An Ethical Dilemma: Shooting a Bedded Animal

An Ethical Dilemma: Shooting a Bedded Animal

Story, photos and videos by: Austin Legg

For years I have heard various people say, “You never shoot an animal in its bed.” 

It’s part of being an ethical hunter, or so I was told. The idea behind this saying is first, bedded game doesn’t have a fair chance to escape. Second, the location of the vital organs can be obscured by shoulder blades and tricky angles when an animal is bedded. In short, the risk of making a bad shot and wounding an animal increases when it bedded. I had never found myself in a situation to put this dilemma to the test until last fall.

Last October, I had an OTC rifle deer tag in Idaho and decided to go out for a morning hunt. My hunt was limited to the morning because later that afternoon I was celebrating my son’s birthday. I knew I needed to be home on time!

Headed out for a morning hunt.

Most of the morning hunt was uneventful. I glassed up does and several yearling bucks but nothing worth a second look. By late morning, most of the game had bedded for the day and I started making the trek back to my truck. As I was hiking back, I looked back over my shoulder in the direction I had just come from and decided a large, recently burned, north facing slope could use one more quick scan with the binoculars. As I was glassing, I noticed the tips of a single antler through the brush and dead branches. My first thought was maybe I had glassed up a shed antler. Upon closer look through my spotting scope, I could see the antler was attached to a bedded buck and not five feet from him was a bedded second buck. I moved positions so I could get a closer look and found both of these bucks were head down, eyes closed, passed out sleeping.

Bedded buck.

The range finder told me I was about 800 yards out, so I began the slow, deliberate stalk to close the distance. After several minutes, I found myself 300 yards directly across from the deer. This was as close as I could get before I lost my elevation and sight of the deer. At this point I asked myself, is this an ethical shot? I had done everything right. Hiked in. Glassed up the deer. Moved in as close as possible. Found a stable shooting position that was well within my range. In my mind, I had done my part to make this an ethical hunt and ensure the animal has a quick, painless death. I watched both deer in my spotting scope as I continued to debate the ethics of shooting a bedded buck. Since I was alone, I didn’t have a second person to talk me into or out-of doing anything. This was totally based on my experience and skill level as a hunter. This was based on my own personal values. What it ultimately came down to was this: Have I done everything in my power as a hunter to make this a fair hunt and a quick death? When I answered, yes, I knew that my dilemma was solved.

I chose the buck with visible eye guards, because I rarely see bucks with eye guards in this area. As I settled the crosshairs on him, I had no doubt I was making the right call. The .300 RUM rifle I was shooting launches a 220gr projectile at 3100fps. I knew if I made a good shot, this deer would be dead almost instantly. A slow squeeze and BANG.

I could hear the impact of the bullet almost immediately. Recovering from the recoil, I found the buck in my scope and could see him laying just feet from his bed. When I got to the buck, it was evident he had never stood. He died almost instantly. This was an honest, fair chase hunt that ended with a buck’s quick and painless death. Was this ethical? I say yes.

An ethical shot ended in success!

Posted in Stories from the Hunt