Don Meredith Professional Writing

Wounding and Lossby Don H. Meredith © 1999
(published in the August/September 1999 Alberta Outdoorsmen)


"Does ignoring, downplaying or even denying the wounding and loss rate associated with hunting demonstrate a reverence for life?" — Ann Causey, 1992 Governor's Symposium on North America's Hunting Heritage.

It's probably happened to most big game hunters. You place what you think is a good shot at an animal. The animal looks like it's hit but disappears in the bush. Sure enough, when you arrive where it stood, you find blood on the ground. You track the animal through the bush only to see the blood trail run out. You backtrack, circle and retrace your steps over and over again, but you can't find it. Your hunting partners join the search to no avail. You know you've shot and wounded the animal, but you've lost it.

You feel bad because you're sure you mortally wounded it and know it's lying dead somewhere, soon to be a meal for some coyote and a host of other scavengers. Or, perhaps it wasn't a mortal wound, and the animal is suffering, limping through the bush, facing a short painful life.

You feel you've fulfilled your moral obligation to track this animal as far as you can. You also have a legal obligation not to waste game animals you've shot. But you've exhausted all possibilities. There's nothing more you can do. However, that doesn't displace the feeling in your gut causing you to wonder whether hunting is what you should be doing. Were you meant to cause suffering to other living things?

Of course not! But I believe it's incidents such as the one I just described that cause many hunters to hang it up — leave the sport, never to return. That's unfortunate, especially if the hunter is unable to discuss the situation with other hunters.

If you're lucky, you receive immediate support from your hunting buddies. They tell you of similar experiences, and how they've coped. Such frank discussions can go a long way to keeping incidents in perspective, and indeed prevent them from occurring again.

However, the worst thing someone can tell you is to "forget it," that you still have the "tag to fill." You can't forget such an occurrence, nor should you. You must always keep in mind your obligation and responsibility as a hunter. Most responsible hunters wouldn't quit hunting as a result of such an experience, but some would quit hunting that particular game animal for that season. They would reason they have essentially used the tag for that animal, and missed the chance they had. This is where personal ethics step in ahead of what is required by law. Such decisions are personal, and should not be questioned by others.

How Many?

To return to Ann Causey's question, just how many animals are wounded and lost by hunters? This is difficult information to find because of its very nature. Hunters are reluctant to talk about it, especially to authorities, and scientific studies are few and far between.

Perhaps the best known scientific investigation of the issue is the Camp Ripley study on bow wounding, conducted in 1992 and 1993 in central Minnesota. The study was done in response to anti-hunting organizations who were claiming that bow hunters wound "too many" deer. What was needed was scientific research to assess just how many deer are indeed wounded and lost by bow hunters. The study was conducted by Wendy Krueger and supervised by Dr. Jay McAninch of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Dr. David Samuel of the University of West Virginia. It was funded by more than 50 bow hunting and conservation organizations. (At the writing of this article, a condensed, web version of the study report was available through The Bowsite).

Camp Ripley was chosen for the study because controlled hunts of white-tailed deer were conducted there each fall where hunters checked in and out of the National Guard camp every day. This allowed the researchers to interview most hunters after each day of hunting. However, the most expensive and labor intensive part of the study was the locating of unrecovered deer in the camp, using a helicopter and infrared video equipment. Thus, nearly 100% of the deer killed at Camp Ripley were accounted for.

On average, 72% of the deer reported hit by the hunters were retrieved by those hunters. The remaining 28% were reported hit but not retrieved by the hunter making the hit. Of the latter, only 1% were presumed hit without direct evidence, such as blood or hair on the arrow or ground. Nineteen percent were substantiated hits where evidence was found, and 8% were hits where the hunter claimed he hit a deer but saw another hunter subsequently retrieve the deer.

However, the retrieval by another hunter was larger than the reported 8%. The researchers found by examining the deer carcasses taken home by hunters that, on average, 45% of the deer reported as substantiated hits were recovered by other hunters.

Through the use of their infrared technology the researchers were able to track the ultimate fate of many of the deer that could not be accounted for at the end of the hunt. They determined, that on average, bow hunters at Camp Ripley did not recover 13% of the substantiated hits not retrieved by the original shooter (or roughly 2% of the total deer hit). This is significantly lower figure than estimates made in previous less rigorous studies.

How do these figures compare with rifle hunters? in other parts of North America? We don't know until similar studies are done. Whatever figure is produced, however, anti-hunters will not be satisfied.

Killing animals in the wild is not an exact work and errors are made. Wild predators can also cause lingering deaths. Such is the nature of wilderness and wildlife — it's not all pretty. But as concerned hunters, we should make every effort to reduce the wounding and loss rate. That starts with recognizing it as an issue of concern and ensuring that it is discussed in hunter education courses, and around campfires and other places where hunters meet. If we wish people to believe that we respect the game we pursue, then we should bring this issue forward and discuss it openly. If we don't, the anti-hunters will.

Next in series, Baiting and Fair Chase.

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The Search
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Dog Runner
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