Situation Ethics - What would you do?


New member
Feb 28, 2001
Sandpoint, ID, USA
I originally wrote this article for Bugle magazine, and although the editor said he liked it, he didn't want to publish it because it portrays some hunters negatively. So I thought I'd post it here and you all can tell me what you would have done. Sorry, it's kinda long.

Follow-Up Dilemma

The ethical considerations of dealing with an animal wounded by someone else.

Working in the woods for a living gives me some unique opportunities to observe and interact with wildlife. Such an opportunity arose early last October when an elk bugled several hundred yards away. I suddenly forgot all about the Forest Service contract I'd won that obligated me to collect data on trees, shrubs, forbs, grasses and an array of other information from sites scattered over the Idaho Panhandle

I laid aside my notebook and plucked a likely blade of grass. Placing it between my thumbs, I brought it to my lips and let out an awful sounding squeal. The bull answered immediately. We went back and forth for about 15 minutes, my squeal, squawk, or whistle, whatever happened to come out, to his roaring bugle. He moved to within a hundred yards or less and hung up. Due to the thick north Idaho alders I still hadn't seen the bull so I picked up a big stick and started raking brush.

That did it, the bull came walking straight in, ready to exact some serious punishment to the young upstart brazen enough to challenge him. He stopped in a small opening ten yards away and gave me a minute to admire the long dark 5x6 rack, before reason returned to his sex-addled head and he turned and left.

I grudgingly returned to work and considered the possibility that an even bigger bull must be in the area with a harem of cows. The sun was setting when I finally finished and started working my way back to the truck. As I passed through an alder-choked basin with a small meadow in the head of it a different bull bugled. I replied with my infamous grass-call and thus begun an hour-long session of insult exchanges that lasted until I crested the ridge and left the basin. The bull never moved from his original location and I assumed it was the herd bull of my imagination.

General rifle season opened a week later for holders of an Idaho Panhandle B tag and guess where I was headed! I climbed up through the saddle overlooking the basin just as legal shooting light arrived. From there I needed to side-hill a couple hundred yards to a vantage point from which I could see the small meadow at the head of the drainage.

When I was about halfway there a shot suddenly rang out from very near the spot I was headed. I sat down and waited and watched as an almost continuous volley of shots echoed down the canyon. I wasn't counting but there must have been around 15 shots.

When the shooting died down I got up and slowly began to continue. Two more times before I reached the spot, volleys of 5 to 10 shots shattered the morning stillness, during which I would sit, wait and watch.

Finally I reached my destination, which was occupied by a single hunter. I looked down into the basin, expecting to see dead elk lying everywhere, but all I saw were 3 more hunters down in the bottom.

Swallowing my bitterness and putting my best "I'm happy for you" look on my face I asked, "So, did you get some biggun's?"

"We've got a big 5 point down. I saw him bed in that brush." And he motioned towards a small patch of alders slightly separate from the continuous sea of them that carpeted the bottom of the canyon.

Meanwhile, his 3 companions were edging closer and closer to the patch of brush. The hunter next to me would occasionally yell down at them to stay back and leave the bull alone for awhile, which seemed like the smart thing to do to me too.

After a few minutes of this he couldn't take it any longer and without a word he started down the hill towards his buddies. I sat down and began glassing the brush. Before long I found the bull's rack above the foliage. His head was up and he occasionally swung it around to keep tabs on the approaching group of hunters.

All 4 of the hunters were now converging on the 1 acre patch of brush that held the bull. It was obvious to me that if the bull got out of his bed they would be very lucky to get even a glimpse of him before he disappeared into the brush. So I yelled down to them, "I see the bull and he still looks pretty healthy!"

One and all summarily ignored my input, and they continued their forward progress. So I tried again, "Do you want me to put a bullet in him?"

My offer of a lead and powder donation to the cause was similarly disregarded so I laid the rifle down and picked the binoculars back up. When the hunters were within about 30 yards the bull jumped and 2 or 3 of them got off shots. The bull went about 50 yards, stopped in one small opening about the length of his body, and looked back over his shoulder towards the oncoming hunters. It was the last window before he vanished completely into the sea of alder.

I exchanged the binoculars for the rifle again and found the bull in my scope. I put the crosshairs on the bull and began a huge internal debate. For several agonizingly long seconds we remained this way, and then the bull decided the hunters were close enough. He swung his head around and started into the alder.

I think it was instinct more than any conscious decision that tripped the trigger on my 7 Mag. But in any case, I missed and the bull disappeared completely into the brush. My mind had been fully occupied with the ethical considerations of whether or not to shoot and I had not put enough thought into where to hold on the bull. Consequently, I held in the middle of his body and likely shot low, as he was over 300 yards away.

