I went hunting on opening day of the NY 2018-19 regular deer hunting season & am ashamed of myself. It's not because I went hunting mind or that I got a deer but because of a mistake I made.
Opening day this year turned out to the most depressing hunting day / hunting season of my life for me. It started off okay because I remembered to bring everything I'd need. I even drove passed the state forest the day before to check on parking conditions. Zero places to park and the snow was piled higher than anywhere else in front of the entrance to the state land parking area; why I have no clue. I went into town, checked into my motel and then went to Homer's Depot to pick up a snow shovel. Opening morning I dug out a nice parking spot on the side of the road over a culvert where the shoulder was known to me to be asphalt.
I only got out in the woods late because of the shoveling of the parking spot, it took me at least a half an hour to do it but I took my time did not want a coronary and that snow was heavy. It was pretty light, maybe 10 minutes before sunrise when I did go into the woods. I saw 4 nice does within 10-15 minutes after sunrise. They were about 75-85 yards off and moving behind and through a brushy area. Took a shot at one and missed. Even though I figured I had missed, I looked for blood for about 30 minutes, no red at all anywhere on the very white background of the newly fallen snow and I looked quite the distance from where it was standing when I fired. Sometimes I miss, too bad it was today.
While looking for blood, I ran across a set of fresh bear tracks. Kind of small, I thought but I am no bear track expert. A short time after that, I found a second bigger set of bear tracks, I am guessing mama bear and baby bear were walking parallel to one another about 20 to 25 yards apart; otherwise two adult bears took basically the same route since it snowed. There were some deer tracks in the bear tracks, gotta love it. While looking at the second set of tracks, I caught movement off to my left, figured the does had swung around and doubled back and saw a dark shape go by between the brush. Then another and another and 7 or 8 in all - turkeys. They were about 40-50 yards off and not at all spooked by me. Too bad it was not Turkey season.
Waited around a bit longer hoping the does would double back. Got to thinking about all the deer tracks in the area, there were really a lot and since the snow fell yesterday, they were fairly fresh. I figured it was either a popular crossroads for them or there was a bedding area nearby. Kept thinking those does might come back, walked around a little and was about to take a seat when I saw a doe coming right at me through thick undergrowth maybe 50 or 60 yards off. I stopped, and waited. It would stop and then continue every few to several steps it took but kept coming my way. I looked around to see if a buck was following it and did not see one but saw some other does off behind it. I am guessing a minute or two at most went by and the doe turned completely broadside to me. I brought the scope on my Marlin 336 up on target, cross-hairs on the spot at which I would fire and followed it a couple or few seconds anticipating it walking by an opening in the brush and trees where I could get a shot. I was zeroed in on the kill zone right then and once it was in the clear I fired. It spun around once and fell almost immediately. She convulsed once or twice and I had gotten my doe. As I was walking over to it, I took a pic of it where it was through the brush to show to my son as a sort of this is what it looked like when I shot it. It looks as if it is right in amongst a tangle of brush and small trees that were between us but was actually behind them in a small but pretty clear area.
As I got closer to it and on the other side of the brush that had been between us, I stopped dead in my tracks, my jaw literally dropped and my heart sank. My doe was not a doe. It was a spike buck with about a 5-6" tine on each side. What I did next is what I thought was right but maybe I should have done what a friend had told me years ago – left it to rot - if something like that should ever happen to me when hunting. I gutted it, tagged it, dragged it, got it into my car (on a plastic tarp), tried making a call but got no signal, drove to where I could get a cell phone signal and pulled over to make a call at a rest stop about 2 miles off. Then I did one more thing that I had thought was the right thing - I reported myself to NY State DEC.
I called DEC and got a central dispatcher. He gave me the number for a local DEC officer. I called the officer and explained I had mistakenly shot a spike buck I had thought was a doe. I also explained put a doe tag on it, not because of my mistake but because spike bucks with antlers to a certain size are considered anterless deer but I was uncertain if this one was within that size range. I also explained I had thought it had been a doe because I never saw the spikes until after I shot it. He asked me to wait where I was and he would come along to check it out. I waited.
Two DEC law enforcement officers showed up in separate vehicles maybe 20 minutes after my call. They were pretty nice. One officer, the one I had spoken to on the phone, at first asked my way I went to the rest area I was in to report myself. He asked me if I had been on my way home and then decided to make the call implying I had been trying to flee. I explained I went there because the heavy snow piled on the side of the roads from the plow made it difficult to park and I knew of the rest area and went there. I also knew I would get phone reception there which I had not been getting at the state forest where I shot the deer. He then eased up and kept telling me he would do what he could for me since I had self-reported and the other officer sort of concurred but played bad cop all the same. The other repeatedly insisted there was no way anyone could miss those antlers. No disrespect meant toward the officer but I have to wonder why he thought I shot the deer if I had seen the antlers - did he think just so I could report myself for a violation of the game laws? He also told me I should have used y rifle scope to assure it was not an antlered deer. As I recall though, my scope was on my rifle and one should not point a rifle at anything one is not ready to shoot. Besides that, having been a firearms instructor since 1987, I can say without a doubt that we never in all of our LE Firearms training ever told a shooter to use his scope to ID a target but we did tell our agents to never use a light or optics on a firearm as an optical aid other than when about to shoot and thus to use it only to acquire the target. Regardless, I honestly thought I had sufficiently identified it as a doe.
