Hunting Dilemma: What If I Shoot an Animal I Didn't Mean to Shoot?

You thought you were shooting one animal, but after you pulled the trigger, you discovered that what you shot was in violation of a game law. Now what?

by posted on January 25, 2023
Deering Hunting Dilemma Woman Looking Through Binos

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.


Horman MP22 001 Swmp22m Gun Left
Horman MP22 001 Swmp22m Gun Left

5 Reasons to Check Out the Smith & Wesson M&P .22 Mag. Pistol

This pistol's innovative approach to managing a challenging rimfire cartridge results in a reliable, low-recoil pistol.

5 “Sense”sational Christmas Gifts for Gun Owners

Instead of one present, how about five—a gift for each of the senses that our gun-owning loved ones will use.

How to Get Through an Anti-Gun Holiday Gathering

For some families, dinnertime squabbles about religion, money and politics are inevitable. Here's how to handle it when the topic turns to guns.

Think a Revolver is Your Best CCW Option? 3 Reasons to Think Again

The notion that a revolver is the ideal concealed-carry firearm for women—or any new gun owner—gets debunked.

The Armed Citizen® November 24, 2023

Nearly a year after being charged for defending herself with a firearm, a woman wins her legal case.

The Women of the First Thanksgiving

Four Puritan women prepared the first “Autumn Harvest Feast,” now called Thanksgiving.

Women's Interests

Get the best of NRA Women delivered to your inbox.