As a deer hunter, what are your do’s and don’ts when it comes to taking the shot? Perhaps you have never given it much consideration and simply make those decisions on the spot.

V. Paul Reynolds, Outdoors Columnist

Running shots at deer were voluntarily removed from my hunting tactics years ago, for a number of reasons. First, my reflexes aren’t what they used to be. Second, though I have dropped a running deer as a young hunter, I wasn’t always so lucky.  I have learned that the chance of wounding the animal increases with running shots. Third, I don’t need to punch a tag that badly.

Yes, most of Maine’s iconic trophy buck hunters like Hal Blood and his contemporaries, routinely take running shots at big bucks and with remarkable success.

By definition, the running-shot discussion is rooted in hunting safety and hunting ethics.

From a safety standpoint, a running shot in the big North Woods is one thing; quite another if you are hunting farmland back country, or suburban parcels and other semi-populated wooded areas.

The ethical deer hunter, whether with bow or rifle, will weigh the odds of a clean kill before squeezing the trigger.


There is a legal aspect as well. Maine has a target identification law, a state statute that defines the safe hunter. Boiled down, the law states that no deer hunter can take a shot legally in Maine at an animal unless he or she can “obtain an essentially unobstructed view of the head and torso of the potential target.” The implied imperative, of course, is that the safe and ethical hunter, who is not positive, will forego that shot rather than risk injury or death to another human being.

A few years back, on the last day of the Maine moose season, a friend, who is an accomplished guide, was working hard to find a target-worthy cow moose for my wife. He located a moose in an impossible tangle of poplar and wire birches. Diane got a glimpses of the critter’s head only. In his field glasses, the guide got short but separate glimpses of the head and just patches of the torso.

He whispered to me, “What kind of a marksman is Diane?”

I whispered back: “She’s good, but she won’t take a head shot, I can tell you that.”

No shot was taken. Diane, to her credit, didn’t like the setup. It was a gray area, legally and ethically. The guide got a glimpse of both the head and the torso, but the shooter saw only the head.

The point, of course, is that in hunting no two scenarios are alike. Some situations you just can’t anticipate, even in the hunter safety classroom. The best, all-purpose maxim in any hunting situation involving big game critters and human life is simple and foolproof: “If in doubt, don’t.”


Thanks to Maine’s mandatory hunter safety programs and the wearing of hunter orange, the Pine Tree State has an exemplary hunting safety record that is a model in the country. Not that long ago in this country, there were about four fatalities annually for every 100,000 hunters in the field. Today, that figure is .08 fatalities per 100,000 hunters.

In Maine, during the 1940s and 1950s, there were up to 20 hunting fatalities a year! Since 2010, there have been two hunting fatalities in Maine, one of them caused by an accidental self-inflicted gun wound.

Of course, one hunting fatality is one too many. Still, hunting safety has improved markedly over the years. As hunters we all need to be always mindful when it comes to target identification and, equally important, practice muzzle discipline whenever in the field and when loading and unloading firearms.


V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, an author, a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. Contact him at

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