I was sitting comfortably in my climbing stand one Saturday morning, not expecting anything particularly unusual when I heard the commotion of rapidly approaching footfalls.

A quick scan showed the source as a deer, a buck … and a nice one at that. I wasted little time finding the deer in my scope and touching off a shot before it disappeared at an even faster pace.

Then another shot rang out. The excitement I’d felt was suddenly replaced with a feeling of panic, and an already uncertain outcome had suddenly become a great deal more tenuous. It had never happened to me before, but I was about to come face to face with an almost-certainly contentious situation.

It’s not as uncommon as you might think, and it can become a very serious matter when two hunters shoot the same deer. I’ve heard stories of life-long friendships ending, hunters coming to blows and even threatening the life of another hunter over a twice-shot deer. Every situation is different, but there are a few guidelines for dealing with such a situation.

First and foremost, let cooler heads prevail and remember it’s just a deer. If it’s you that surrenders possession, you’ll still wake up tomorrow morning and go about your business just as you have every other day of your life.

Consider the circumstances. If both hunters involved are reasonable, you could go over the scenario and try to determine who administered the first lethal shot. You might decide the deer could have gotten away had the other hunter not finished it. Or you may determine all you did was shorten what would have been an otherwise long tracking job for the other hunter.

You could let the other hunter tag the deer and even offer to help them drag it out in exchange for a few steaks. In the process you make a friend and you get to keep hunting.

Look at the big picture. It could be a youngster’s first deer. Will the encounter be something they look back on fondly, or will it leave a lasting negative impression of deer hunting on them? Perhaps it’s an elderly hunter, one who may not experience too many more, if any, successful deer seasons. Maybe it’s someone you know really depends on the meat to defray expenses.

Or it may be a legitimate trophy. That’s when things can really get tense. Some people will go to great lengths to fell the mighty stag, and being in a situation where they might finally be able to take possession of one could turn an otherwise rational person into something less reasonable.

I know because the buck I shot was indeed a trophy, the biggest I’d ever shot at, or even seen up to that point. After descending, I was able to jog along the liberal blood trail to the fallen buck, where sat the other hunter.

Fortunately it was my friend and hunting partner.

He’d shot the deer in the neck, dropping it on the spot, and hadn’t even realized I also shot it until I showed him the wound, and then the blood trail. I broke the awkward silence by venturing, “Well, what do we do now?” Without hesitation Jim said, “Open him up and see what your bullet did. If it was a lethal shot then it’s your deer.” It was with truly mixed emotions that I reached inside the body cavity and removed the buck’s fatally damaged heart and lungs.

Ethically, it was the right call. I knew it. Jim knew it. But according to the strict letter of the law, it was not. Every game warden I’ve posed the question to has said something to the effect that the deer goes to the person that finally reduces it to possession, or “deprives it of its natural liberty so it is brought within the power and control of the pursuer.”

That’s good to know should you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]