When I reached the small opening in which the bull was standing when I shot, 4 very angry hunters awaited me. "Thanks a lot! You just blew our only blanking chance to get that blanking bull. Now he's in the blanking brush and we'll be lucky if we ever blanking see him again!"

I genuinely felt bad. I wanted to explain the conflicting feelings I had and assure them that I was not trying to steal their bull, just help them get it on the ground. I wanted to tell them that I was only trying to do what I considered to be the most ethical thing in the situation. I'll admit that I also wanted to mention that maybe it wasn't quite the only chance they'd had at the bull, as evidenced by the trail of brass they'd left behind. But their 4 mouths to my 1 left few breaks in the conversation for me to slip a word in edgewise.

After they finished addressing all of my inadequacies as a man and as a hunter, they took up the bull's trail and crashed down into the alder jungle. I was pretty sure they didn't want my help or my advice that they leave the bull at least for a few hours, so I just stood there with my head hung low.

When they were gone I followed the bull's blood trail back to his bed and then down into the brush where he'd gone after I shot. There was no change in the pattern of blood, confirming that I had indeed missed. The blood appeared to be leaking from low and far back on the bull's paunch, running down one hind leg and being deposited in the track of one hind foot.

I assume the group must have eventually stopped the bull, but I don't know for sure. It took me about an hour to climb back out of the basin and in that time I heard two more volleys of shots, presumably from the hunters jumping the bull out of beds. Each volley was a little further down the alder-choked draw.

I've re-lived the situation many times over in my head. I may have been sticking my nose where it didn't belong. Should I have just turned around and left the basin when I heard the first volley of shots? Or maybe I should have shot the bull in its bed when I had it dead to rights. Perhaps I should have been more forceful in my argument that they back off from the bull when he was in his original bed. And maybe I shouldn't have shot at all. At least in my final analysis though, the main thing I wish I had done differently is hold the crosshairs about 18" higher when I did touch off the shot!

[ 11 April 2001: Message edited by: Buckshot ]
Clint-I think in this situation, ethical and legal considerations are necessary. A gutshot elk as you well know will run forever. The leg wound wont slow him down a whole lot either. I imagine the bull got away. It wasnt your fault, you didnt wound it. If you would have killed the bull with your hail mary shot, they woulda still been mad at ya, and who knows what woulda come of it. As it was they can use ya for a scape goat, as the reason they didnt get the bull. I have seen many wounded animals in my lifetime, from bad shooting, sometimes totally careless shooting. We were sneaking on a six point two years ago and were within two hundred yards of it and the folks across the canyon 800 plus yards away started lobbing bullets at the bull. After several magazine loads were emptied on the bull, they managed to gut shoot the bull. We were torn as to whether to shoot it or not, as we could of killed it easily from where we were about to shoot it anyway. We didnt shoot. They did manage to finally get the bull about a half hour later when they crossed the canyon, and came to our side. We had a few words, some of them not to kind words, and went our way. It was another outfitter, and they watched us sneaking on the bull. I thought it very chicken**** to do what they did, and my hunter was very heartbroken at the time, but he ended up getting a six point a couple days later, so it worked out alright, but he sure was heartbroken at the time. In Wyoming, the law is "WHOEVER GETS THERE FIRST" Its a crazy law in a way, and it leaves alot of holes open to a guy with a good pair of tennis shoes and a hunting knife, but thats the way it is. It is also illegal here to shoot someone elses elk. SO I think in your case if you were in Wyoming when it happened, you could have been in trouble if they had went to the authorities with their story, if you had finished the elk off. Chances are that wouldnt have happened, but its possible. That is a tough question, my first instinct would have been to let them handle thier own problems, usually works out better that way. ANytime a fella involves himself in a situatuion it could get ugly. By the way Clint, my new palamino stud colt has a name. For some reason I kept calling him "BUCKSHOT" and it has stuck!!!!! Hope thats OK>>>>>>>. bcat

I don't think I want to know what it was about that colt's personality that prompted you to start calling him Buckshot! But it's fine with me, I'm flattered!

