each had drawn cow tags for this area, shooting two of these cows less than a hundred yards away was the last thing we thought of. We very cautiously placed a jacket over his eyes and held his head down while the wire was cut and untangled from his legs. He leapt to his feet and returned to the awaiting cows who seemed to stare back a thank you for a minute before they slowly sauntered into the timber. Shooting one of those cows would not have been hunting, it would have only resembled a shooting. I would rather go without filling a tag than to feel I cheated to do it. In the event locked bucks, entangled calves, or whatever was at a point of suffering or mortally wounded, again I feel the ethical hunter would end the misery, but, not claim what he had done as an ethical harvest. To me, it would be like going to the store and buying a trophy for your 300 game if you've never bowled one. I live off the premise that The Lord looks to honor and bless those who work hard to do the right thing. Even if your hunt was ruined while you attempted to help out the animal in trouble, I believe a better reward is down the road waiting for you.

rusty whitcher

Sorry, but if myself and one of my hunting companions happened upon this locked up pair I think the outcome would be much different. Most bowhunters carry rope or parachute cord along with a folding saw for clearing branches. I hold all whitetails in the highest reverence, and I can't believe anyone could draw down and whack two magnificent bucks without at least trying to tie them off to trees, and then lasoe their legs, hogtie them, and
cut off their horns.(the other method of choice: a softball sized rock hurled with some serious musturd at close range in the middle of all that mass of tines as been known to brake em loose)Watching two
slammers run off without horns would leave a much better taste in my mouth than killing a couple monarchs that had no chance of escaping a "chip" shot.( or was that a cheapshot) When any hunter looks at past years horns on the walls the memory of each hunt is ingrained in our memory. The conditions, location, the events that took place, sometimes luck, sometimes skill, the weapon used to take the animal. It all comes back like it happened yesterday even though it may have been 30 years or more ago. The memory of this so called "mercy killing" would haunt this old hunter.

Let me start off by saying I am not an animal rights activist. I am not a PETA supporter in any way, shape or form. I am a true hunter through and through. You can look at this situation from many angles. How could anyone say this is ethical in any way? It is ridiculous. I bet those people who shoot locked bucks feel like champs! Please! Don't throw in the line that these bucks may not have had much of a chance to live if they were set free. I bet that chance was better than it is now that someone put an arrow through it as if it were chained up on a one inch chain. That is not hunting! Watch the video again in an honest and open way and tell me those bucks were not strong enough to make it had they been set free!? They were obviously strong enough to both be standing. After the chip shot both deer put up tremendous fights! They were strong! I have seen two deer that were locked to the point where they couldn't stand...another compassionate hunter chainsawed one antler to set both deer free. The two bucks were seen later that season at full strength. Give the deer a chance! Be a true sportsman, and have some respect for the animal and yourself. Fair chase and honest! God has given us every opportunity and right to hunt! We should respect the wildlife that we do hunt and cherrish what it has to offer! Now get out there and chase those rope swingin' long beards! God bless and good luck! To God be all glory!


Unless at least one of the deer is obviousley in bad shape you couldn't call yourself an ethical hunter and kill these or one of these deer.



I would have shot the one in the worst shape and cut a horn of the other one why kill both of the animals when you could harvest one and let the other live. I would have atleast wanted one of these deer to pass on genetics. Both nice bucks where I come from.


Me beibg a young i still think what the guys did in that video was wrong. There would be no possible way for me to feel proud about taking a buck in that fashion. I just recently missed the biggest buck iv seen while bowhunting. I would feel more proud of missing that deer and learning from it than if i would have shot it in a situation when it didint have a chance and learned nothing.

Chris W

We're going to judge nature? Everybody wants to feel good about themselves?...... Like I'm going to walk down to the rivers edge tell these 2 deer to be still while I seperate them. Are you people out of your minds? So they put the video in slow motion and put some scary music in the back ground and everyone starts feeling like Mother Theresa. After about a 1/2 hour or so (to see if they could break free) I would probably shoot both of their asses. Tag one with my tag and the other with somebody elses in the family. The meat would be a welcome addition and when I told the story it would go like this......"Well you see, I came upon these 2 guys locked up. And after about an hour of watching these 2 guys killing themselves I decided the best thing to do was put them both down. Now I know they were having a bad day all ready when I found them but I don't think they were really going to understand that I was there to help them get apart. Soooo the bad day they were all ready having just got a whole lot worse." End of story. Want to have some tenderloin?


With the economy as bad as it is.
I would have saved the moeny on arrowes and clubed the the deer to death.
With to money I saved I could go out to Wall-mart and buy some Chinese Junk.

I'm in school right now

its not ethical if they are still fighting. if they're just stuck, killind should be the absolute last resort.


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