DOGGETT AT LARGE by Joe Doggett –

October 25, 2017
EDITOR’S NOTES by Chester Moore
October 25, 2017

Good Fences

A s the old saying goes, good fences make good neighbors.

Of course, white-tailed deer don’t always heed this wisdom. The standard deer, regardless of age or sex, has four legs and four feet, and pretty much goes where urge and instinct suggest.

The typical “low fence” rimming private property has three or four strands and poses virtually no obstacle to a healthy deer. The animal can either jump over or duck under.

Unfortunately, a few hunters perhaps suffering from temporary loss of direction also get confused regarding boundaries—but that is a different issue, which surely does not apply to TF&G readers.

Almost all hunters respect property lines. But the edges of property lines often are lawfully used as intercept positions. This explains why a relatively small low-fenced lease might yield several outstanding bucks during the course of a season if it shares a border with a giant ranch holding dozens of quality deer.

Tower blinds frequently are placed near the edges of property lines, and the hunters on a small lease can improve the odds by using game feeders or food plots to attract deer from the larger spread. During the rut, horn rattling might lure a buck.

Years ago, I was hunkered against a brush pile in a root-plowed field about 50 yards from a low-fenced property line in South Texas. The chill December morning was gray and damp, ideal for rattling. I saw a fine buck walking along the wrong side of the fence, so I hit the horns and—Shazam! The rut-juiced buck sailed across and rushed the sounds of battle.

A perfectly “legit” opportunity at an incoming dark-horned 10 pointer was at hand. I’m sorry to admit that I muffed the chance. The deer closed too fast. I bumbled and fumbled and failed to get the rifle shouldered before the bristling buck spooked and whirled. 

But the horns faced an otherwise off-limits buck.

Of course, what’s good for the goose can be good for the gander—or, more accurately, what’s good for the doe can be good for the buck. Hunters on a big ranch of unimproved brush can use a strategic stand or two to shortstop game being drawn to the small-ranch food source.

All this might lead to a bit of grumbling and finger pointing, but it’s legal—assuming no shot is taken across the fence. 

It is the responsibility of each hunter to respect property lines. Cattle fences can be scattered all over a lease. Most are defining various pastures, and the ones that mark the perimeter might not look especially different. The guest or newcomer should understand the legal boundaries before climbing into a predawn stand.

The issue can get awkward if a stricken deer jumps the fence. Worth noting, a deer mortally hit in the lungs or heart might run 50 or 100 yards in a frantic dash before piling up dead.

Also worth noting, a standing deer tends to run in the direction it’s facing. This may not be absolute, but it’s pretty solid. Unfortunately, a deer that approaches the fence on your property is probably aiming in the wrong direction.

Also possible, a wounded deer might stumble across the fence then stand hunched or drooping within easy range. The poor animal is suffering, but within reach of a humane follow-up shot. The opportunity is there to finish what you started, but this logical reaction becomes a dilemma.

What now?

I am not qualified to offer legal advice on this unfortunate circumstance. Let me repeat—I don’t know.

Proof that the deer was, in fact, on your side of the fence when the shot was taken should go a long way in supporting a follow-up effort. In soft ruts, the gouge marks of hooves and a few splatters of blood often are visible. However, such tracking “sign” might be hard to pinpoint amid poor light, over rocky ground or thick grass. Or along a frequently used game trail already cut and pocked with fresh prints.

This is especially true if the bullet failed to exit. The small entry hole might not show blood immediately. It’s also possible that during the excitement of the shot, you failed to take an exact mark. Once you climb out of the stand, the low vantage can get confusing. 

In short, unless you are a direct descendant of Pocahontas or Hiawatha you might have difficulty establishing where the deer was standing when the shot was taken.

The anchoring follow-up should be taken quickly, while the clean opportunity is there and before the animal moves from view—frankly, before you have time to inspect the area. During those fleeting moments you may not know whether you have conclusive ground evidence.

If no subsequent proof can be established, things can start getting sketchy when an irate landowner shows up in a steaming vehicle.

Keeping this unpleasant scenario in mind, the wise move on a deer facing the fence might be to pass on the popular “behind the shoulder” bullet placement. A deer thusly hit is likely to run.

Wait for a standing broadside and break the animal down in its tracks by putting the bullet square on the shoulder. Worry about ruined shoulder meat later.

This shoulder shot is stressed as good training for dropping dangerous game in Africa, but it makes total sense in a fence-line situation. Mitigating circumstances certainly can apply, but a dead deer on the wrong property is not what you want.

To reiterate, I am not qualified to get into the middle of this. I simply am pointing out that in the real world of bucks and brush these things can happen.

Lease members and landowners might want to discuss this issue. Contacting the nearest game warden in advance is a smart idea. So, for all its controversies, is a high fence.



Email Joe Doggett at [email protected]


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