I also just wanted to make it clear I never would have considered taking a shot at the bull if I wasn't nearly positive it was mortally wounded. But based on its behavior I thought it was going to die eventually, it was just a matter of how long it would be and whether or not it was recovered. And although the other hunters had no way of knowing what my intentions were, I never would have tried to tag it and claim it as my own.
I would have waited and watched. In today's world 4 shooters (not hunters) like you described could not be reasoned with. Best to let them deal with their problem. It appears to be a no win situation.
This is a real tough call for me. I "probably" would have gone ahead and shot the elk when you first saw him in the brush and then immediately yelled to them that "I put him down for you" so that they knew that I wasn't trying to steal "their" bull. But I wasn't aware of the Wyoming law (or what the law is in other states, for that matter.) If they were upset, I would have just acted humble and say that I was only trying to help. (and maybe keep my doesn't sound like they could shoot very well. ;) )
Buckshot - I can empathize with your story. About four years ago in Colo I was working my way up a mountain ridge when nine shots sounded not far ahead.I have a habit of counting. I sat down and waited. Within ten minutes another five rounds went off. I decided that (1) those people either cannot shoot very well or are taking risk shots and (2) those people will be very excited and "wild eyed". I was tempted to ease forward to see what had happened but never gave it a serious thought. I went another direction - away from them! I am of the opinion that these kinds of hunters are not prone to reasoning, have little self control, and care even less about ethics. They are under pressure to kill which establishes a graduated risk for other hunters in the area. Not that they would kill another hunter intentionally as much as their minds mis interpreting image data or movement data. All this with a wounded animal around would make the intensity worse. Not my cup of tea! I think all would agree as to the ethics regarding a wounded animal. The real question, however, might be who really "owned" the ethical delima? Those who were "chasing down" the wounded animal, or the by-stander? Now, if you had shot the animal, that might have taken that ownership and that responsibility from them. Would that be ethical? Interesting discussion.
I"m afraid I would have been tempted to watch the hunters through my scope... I don't like gang shooting animals, specially when the guys obviously didn't care enough abou the animal to spend anytime at the range. that show a total lack of respect and lack of discipline. The temptation to bait there guys would probably have gotten me killed out there in the panhandle of Idaho. I think I would have just turned around and walked away. Bruce and Glen and I watched a similar tableau involving 4 hunters, one spotter and a couse buck about 8 years ago. I started counting after several rounds had already been fired, and I counted 26. So those four had to have fired at least 30 rounds at this little 80 pound buck. That's terrible. Don't know how they live with themselvse..... :cool:
Clint-I know you wasnt trying to steal their animal........And as ya said the other hunters didnt know your intentions. I know ya had it in your heart to end the animals suffering, and save alot of trouble tracking a wounded one down. Several years ago, I would have done the same thing. I have however learned more about Wyoming law, and also like Art said people are different these days, which is why I try to involve myself with as few as possible. THat is one reason I hunt the Wilderness. Not near as many people hunt it, because of the wilderness law, and if ya do see somebody its a local usually, or another outfitter, with whom I know. Makes it alot easier to deal with situations if they arise. To be real honest with ya I have finished off elk for people in the past. I wouldnt however attempt it in this day and age. Its their problem let them deal with it. The ethical thing to have done was probably shoot the thing. Although ethics seem to have taken a back seat to lawsuits, and gunbattles these days. I know some guys that got into it and it ended in a drawing of guns, and it was over a darn campsite. One of the fellas was an outfitter. he has since lost his licence to operate in Wyoming. People are quick on the trigger these days. Kinda spooky sometimes. Clint, I dont know what prompted me to start calling the colt Buckshot. It just came out and everytime I went to scratch him or lead the mare to water, it just came out. I dont know if he will be a buckskin or a palamino, he has a brown stripe down his back, almost would say buckskin, but wont know for a while for sure. Nice little colt tho. THe mare is out of this world, and the daddy is supposed to be a hotshot stud. This colts yearling brother sold for 6500 bucks to a fella from Arizona. I am not gonna sell the colt, he is my new riding, roping , hunting horse in a few years. bcat
bcat, in wyoming you cant shoot someone else's animal but if i get to your dead elk that you shot first i can claim it? i think that is how i took it..if that is the way it is, it is messed up.

