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At mid day on the second day of our modern firearms season, I finally got to take a look at what was on the trail cam I had moved to a new location the previous week, near a ladder stand that I sometimes hunt, and I saw this.

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After hunting in very warm weather and fog without having seen a deer in a day and a half of hunting, it was just what I needed to get my excitement level up, my mind off of bird hunting and refocused on tagging a buck. I'm pretty sure this guy has a forked, lobster claw tip on his right main beam and would dress at somewhere right around 200 pounds. It was enough to get me to stay in camp Sunday night and plan to hunt until lunch on Monday, when I'd have to come back to civilization.

Monday dawned wet, windy and still too warm for good deer movement, but I came up with a hunting plan based on what my camp-mates were going to do and headed on out. The plan was to follow more or less in the footsteps and a half hour behind another hunter, keeping my focus on shady bedding spots with a high vantage point, figuring that the strong, gusty wind would have the deer needing to see instead of relying on hearing any danger. I still hunted up a steep hillside where I've found beds under similar conditions in the past and my confidence was high. The primary spots I was interested in were both devoid of deer and I wanted to sit for a few minutes after the long sneak up the rugged terrain.

The spot was near the top of the hill where there are a few ledges and along the edge of a hemlock stand. This was my view.

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I wanted to bury the tissue I'd used to clean up with and because there were no sticks strong enough to dig in the ground, I used a rock to pound and scrape a hole in the packed dirt, rake the dirt back over it and then placed the rock on top of the hole. A couple of minutes later I saw movement above the second ledge, which you can see in this zoomed picture of the same scene as above.

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There was antler visible so up came the rifle, with the scope set at 3x. The buck looked to his right and I could see an antler point pointing to my left. Then he disappeared from view, reappearing with his head facing his left and I could see an antler point going to my right. That added up to a fork horn at a minimum, so I bleated with my mouth to get him to look my way, put the cross-hairs at the center of the base of his neck, which was the lowest and most rearward part of the deer I could see and squeezed the trigger of my Remington 700 Mountain rifle. The deer disappeared.

I heard him kick one time as I made my way up the two ledge steps and then he was quiet. He'd dropped in his tracks and expired in less than a minute, a clean kill. As I approached him, I was looking to be sure he was done and then looking at his head gear; it didn't look the same as what I thought I'd seen through the scope.

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The left antler was broken off and there was no fork on the right side. Oh crap! A Vermont buck has to have at least two points on one side to be legal! What an awful mistake. I was in a bad spot here, what should I do?

Before I finish my story and tell you how it all turned out, I'd like to know what you would have done in this situation and what thoughts you may have about my mistake.

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Well, congrats on the buck and an interesting hunt. I suppose I'd tag it and report the mistake and deal with consequences. Anyone who hunts in thickish woods has been in your position. Waiting for exactly the right shot is sometimes only for TV shows. My guess is you reported it and were rewarded for your honesty with no serious repercussions.
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The first thing I'd have done was look around in those leaves very carefully to make sure the missing antler hadn't broken off and was lying in the leaves. Lots of rocks around there, after all.

I'd like to believe I'd have done as Brad suggested and maybe that's true. Probably best to leave it at that.

I assume since you posted that you did the (or a) right thing. Looks like this one will be excellent on the table and just think about how big that other one will be when you get it next year! Congratulations.

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Waiting to hear the rest of the story.

There are those who would say you should always be certain of your target before you pull the trigger, a basic tenet of Hunter's Safety, but in the same vein I'm sure we've all been there at one point or another.

Little bucks eat better than big ones, anyway. We have rules like this in our part of Michigan this year, and I think, based on how quiet the season has been so far this year, that we're just going to end up with too many deer. Our population is far higher than Vermont's without special rules. I've only seen one or two deer ever in Vermont, and from how everyone acts there when they see a deer, I know your populations are fairly low compared to Michigan's.

Will look forward to the end of the story.

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Honest mistake ...so I'd tag it and bring it home butcher it and forget it.

If I got caught I wouldn't lie about it though.  I'd admit it pay the fine and forget about it. I wouldn't go out of my way to be fined just for principle though. Those fines are meant for poachers which you clearly are not IMO.

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Honest mistake ...so I'd tag it and bring it home butcher it and forget it.

If I got caught I wouldn't lie about it though.  I'd admit it pay the fine and forget about it. I wouldn't go out of my way to be fined just for principle though. Those fines are meant for poachers which you clearly are not IMO.

Same here.  I wouldn't turn myself in over an inch or two of bone.

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He must be in jail and without his computer and that is why he hasn't told "the rest of the story".

If Pat had you arrested and you need bail money, just say the word and we will try to raise the money for you.

