It’s important to know all the applicable rules and regulations that pertain to the area and the species you are hunting, and it’s important to make a good, clear shot on whatever animal you are pursuing. But even so, sometimes you just goof up and make a mistake. Maybe you’re not as good at waterfowl identification as you should be, and you thought you were shooting a gadwall, but it turned out to be a hen mallard when you’ve already got your mallard limit. Maybe you were aiming at one deer but hit a different one. Maybe you pulled the trigger on a gobbler in a group and accidentally killed two birds with one shot. Maybe you just plain got too excited and pulled the trigger on a buck before counting how many antlers it had, and it turned out to be too small to meet the state’s size minimum.
Uh-oh. Look, mistakes happen, but the right thing to do in this situation is to call the game warden and explain the situation. There’s a lot of big talk online about SSS (Shoot, Shovel, Shut Up), and it’s tempting to just leave things alone—who would know, really?—but this is when your ethics are really tested.
Call the game warden as soon as you realize that you’ve shot the wrong thing and let him or her know what’s happened. Honesty will go a long way with most wardens. The consequences will depend on the situation, the species, and the game warden’s good nature. If the warden comes out to meet you, the illegal game will probably be confiscated and you might get off with just a verbal warning, or you might end up with a ticket and further repercussions. But the consequences will likely be worse if you’re caught with illegal game and you didn’t ’fess up yourself.
If you are hunting on private land or a hunt club that has specific antler restrictions or other rules about what can be harvested, it’s best to let the landowner or the club manager know what happened, too. Most clubs have fines for breaking their size minimums, even if the animal was legal by the state’s standards, but own up to your mistake and re-learn the lesson about being sure of your target and what’s beyond it.