Killing a Wounded Animal

We get it. Nobody like seeing an animal suffer. But what does the law say about killing a wounded animal? It depends. The bottom line is this – if you’re questioning whether or not to end a wounded animal’s suffering, you’ll want to call law enforcement first.

Here in Wisconsin, car/deer, car/dog, car/cat, car/bear, and car/elk accidents are relatively common, and they usually end with an animal suffering on the side of the road until law enforcement is able to dispatch the animal. The humane thing to do would be to put the animal out of its misery as quickly as possible; a single shot from your CCW would probably do the trick.

Doing so, however, could land you in legal trouble. While dispatching an injured deer to end its suffering as quickly as possible may seem like a no-brainer, you’d techinically be poaching, shooting a deer outside of the allowed gun/deer season. The same holds true for bear and elk.

I myself had a recent experience with this. While driving down a county highway in northern Wisconsin, I saw a fawn laying in the middle of the road. I pulled over and got out of my vehicle hoping to move it off the road when I saw that both of its back legs were broken; it had obviously been hit by a vehicle. I had my CCW and could have quickly and easily ended the poor animal’s suffering, but there were a couple of residences nearby and I didn’t want to chance creating a ‘shots fired’ incident in which I could be identified by my vehicle and license plate.

Instead, I called the Adams County Sheriff’s Office and asked for a deputy to stop by to dispatch the animal. After the deputy arrived, I asked him point-blank if, in the future, I could handle the situation myself. His answer was that personally, he’d appreciate someone wanting to end an animal’s suffering and taking care of the situation. The Wisconsin DNR however, he said, may have a rather large problem with someone shooting a fawn. The law is black and white.

Shooting a wild animal, even if done for humane purposes such as putting it out of its misery after being hit by a vehicle, could fit the legal definition of poaching. Shooting a domesticated animal such as a dog or cat hit by a car could be considered destruction of property. Even the act of simply discharging a firearm could be considered disorderly conduct or violate local ordinances prohibiting the firing of weapons or disturbing the peace. It’s best to leave these situations up to law enforcement.

We all know that having a CCW permit does not grant us additional rights other than the right to carry concealed. We are still subject to the laws that govern any use of force or use of a weapon, including hunting and disorderly conduct. While we may have the means, we certainly don’t have the permission to use them except in very limited self defense situations.

Instead of killing a wounded animal yourself outright, contact local law enforcement via 911 (which is a recorded line). Tell them about the situation and advise that you have a gun and could dispatch the animal yourself; let them decide whether or not you should. If they authorize your use of a gun, it’s on a recorded line and they have your info. If they don’t authorize it and instead dispatch an officer, you’ve saved yourself from potential criminal liability but have still arranged for someone to end an animal’s suffering.