Does ‘First Blood’ Give You the Right to a Dead Deer?

When one buck crosses two hunters’ paths, taking an arrow from each, how do you decide to whom the buck belongs?

Does ‘First Blood’ Give You the Right to a Dead Deer?

It’s early in the archery season, and you’ve just shot a huge buck, one you hoped to get a crack at this year. It all happened at last light when the buck sauntered by your stand at a mere 5 yards. Your hit appeared to be solid, and the buck reacted as if hit fatally. The buck’s hoof prints show where he crossed the soybean field to where you eventually lost sight of him, just 70 yards away. Escaping danger, the buck runs directly toward another hunter’s stand. What do you do next?

Sharing Property, Sharing Deer

The above is not a what-if scenario. It happened to me just last season. After 30 years of having sole permission to hunt a property, I was asked to share it with the landowner’s granddaughter’s boyfriend. Well, the boyfriend — fiancé now, actually — likes to hang his stands too close for comfort, in my opinion. Although I didn’t agree with his stand placement strategy, I wasn’t going to let it get in the way of my hunting this same ground.

During the hunt in question, there were just the last few minutes of shooting light left when I heard a deer approaching. A few minutes later, I saw the buck’s white rack, glistening in the last rays of light. Before I knew it, he was under my stand; only five or six paces away. He was walking toward the field to feed, I presume. With a low grunt, I stopped him.

Immediately, I sent the arrow on its way. From the sound of the impact and the deer’s reaction, I could tell it was well hit. The buck took off into the bean field, right toward the boyfriend, who was sitting a scant 100 yards away.

As I watched the buck run closer to the other hunter’s stand, I could tell it was slowing down. Seconds later, I heard a bow unload; I watched the deer crash in the beans. “Cool,” I thought to myself, figuring he must have finished-off the buck for me. So, I gathered my gear and made my way down and over to him. When I reached his stand, I could see his excitement.

“Man, I just shot a great buck!” he exclaimed.

“I know,” I said. Adding, “The one I just shot.”

“He didn’t look hurt to me,” was his immediate response. Right then I knew where things were headed.

“You mean you didn’t see him come tearing out of the edge of the woods,” I asked.

“No, he just came walking right up to me.” I could taste his dishonesty. “He was getting ready to bed down, probably because there were does around me,” he stated.

Now, I was sure he was getting ready to lay down because I had hit at least one lung, if not both lungs — not because there were does in the field. In any case, his story was unlikely at best. He was just trying to make excuses and lay the groundwork for what I knew was coming.

Then, he made the claim that he had three arrows in the buck, I assume to try to correlate that the number of arrows in a deer somehow determined who the winner would be. The buck was lying dead in the ditch 30 yards away, so we went on over to it.

“See, here’s my broadhead sticking out right behind his shoulder,” he exclaimed, while he started plucking the broken piece of the arrow out of the deer. “I know it’s mine because my broadheads are red.” Well, so were mine, which he later realized after examining the head and admitted to. “Well look, I hit just 3 inches from where you did,” was his next attempt at justifying that he was the one who hit the deer fatally.

“Uh-huh,” I said aloud, but was thinking “So what,” in my mind.

Pictured is the 10-point buck that crossed both hunters’ paths, leading to the confrontation.
Pictured is the 10-point buck that crossed both hunters’ paths, leading to the confrontation.

Next, he rolled the deer over and pointed to where he said he shot the deer. “Nope, that’s my entry hole,” I told him. The hit was a little high above the shoulder. I was 20 feet up in the tree and the deer was 7 yards away. Conversely, he claimed his shot was around 35 yards, much less of an angled shot.

He kept telling me that he shot the deer three times, still he could find where the deer had been shot only twice; once by me and once by him. “I just know I hit him three times though.”

Again, my response was, “Uh-huh.

Then, he said something that completely shocked me, “Well, man, if you would have just hit him a few inches lower, you would have had him.” And there it was: the final bold move that I knew was coming.

Agree to Disagree

Immediately, I made it known that I believed I made a killing shot on the buck. He disagreed — and then asked if I would take his picture with the deer! In another place or a few years earlier in my life, I likely would have reacted differently. However, for once at least, I let rational thinking trump my emotions. Instead of taking a verbal or even physical route, I willingly took the high road. I reiterated that I believed in my shot, but I ended up taking his picture with what I believed was my deer. As upset as I was, I also knew that nothing good would come of it if I responded in another way.

To add to my decision to back off was the fact that I also had a property — adjacent to this one — that I could still hunt. However, access to that property is via an easement on the property where the incident occurred. Therefore, I decided it was in my best interest to walk away.

I’ve heard stories of other hunters who have been in a similar situation, but until having to share the property with this guy, I had always been fortunate enough to have a couple spots to myself. I had never experienced anything like this scenario before. Now though, I can relate to those who have had this same problem before. It’s a difficult pill to swallow.

So, I licked my wounds for a few weeks, telling my story to anyone that would listen. Most folks agreed that I did the right thing by not making a big scene. Some even said, “Hey, you might just kill a bigger one later on this season.” I wasn’t so sure about that, and even if I did make the right decision, it sure didn’t feel that good. After all, how often do we get an opportunity on a great buck? We hope to get one a year, so I felt as though mine was lost, but I kept my head up and continued hunting.

After walking away from the earlier ordeal, the author tagged this giant buck that gross scored nearly 190 inches.
After walking away from the earlier ordeal, the author tagged this giant buck that gross scored nearly 190 inches.

Questions Answered

You know what? Those people were right. On November 7, I arrowed the largest buck of my life, a behemoth gross scoring in the high 180s. It was much larger than the gross 140-inch buck that the other guy claimed from me. Now, I know you cannot, and should not, expect to be graced with such an outcome after going through such an ordeal, but since it worked out well for me, I’ll take it!

When more than one hunter shoots the same deer, determining the rightful owner can be a difficult task for sure. I will likely depend on when and where the deer was hit, as well as both parties being both honest and ethical.

“The ethical thing to do is to surrender the animal to the first person who fatally shot the deer."

In my opinion, if a deer is shot and merely wounded, and then another hunter makes a fatal shot on the same deer, it is obvious that the hunter who put the animal down is the rightful owner. In a case such as mine, however, where both shots were likely lethal, it all boils down to ethics, not legality. The ethical thing to do is to surrender the animal to the first person who fatally shot the deer. However, many hunters simply won’t abide, especially if it’s a big buck. The bigger the buck, the bigger the egos at play. Thus, the need for bigger ethics on the hunters’ part. Is it okay to argue over the deer, possibly even go to court over it? Sure, but is it right? Probably not. As hard as it is to do, perhaps the best decision to make is to show a little grace, especially when the other party chooses not to. Nothing good can come from a confrontation in such a situation. Showing someone a little grace — even if you believe they don’t deserve it — may just be the best decision you can make.

And there you have it, the answer to the question, “Whose deer is it anyway?”

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