Is it Ethical to Shoot a Bedded Animal?

Is it okay for us, even as well-trained, disciplined bow hunters, to shoot a bedded animal? That’s a question we hear quite often and it’s time to open it up for discussion by looking at it from a couple different angles. Let us hear your thoughts on this matter. There’s not a wrong or right as long as reasoning and sound judgement is in play when you’re wondering whether to pick your bow up or leave it on the limb hanger.  

To Shoot...

Encountering bedded animals is a part of the hunt. A few years back I was hunting the rut on my little farm in southern Tennessee when a dandy ten point came up the draw toward my stand right around noon. His travel route would place him at a perfect 20 yard shot in a clearing to my left. At 30 yards he stopped. I thought the wind had swirled and he smelled me. He made a 90-degree turn to his left, my right, and laid down, broadside to me.

The war raged in my head and heart over whether to shoot. If I could make a good, clean shot, he would be the best buck I’ve taken with a bow. If I didn’t make a good shot, missing or worse, wounding the buck, he’d go off and die some place where I may never recover him.

I did give him the chance to stand by emitting some grunts, but it didn’t take. And I didn’t want to spook him by making an unnatural sound. He must have been worn out from the chase. I watched through my binocular as he dozed and decided that I would take the shot.

I’m confident with my bow and practice at long range to make these 30-yard shots feel shorter. I placed my pin on the spot where I judged his heart to be and touched off an arrow. He sprung to life, leaping what seemed like ten feet in the air, took two bounds and quickly expired. It was the cleanest kill and easiest recovery of my hunting life.

The Pros: When you’re shooting at a bedded animal, you could not ask for a more stationary target. On their feet, there are a multitude of factors from an unseen limb to the animal taking an  unexpected step that could cause an errant shot. When it’s bedded, you have the ability to really take your time and assess the situation by checking your arrow’s flight path for obstructions, accurately judging the distance, and methodically making an ethical decision on where to place your arrow.

The Cons: The downside depends a lot on how the animal is bedded. Facing away or toward your position can make a shot difficult, if not nearly impossible. Sure, you could lob an arrow into the spine, but that’s risky because it’s such a small target. Plus, spining an animal but not quickly killing it dead can cause unneeded suffering for the animal and unwanted feelings of guilt as you’re trying for the coup de grâce.

Not to Shoot…

The fun of the chase is trying to outsmart a wild animal on their home field. If you ask the average hunter how many times they win, there couldn’t be more than a median eight to ten percent success rate. That is, assuming, we’re talking about the weekend warrior bowhunter who shoots a few does a year along with a nice buck, maybe two.

Not to shoot boils down to a hunter’s understanding and opinion of the definition of fair chase. This means many things to many people. Andrew McKean, who quarterbacks Outdoor Life and is a world-renowned hunter and conservationist said, “To me, defining fair-chase hunting ethics is a little like defining pornography: It can be hard to say exactly what it is, but you know it when you see it.” Take his sense of humor any way you’d like, but he makes a good point.

In the story, he describes a mule deer hunt in which he made a clean kill on a big buck that was in its bed. His point being that “wouldn’t you rather die peacefully in your sleep.” A TV host and his cameraman in camp argued that he should have spooked the animal to its feet because “a standing animal has a better chance to escape.’

These are both very valid points and again tie back to your definition of fair chase. Confidence and ability also play a huge part in whether to shoot or not to shoot. You’ve assessed yourself as a hunter no doubt many times; probably throughout each hour you’re in the woods. Take what you know about yourself to help make the final decision.

The Pros: If you don’t shoot then you don’t run the risk of wounding an animal. Nothing keeps a hunter up at night like knowing there’s a an animal out there, its wounds inflicted at your hands. Sometimes the error is obvious. It’s even worse when there’s no clarity to exactly what went wrong.

The Cons: If you ask any hunter with decent sense, there’s really not a detrimental downside to not shooting. Most of us live within a mile of a grocery store, so meat is not a factor. Sure, you’d love to show a good animal off to your buddies and put it on the wall. But what’s the deficit if you don’t? There’s not one.

Good judgement seems to be the only deciding factor in whether or not you should take a shot with your bow at a bedded animal. Perhaps sometimes To Shoot, and others Not to Shoot. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic as it’s something the entire hunting community continues to address.