Ted

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And now, the rest... of the story.

After the buck was down, I got on the radio and let the rest of the guys know I could use some help up there. While I was waiting for someone to get there I had time to think and to take the pictures I've posted here. I determined that I had three options.

1. Walk away and leave the deer in the woods. There was no way I could have done that.

2. Drag the deer to camp, skin it, quarter it and get it out of sight for butchering, then keep my mouth shut about the whole incident. This was a real consideration since I knew I could lose my license for killing this buck and if caught, the penalty would likely include that as well as a restitution fine.

3. Call the game warden, tell him what happened and hope for a reasonable outcome.

The closest person to me and the first to arrive happened to be the most experienced deer hunter in our group. I was glad to see him and we talked through my dilemma. As Brad mentioned, it's tough to ID antler points in cover and Greg knew of a similar situation where an acquaintance of his had dropped a spike buck, called the warden, explained how it happened and hoped for the best. In his case, he received a citation carrying a $25 fine and was allowed to keep the deer.

Hearing this story gave me great relief because I wouldn't have been comfortable trying to butcher and hide the meat without checking the deer. I'm way too much of a stickler for following fish and game laws, right down to knowing the times of legal shooting light each day in the deer woods. I decided to dress the deer, then call the warden, just so that I'd have a little more time to let my decision jell before going past the point of no return. As I turned to the work at hand, I reasoned that the scenario Greg told me about was quite likely given the circumstances and the fact that I was reporting the illegal kill voluntarily.

Greg's son came up the hill and helped me by holding the legs so I would have easier access for getting into the cavity, then volunteered to take the heart and liver which I'd put into a zip lock bag and carry my rifle out to camp for me. I knew he had a drive ahead of him so I sent him on ahead and I dialed up the state police dispatcher to report the kill and have a warden assigned to the case. That ended up taking some time because the guy who normally worked our area was off and the dispatcher had to track someone down from another area to talk with me.

The warden I talked with was polite, professional and appreciative of my call. He also told me he was short on time and asked if I could meet him at the state police barracks to save him about twenty minutes of driving, each way. Sure I would. He told me that these things happen and since I had reported it myself it made things much different than if he'd found out about it otherwise. He told me what would happen was that he'd look at the deer, check my license, we'd talk a lot and then he'd decide what to do, issue a warning or whatever was appropriate. That sounded fair to me and we agreed on a time to meet.

The drag was all down hill except the last 75 yards and through reasonable open forest. It was bittersweet because I was still disappointed in having made the mistake of shooting this buck, but the exercise felt good. We had time for some sausage, eggs and toast before my friend, Arne and I had to leave to meet the warden and we still arrived about ten minutes early. While we were waiting in the parking lot, my phone rang and it was a different warden who explained that the first guy wasn't going to be able to get there and because he was in the area on another call, he was coming instead.

The warden who came turned out to be a trainee. He was professional, reasonable and knowledgeable and things were going well until he began to explain that the department had recently implemented a standard operating procedure for this situation. That SOP required him to issue me a citation for $324 and he was going to have to take the deer, which now had a block of ice in the cavity along with the heart and liver in their zip lock bag. I had already developed clear visions of tenderloin and onions frying on the camp stove and was more disappointed about losing the deer than I was about the fine. Arne and I tried to plant some seeds where he would be able to justify giving me the deer but the only concession we got was to be added to his list of people to call in the future if he had an animal that needed someone to take it off his hands for consumption. That created a very different picture in my mind than that of a perfectly handled 120 pound buck that died in his tracks and was properly field dressed then quickly cooled down. At least I didn't have to give up my tag, so I can keep hunting.

Here's the scene in the state police parking lot after I'd learned the outcome and decided to take a couple of pictures.

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He must be in jail and without his computer and that is why he hasn't told "the rest of the story".

If Pat had you arrested and you need bail money, just say the word and we will try to raise the money for you.

Ted

Thanks, Ted.  :)

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Although him having to write you a citation based on a SOP is understandable, I cry foul! Honest people should get an honest break in moments like these.
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It's just like "zero tolerance policy" in our public school system

Which fosters a lack of respect and implies rational people cannot consider circumstance.

Apparently wardens in Vermont Are considered too stupid to use their own judgement and common sense.

This country is in huge trouble because stuff like this is becoming the norm in many areas.

Common sense is on its deathbed.

I am sorry they treated you the same as a willful criminal.

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Good deeds never go unpunished.  We recently had a vetrans hunt at the DOD base where I work. One weekend a year vetrans are allowed to hunt from blinds with a current employee accompanying them.  One of them killed two deer with one arrow, a clean pass through and into another standing behind it.  It was reported, no fine but they did sieze the second deer as there was no tag for it.
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