As to the antlers, I did not see them! I missed them and if you look at the photos you may see why. The bucks ears were as big or almost as big as its tines. In addition, there was heavy brush between us the whole time I saw it. Coincidentally, the photos I snapped of it while walking over to it (the ones to show my son kind of what my view before the shot had looked like more or less) shows how the brush and the ears can block your sight so as to cover the antlers. Sometimes I could barely see the deer at all as it advanced and had to wait for an opening to take a shot.
Sadly, I had not thought of the photos when talking to the officers, had not even realized then that you could not see the antlers in the two pics, or I would have showed them. Had I thought of the pics and showed them to the officers I might have gotten to keep the deer and not get a ticket because they told me had the antlers been a couple of inches shorter and harder to see they would have let me off and let me keep it (as it turns out if three inches or less it would be considered antlerless under the law and my doe permit would allowed me to take it legally). As it was, the one guy kept stressing how obvious they were but he was looking at it while in the rest area as it was laying on a shelf on the back of the other officers truck. Even then, if you look, you can see how much the ear can obscure those antlers. Yes you can plainly see one in that pic but again it is right there in front of you not in the brushy area with all the tress bushes twigs and whatnot.
Anyway, they seized the deer, my deer tag and gave me a summons. They were nice enough but nice or not I am going to have to pay the consequences even though the main responding officer said he wrote it up only as a violation (instead of an misdemeanor) and believe me that was a relief. Regardless, I later had to report this to my county PD's pistol license section and this could potentially put me in jeopardy of losing my pistol license. When I told the DEC officers this, they scoffed thinking no pistol licensing authority would make you report what they considered a minor violation but I am fairly certain I am required to do so. As for the ticket, I tried handle it in court on Monday after that weekend but to no avail. As per the officer, the fine goes from $0 to $250 plus a $75 administrative fee and let me just say that would be coming at a bad time.
Once done with that mess, I went back to town and picked up a couple of pairs of gutting gloves and got some lunch. Even though it was only around noon (I shot the deer sometime between 0800 & 0800 as best I could guess) I was debating going back hunting or to the motel. I decided to man up and went back to hunt some more. When I got there, the parking spot I had dug out of the snow was taken by some other hunter's pickup truck with 4WD. That person could have parked anywhere but took that spot. I suppose I should look at it this way: who can blame him. Oh well, called it quits for the day and went back to the motel in a really depressed state of mind. It got to me, still does, that I had watched that deer until it was almost on top of me and I shot it between 30-40 yards away and never saw those damned antlers. That is, I never saw them until after I shot it and was right on top of it. I don't know if you ever had anything like this happen to you, it is the first time for me that I have ever gotten into trouble like this and all for a mistake.
It troubles me deeply that I while was sure of my target, I obviously was mistaken regardless of how sure I believed myself as to its sex. It also bothers me that I did what I thought was the right thing by reporting myself instead of following my pal's advice from years ago and now I will have to pay the consequences. Of course, it probably would bother me much more had I taken that advice and left the deer there to rot and not reported myself. It concerns and disturbs me very much that I will now have a record even if only a violation. It is upsetting, and going to be hard on the pocket book, that I may have a pay a fine. It is giving me quite the bit of anxiety in as much as I believe have to report this to NCPD pistol license section and they may decide to seize all of my firearms. I have hunted for over 45 years and never did anything like this before and had no reason to do it now except that I simply did not see those antlers and honestly thought the deer to be a doe and it makes me feel ashamed of myself that I made such a mistake. Mostly though, I was ashamed, very much so, to tell my son what I did. It was especially bad telling my son after having taught him firearms safety, how to shoot, about conservation & hunting, hunting etiquette and hunting safety. I attended hunter decades ago, then again with my daughter and again with my son a few years after my doing it with my daughter.
After I returned home, I went to my eye doctor for an examination. I was pretty surprised to find out that my eyesight had deteriorated since my last eye exam either one or two years before that most recent one. In fact he prescribed me lenses for both distance vision and close-up vision. Before that I had worn 1.25 over the counter readers for my distance vision. About 8 to 10 years earlier, I had seen the same doctor who examined me after my hunting blunder. Back then I had, through something a co-worker had seen while on a surveillance (I was a federal agent at the time), I discovered that my distance vision was failing a bit; I had not even realized it until the other agent pointed out the thing I had not seen. At the time I had been wearing reading glasses, the weakest over the counter ones for close-up vision and they helped me see in the distance as well. The same doctor (I have been seeing him for a long time and saw his father before him) told me that I needed stronger close-up glasses but that if they did not tire my eyes I could use the weakest over the counter readers for distance, he said it was virtually the same as prescription distance glasses would have been for me at the time. As for close-up glasses I had to keep using stronger and stronger ones over the years, all of a sudden I would realize I can no longer see clearly with them. The weakest ones I used for distance were another story; I used them for at least 8 to 10 years with no evident problems and to me I thought my distance vision was fine. It seems through that my distance vision had changed markedly and once again I had not realized it, at least not until my latest eye exam after the hunting mishap. I am guessing that is because it probably changed much more slowly than my close-up vision and I just got accustomed to it and thought it was normal. It was not and the strength of the glasses went from 1.25 to 2.0 for distance. I was amazed at how much more clearly I could see when I got the prescription glasses.