here in new york, the one that finishes it gets to tagg it. i don't agree with that either so anyone that hunts with me fallows my rule. first lethal shot gets it. plain and simple. i lost a buck that i shot 2x in the neck running across the field a few years ago. i could have kept shooting but no point to that he was going down. this guy in a tree across the field started doing hale mary shots at him and caught him in the back and dropped him. and this guy was a buddy of mine, i took him to my spot and he still tagged it. so from then on, first killing shot earned the tag.
Elkfarmer-All I know about the law is the conflicts I have seen and heard about and how they turned out. In more than one circumstance the judges or game and fish have given the elk or deer in question to the first person to the kill. For example in Jackson Hole, a friend of mine shot a big bull. Before they could get to the elk someone was gutting it and tagging it. The person didnt even have a rifle with them. THe game and fish said the first one to the kill was the owner of the kill. It is illegal for sure not to shoot someone elses game. This happens alot and I know people that have been fined for this. SO what the law is stating is kinda screwed up either way ya look at it. I am not positive about he law reguarding the first ot the kill, but I know of several instances where it was ruled that way, so I figured that must be how i is. If ya hunt on the refuge, all ya need is a good pair of tennis shoes and a knife. I dont agree with it, but thats how they seem to work it. bcat
One thing I have realized over time is Ethics have nothing to do with laws. I have watched hunters shoot at deer and not even look for it, assuming they missed they walk away, when I go over to have a look I find a dead or wounded deer not far away. Twice I have seen this happen :( I think everyone here would agree it is unethical, sadly there is absolutly nothing illegal about it :(

As far as Clints situation, I would have gone a different diorection when I heard the inital 15 shots.......I dont have any respect for lead-lobbers like that. :mad:
bcat, your colt is a Dun if he has a dorsal stripe. The duns vary considerably because the dun characteristics (dorsal stripes, transverse stripes, tiger stripes on legs, and yellow dilution of body hairs) may be superimposed over the basic color (red, black or brown). The horse's color will basically remain the same throughout his life, although there may be some seasonal variations.

Often there is a confusion between dun and buckskin horses. Both are yellow in body color and both may have black manes, tails and legs. A buckskin does not have a dorsal stripe, transverse stripes or tiger stripes.

Here is the link to the AQHA color chart:

web page
Personally after I had heard the shots. I would have gotten the " BLEEP" out of there.
Guns kill people and if someone else had beaten me to my favorite spot. So be it,next
time I would make sure I was there first.
Myself I do hunt with other friends,but we
hunt in different areas. So we wouldn"t be
shooting around each other. A few years ago
I was hunting near a field and brought my
binos up to look around. As to my surprise
across the field were 2 hunters doing the same thing. Except they were using their
rifles to scope the field. They were looking right at me,with their guns. Ye Hah! I wasn"t
a happy camper. Got the heck out of there
fast as I could. I like it when nobody else
is around. Much more peaceful and I can enjoy
the outdoors. Rambled on enough good to here
that your O.k.
just my 2 cents worth!

Straight Shooting

Great topic! I do not think I would have proceeded to the area with that many shots being fired. Whenever presented with the type of situation you described, I have avoided the immediate area, but I will sometimes circle the area to see if the shooters don't run something out to us.

A few times I have seen wounded game that I felt like shooing, but have never done it. Once during deer season (two weeks after our last elk season) I came across a nice bull that had been shot in the hip. He could still get around, but I knew he would not last much longer. I struggled with the question of weather I should put a mercy shot in him, but finally decided against it. Sometimes your best intentions just get misinterpreted and I did not want to take the chance of getting nailed for it. Did I do the right thing?? Who knows.....?

By the way, excellent story, you should have some of your writings published.
It's comforting to see that the majority of you would have exercised more common sense than I did. But in case you couldn't tell, based on this story and my bear cub story in the bear hunting forum, sometimes my curiosity gets the best of me! "Inquiring minds need to know".....ya-know?
Everyone knows that curiosity killed the cat and I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that it's what will result in my introduction to my maker!

As far as I was concerned my hunt was over as soon as I heard the first shot in the basin. The last thing I expected to do was to shoot at something when I got there. I just had to satisy my curiosity - how big was that herd bull?? How dang many elk did they just kill?? Stuff like that. Then things happened the way I described and I had to make some quick decisions (not my strong suit). Now having had 4-5 months to mull it over I'm still not sure what I'd do if I had it to do over!

Thanks for your replys.
Mountain Boomer,
I think you are right on the colt's color.
My dad used to tell me you could sort of figure what color they would be by the shade around their eyes. I have only had one dun horse in my life, but I think this colt might be. Either that or a new exotic color!! LOL. The only thing is his main isn't black, but then the other dun I had wasn't either. I keep telling bcat he is gonna be purple. shecat
Boomer-I see Shecat got it all lined out. I didnt want to say "DUN" but he may turn out that way. He may be just buckskin with a stripe, or a palamino with a stripe????? Dont know but he is an awful smart colt, and alot of fun right now. Clint, we are alot alike. My curiosity is also like yours. I would of HAD to see what all the shooting was about and how many elk was running around wounded. Comes with our JOB DESCRIPTION!! :D :D Not having much time to think about it i may have done the exact same thing you did on it. Like I said its a funny world these days, and ya never know what kinda kooks ya will run onto in the woods with a gun in their hand. bcat