Ethics and Etiquette
On November 21st of 2015, opening day of New York’s regular season, I was in my stand almost an hour before sunrise. This particular stand was in the woods, about 20 yards from a field edge which marked the property line. Deer frequently moved from the corner of the field into the woods and vise versa which is why we’d chosen this site for a stand in the first place. But hunting so close to a property line is not without problems, as I was soon to find out.
It was not particularly cold, even before sunrise, and I was quite comfortable as I watched and waited to see what might develop. Without warning, a deer popped into view in the corner of the field. It was a doe, and I had two antlerless tags. She was well withing range and I could have shot but for the issues of the property line and the time; it was only 6:40, 20 minutes before legal shooting light in New York. So I settled in to wait. It looked like this deer would move into the woods in front of me. I just hoped she would stick around until 7am.
BOOM! An instant after I checked my watch, someone in the field, behind me and off to my right, shot. I expected to see the doe I’d been watching drop, and along with it my hopes of punching a tag right at sunrise. But it only jumped, then stood still, looking around. BOOM! Another shot followed a few seconds later. Once more, the doe remained standing, and a smaller anterless deer, probably a fawn, came trotting over to her. BOOM! A third shot sent both deer running back the way they came, away from my section of woods. I sat still and waited for the inevitable sound of approaching feet.
Sure enough, a few minutes later, I heard someone walking along the field edge. He looked young, was wearing a blaze camo jacket and had a rifle with bipod slung over his shoulder. Even when he was only 20 yards away from me, he had no idea I was there in spite of my blaze orange vest and hat. I called out to him, and the conversation went like this:
He stops walking, looks at me, does not respond, keeps walking, only to stop after less than 10 yards, and looks at me.
“Did I get him?”
“I don’t think so… they all ran off in that direction”
“The buck too?”
“I never saw a buck, I only saw two doe…”
And with that he started walking again. No greeting, no apology for having sent three bullets zinging past me, or for having tromped right past my stand. He simply went about his business checking to see if he got is deer. He didn’t spend much time looking. After about a minute of checking the woodline he walked up through the middle of the field, in the direction he came from.
I understand that, under the circumstances, he may have been preoccupied and introductions and apologies were not at the forefront of his mind. But later, around 8:30, he made a second foray to check up on his deer. This time he unintentionally chased off a small antlerless deer that was hanging around my stand. I could have shot this deer several times, but thought better of it since it was quite small and after all, it was only opening morning. But I had just watched this deer cross the open field, where I know my hunting associate certainly would have seen it. And again, this guy walks right along the field line, right past me. Not surprisingly, his second search was just as fruitless as the first.
There are two things that bother me about this experience. First is this hunter’s apparent lack of marksmanship. I am confident I know where he was shooting from, and the shots he took that morning were well over 100 yards, maybe even greater than 200. I remember the first time I decided to set up targets at 200 yards, and they looked a lot further away than I thought they would! He either let buck fever get the best of him, or he just plain didn’t bother to practice shooting at the distances he was likely to encounter while hunting. Either way, there isn’t much excuse for slinging three bullets and not killing your deer. He got lucky in that he missed cleanly all three times; many a jackass has made coyote food trying the “spray and pray” method. As hunters we have the ethical responsibility to do all we can to make quick, efficient kills. I have often said that if you hunt long enough, you will eventually make a bad shot, and I stand by that. But bad shots should be the great exception, not a routine occurence.
My second gripe with this occurrence was the hunter’s attitude toward me and the law. Although he did potentially wreck my prospects for a deer bright and early, I don’t totally have a problem with that. He was on a separate property and didn’t know I was there. I am, however, awfully annoyed that he mucked up my hunt by shooting before legal shooting hours. I know not everyone agrees with New York’s “sunrise to sunset” law for hunting hours and there are many states that allow hunting half an hour before and after sunset. If we had been hunting in Vermont, for example, time wouldn’t have been an issue. But that’s not the law in New York, and the law is the law. Even if this hunter’s timing had been legal, New York (and every other state, I imagine) stipulates that even during legal hunting hours hunters must not shoot under dangerous low light conditions. Given the light situation that morning, it was not an especially safe shot, particularly given the range.
As for my hunting associate’s interaction with me, he could at least have managed to say hello, if nothing more. Again, I don’t begrudge him hunting his property, but the proper etiquette would have been to acknowledge the fact that there was someone else hunting near him. Had he done that, I might have been slightly sympathetic to his terrible shooting, and offered to help him look for his deer. Then again, considering that he broke the same law three times in under 20 seconds, I probably would have left him to his own devises.