There may have been another thing going on with my vision that day. I used to wear one pair of glasses for reading and another pair (different strengths) for distance. The readers at the time I was hunting were 3.25, the strongest I could find over the counter. Just before I shot the deer in question, I had taken off my distance glasses and put on the strong readers. I did so to be able to see the distance adjustments on my rifle scope. The wood I were in had changed drastically as I walked along and went from fairly open to very thick and full of undergrowth and downfalls. So, where I had the distance set at 100 yards, I decided to change it to 50 yards knowing there is no way I would get a shot at 100 yards in woods as thick as those. I had just set the distance when I spotted three deer and saw the ‘doe’ I would shoot. I do not remember if I put back on the distance glasses, my guess is I did not. I wish I had also thought of this when talking to the DEC officers but I was pretty shaken up by them telling me I could be arrested. As I later thought back on that day, I am pretty sure I never took off the stronger glasses, I have a distinct memory of having to take them off when I later got back in my car and started to drive. While I could see at a distance with them across a room pretty – even across the street, the clarity does not last more than a few to several seconds and things blur somewhat especially at further distances. I cannot swear that also was part of it, just saying maybe. Anyway, I hopefully have solved that issue from ever happening again as my prescription lenses are bifocals – no more needing to change from readers to distance and back to readers depending on what I am looking at. Now I can use the single pair for both close-up and distance. Still though, I am ashamed of myself for shooting that deer and am not excusing myself just explaining what may have led me to shoot it and it not being a legal deer.
I have been to court two times already to see if I could get some info from the judge as how this proceeds the first time and to plead not guilty the second time. I tried going to the DA’s office as per the judge’s instructions but the guards would not allow me entry without an appointment. I called the DA’s office twice, the first time the phone rang and rang and rang and no one picked up during normal business hours. I called sometime later and got through that second time and asked to speak to an Assistant DA who handles cases in Windsor and was told I could not speak to anyone and had to wait for my court date. When I explained that the judge had told me to call, I was put through to someone I was told was the receptionist for those cases. I was again told, I could not speak to an Assistant DA and that is what the pre-trial meeting would accomplish. Some months later I received a notice for my court date – March 11th. So, I will be off to the courthouse in Windsor for my pretrial hearing or conference with the DA that day. I have all of my evidence lined up: and I am hoping for a dismissal.
Well, I went to court this passed Monday. I got there about 45 mnutes to an hour early. The Assistant DA walked over and introduced himself and asked why I was there. I explained it and he said a judge other than the one on the bench at that moment would take my case at 1PM. A little while before 1PM the ADA walked over to me again and told me he was going to make a motion to dismiss the case. He said that the DEC Officer had not submitted his deposition on my case. A little while after 1PM, the judge called me up to the bench, same judge I had seen a couple of time already, and he told me he was dismissing the case for the same reason. Now I had to wonder, why did the DEC Officer not submit the deposition! My guess, and this is just a guess, is that he figured I had been truthful and had never seen the antlers and that I probably had suffered enough grief over this not to have to pay or suffer more. If that is the case then I owe him my thans for that. Even if that was not the case and maybe it got lost in the shuffle or he was too busy to handle it or the DEC decided it was not worth pursuing at trial – I called him tot thank him for being a gentleman and for being respectful on the day he gave me the ticket. I am thinking he would not have issued a ticket had his boss not told him to do so. This I can say for sure – when the ADA told me he was asking for a dismissal and when the judge told me it was dismissed I was a happy hunter. Again though, let me say it did not lessen my shame for shooting that deer because I had misidentified it.
This all is quite the embarrassment and I truly am ashamed of myself. This post was not easy to write up and place here for the eyes of the public; yet, I figured I should share the experience so maybe others can avoid it. Because of my mistake you may learn something. Maybe it will make you look harder at the next deer you see when hunting or it might make you consider the advice my friend gave me way back when and maybe you will take it. Then again, maybe you will do what I did, what you I thought was and you think is right but at least you will have an idea of what may befall you if you do that.
Stay safe if out there and hunting to. I hope your hunts are happy ones. As for me, next season can only be better or so I hope because if it is not, then it may be my last hunting season. I may not bother ever going hunting again if it is worse than this year’s hunt because this last one has been one heck of a gloomy season for me. Definitely my worst hunting day / hunting season ever.
All the best,