When I used to teach hunter education, we saved the section on wildlife identification and worked it in with duck hunting. Duck hunting may be the most important type of hunt that requires proper identification due to the regulations limiting certain species and gender in the daily bag limit.
I would explain the importance and then Segway over to a couple of stories on bears and deer. The bear story was entirely fictional and had to do with identifying the species of bear based on their scat. The deer story however was and is completely true.
Many years ago, when the state of Kentucky was still building a sustainable population of elk, prior to the permitted hunts that are available now, a hunter was in the eastern part of the state. He happened to see the largest deer he had ever seen in his life.
Buck fever set in and the hunter was doing everything he could to control his nerves as he waited for the clear shot. The buck had a rack that towered above his head. The body must have been over 400 pounds.
He settled the sights on the buck, and even though he was fighting hard to keep the crosshairs steady, the buck bounced around in the glass. Finally, he felt that he could hold it steady enough to squeeze the trigger.
“Blammm!!” sounded the rifle as the bullet left the muzzle. He watched in amazement as this true trophy dropped to the ground.
Kentucky had check in stations for when you killed a deer, and the hunter called ahead to let the game warden know about this tremendous buck he had just downed. He also made a few calls to local media, friends and family, as he was positive this beast, a sure once-in-a-lifetime prize, would be a new world record. After all, he had to use a wench to pull the great animal into his truck and the antlers were so large they hung over the tailgate with it up.
He drove up to the check in station and saw that between the people he called, and the people they called, there was a large gathering to greet him. He beamed with pride as he was certainly about to become the talk of the town, the state, and maybe the country.
But something was wrong. As soon as he pulled up the game warden begin calling in other wildlife officers. Instead of a look of awe, there was a look of concern.
The hunter had shot one of the elk that Kentucky was using to grow the herd. Not a deer, but an elk. Same family, but a completely different species. An elk stands almost twice as high as a whitetail at the shoulder, the neck is long, the coat is much thicker and browner, and the antlers, well, the antlers are nothing similar.
A whitetail has curved main beams that forces the tips back in to each other. The most mature bucks may have a beam that comes close to 24 inches in length. An elk has antlers that go straight up and back and may be as long as four feet.
My class always questioned the validity of the story and I kept a newspaper clipping that I was happy to pass around.
Now there is more proof that identification is important. This story, like history in general, repeated itself. A hunter in Michigan proceeded to do the same thing back in November.
Misidentification can be costly regarding wild game animals. The hunter in Michigan was charged with a $5000 fine plus and additional $500 for each point on the antler. The elk was a 6x6. That is an additional $6000 on top of the $5000 fine. And he didn’t get to keep it.
As always, know your target before squeezing the trigger. That doesn’t mean just knowing where your target is, it also means knowing what is your target.