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October 06, 2008

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Should you shoot the first animal? Part 2

Bcmoose01 John Snow reported in this space last week about my experience moose hunting in British Columbia, and he raised a question every hunter faces: Do you shoot the first animal you see, or do you hold out for a larger specimen?

If you’re hunting close to home in an area with abundant wildlife, that’s usually a pretty easy decision. Unless you’re hunting meat for the table, most of us would hold out for a mature male, and some of the most memorable experiences in the field are passing on animals that are within range. The question becomes more difficult the further you roam, and the more investment you have in the trip, and whether the locale is known for producing trophies.

It’s the quintessential hunter’s dilemma: Are you willing to settle for any animal or hold out for a single specimen, even if it means you don’t kill anything? It’s a luxury of our age to even have the choice, and after I passed my moose I thought about all those subsistence hunters who would scold me for my selectivity.

Here are some photos from the trip to northern BC’s Babine Mountains. This bull pictured above is the one we called into 15 yards the first evening of the hunt.

This guy came in from about a mile down the valley, grunting and raking trees the whole way. He sounded like a Panzer coming through the spruce, and I was sure he was a shooter. But when he entered the clearing, I knew immediately I would pass. He just wasn’t what I was after – which was a 45-inch or better moose. The area I hunted produces plenty of 48- and even 50-inchers, and I reckoned this bull went about 42 inches. I wanted him to grow another year.

I felt great about my decision to pass, especially because it was the first day of the hunt. The next morning we set up about two miles up the valley and again called in this young bull, which brought a younger friend along. Here are photos of these two bulls.


I figured we were in tall cotton – action on the first two days of the hunt. You know the rest: we didn’t see another bull in eight more days of hunting. Was I regretting my decision to pass these bulls? Only a little. That’s hunting, and it’s the price you pay for early selectivity. Would I have shot that bull on the last day? That’s hard to say, but it raises the second hunter’s dilemma, one that I’ve debated with friends and guides the world over. There’s no consensus on this one, but the majority opinion says that you should never shoot an animal on the last day that you would pass on the first.

What do you think?

—Andrew McKean



Good decision to pass. I have made those shots on the first animals and somtimes wish that I would have shown a little more restraint.

Scott in Ohio

I agree whole heartedly with your comments up until the one that begins "the second hunter deliemma."

I hunt for both meat and racks and will wait for a larger animal when on a multi-day hunt. However, if on the last day of a paid hunt or the season I am so fortunate to see a sub-trophy animal that gets within a few inches of my desired rack minimum, you bet your back side I'm going to take that shot.

Jeff Graves

I established my approach to this a long time ago while bowhunting. The decision you make in the heat of the moment is always the right one. You decide to live with it and realize you can't go back and change it.
In '05 I had drawn a coveted Arizona Strip tag for mule deer and was challenged on opening morning by a huge buck in the upper 180's. Having done my homework, I knew to pass on the buck, and 4 days later killed a 35" wide 6x9 monster grossing 215 B&C.
You MUST know where you are...meaning "What is the real trophy potential where I am hunting?"
Next month I will travel to hunt moose on a tag I drew that is argueably in the best trophy unit in the nation. I have certainly considered what a shooter bull will be on this hunt, but I believe that I will know him when I see him.
Look at lots of photos and dvd's and mentally visualise what your standards are. Then go out and "git er dun!"


I think you all need to come to central PA. That problem wouldn't arise. Here we wait for days to see one legal animal. At least on public ground. Yes. Some will pass on the 1 1/2 year old five point on the first day of archery season, but that's about as far as that goes. We have a 3 point on one side minimun. Most of the hunting in the area is all forest. The deer don't really have any set patterns. You have to hunt the oak or beach nuts and hope something wonders by up wind. The few agricultural areas open to public hunting get pounded by hunters. It's impossible to pattern anything. So the next time you are considering passing up on that 3 1/2 year old 8 point because you know there are bigger ones in the area, you can just be thankfull you have such an option.
If I were to pay for a hunt I must say I would have to have a little restraint. I would have a hard time passing on anything bigger that what I already have hanging on my wall.

Walt Smith

If you choose to shoot the first animal, you are a hunter. This is what hunters do. If you choose not to shoot the first animal you are a trophy hunter. These are hunters who only care about the size of the antlers, they do this in order to fill something missing in their life that bones with mass and length seem to supply. I would have shot the first moose in a heartbeat. I know they're tasty. Horns,while cool, pretty much collect dust and spider webs unless you're constantly polishing them. I guess that,laughingly,is what trophy hunters do. I kill what I see, eat what I kill and throw the horns in a corner of the garage.


If you're out there for a specific goal then do what you have to to reach that goal - whether it is just for meat or for a trophy. I do both, but I truly relish the experience when hunting (or fishing) for a specific animal, whether I come up empty handed or not. Sad when it's over, though.


Walt is an underaccomplished hunter wannabe. He post's this crap on several sites. All I can tell ya Walt, keep trying, maybe oneday your luck/skill will let you kill a MATURE animal. This is not the Great Depression, you can be selective. I like to out wit an animal, heck you can just about walk up to an imature animal and stick it with a knife. There's no fun in that. Quite whinning about your lack of succes.

Walt Smith

dirty- Oh please, don't say those nasty things about me. That really really hurts. All I'm doing is expressing my opinion and you are attacking me for expressing my opinion. Sounds to my that you realize that my opinion is truthful and that hunting has gotten way to commercialized. By the way, if you consider 34 bucks and 58 does in 32 years of hunting underachieving then you are seriously mental. Maybe a cold shower will help you out-dirty.


A hunter is someone who respect's the game he hunt's, respect's it enough to let it reach a mature age. You Walt, are a target shooter. Go post your bull somewhere you have ground to stand on. ie- skeetshooters.com