Shots at Whitetails

Shooting this one-antlered spike buck on a flat-out run was exciting, but I’d much rather shoot a buck in his bed. Photo by Steve Sorensen
Shooting this one-antlered spike buck on a flat-out run was exciting, but I’d much rather shoot a buck in his bed. Photo by Steve Sorensen

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

Years ago I missed a standing shot at a young buck and it boosted him instantly to top speed. I locked my eyes on him as I ejected the spent .30-06 round and chambered another. Then I picked out a spot ahead of the deer. When he entered my scope I fired, and it put him into overdrive. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until the buck was finally out of sight. I gathered my empties and walked to his tracks.

I followed crimson snow for about 80 yards to a spot where he made a right turn and headed down the hill. Bleeding like he was, he had to slow down, but I stood looking into the valley and couldn’t see any movement. “How could he still be on his feet?” I asked myself as my eyes scanned the snowy ground closer and closer to where I stood until I spotted him about 50 yards away. He had been running on empty because all four running shots had connected.

On another hunt I was easing along the hilltop, watching out ahead. Every step was a choice between patchy frozen snow and bare frozen leaves. Soon I spotted the six-point I had passed up several times in archery season. He was bedded a little more than 100 yards away. I raised the .243 and found the buck in my crosshairs. With nothing to rest the rifle against, I let the crosshairs drift down from above him and when they crossed his chest I pulled the trigger.

Is it ethical to shoot a running deer? Is it ethical to shoot a bedded deer?

The answers depend on who is answering. Some hunters say it’s not ethical to shoot at a running deer because of the high probability of wounding it. That’s true if a hunter lacks the skill to connect on a running shot. I’ve also heard anti-hunters say it’s not ethical to shoot a bedded deer because it’s not sporting. That’s pure nonsense. Under ordinary hunting circumstances the hunter prefers to shoot a deer that’s not alarmed. So shooting a bedded deer is actually the ideal.

Shooting a running buck might demonstarate shooting skill. Shooting a buck in his bed demonstrates hunting skill.

A hunter who hunts on foot uses skill and discipline to defeat the buck’s ears, eyes and nose. So why would it be ethical to defeat the buck’s ears, eyes and nose—and then get the buck up, make it run, and let the conclusion of the hunt come down to a shot with a high degree of difficulty? In other words, why would you put yourself into position for a good shot, and then say it would be unfair or unethical to take that good shot?

And if we accept that it’s unethical to shoot a bedded deer, then why would it be ethical to shoot a deer that’s engaging in some other basic deer behavior—eating, rubbing, scraping, chasing a doe? Where would we draw the line? And on what do we base that line? Feelings? Opinions?

This kind of argument frequently comes from anti-hunters who are quick to tell us, “It’s unethical to ____________.” They are always ready to fill in that blank. Their aim is to cause disagreement among hunters, and then try to capitalize on that conflict first in public opinion and ultimately in legislation. For example, “It’s wrong to chase bears with dogs” becomes “It’s wrong to hunt bears,” and then “Let’s make bear hunting illegal.”

As gun season for deer gets underway, let’s remember that hunters use skills that modern man is losing. Hunters pit those skills against the whitetail deer’s natural and capable defenses, seeking to get a high-percentage killing shot.

So before you enter the woods this season, anticipate what might happen. Go through various scenarios in your mind’s eye. Get familiar with your trigger, maybe by shooting a lot, or maybe by dry-firing your centerfire deer rifle. Then when a shot offers itself, you’ve already practiced, you know your rifle, you’ve acquired trigger control, and you’ve envisioned the outcome. It will make you better when you take shots at whitetails.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, writing about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. Contact him at, and read more of his thoughts about hunting at