Why I Avoid Shooting Animals & Reptiles

Whenever the possible uses for a firearm are discussed, defense against wild creatures is mentioned seemingly without fail. Indeed, I have carried firearms in wilderness areas ever since I was old enough to handle and control them. I continue to do so. However, I do not relish the thought of shooting animals unnecessarily, and I take many steps to avoid confrontations with wild animals and reptiles. Here’s why.

Most of the time, wild animals will leave you alone if you leave them alone. I have encountered bears, big cats, wolves, coyotes, rattlesnakes, gila monsters, and other creatures which may be feared by some people. With very few exceptions, they have shown little interest in doing anything other than moving away from me – or at the very least staying where they are and mostly ignoring me. I did run into an aggressive rattlesnake that showed a remarkable interest in chasing me once, but once I moved about fifty feet away, it left me alone.

Gila monsters just want to enjoy life. Which, in this case, involved making little gila monsters.
Gila monsters just want to enjoy life. Which, in this case, involved making little gila monsters.

Many animals, including large predators, play a very important role in the ecosystem. Some of these roles are beneficial to humans. For example, rats eat the wiring in my cars. Rattlesnakes eat rats. Therefore, by chasing rattlesnakes off the road in the middle of the night, I may be saving myself from having to deal with major damage to one of my vehicles.

Killing non-aggressive animals serves no purpose, and may not be legally justified. I may be getting a little too patchouli here for some people, but I’m pretty big on the principle of “live and let live.” Yes, a large bear is a dangerous creature. Yes, it is intimidating to be near a large bear. No, it is not legal to shoot a bear just because you came across one while you were hiking and it didn’t immediately run away from you. While I do not equate human life with animal life, I see no need for the unnecessary elimination of animal life (as an aside, I have no issue with hunters or managed hunting and see it as an essential part of managing the ecosystem).

I grew up in Alaska and carried a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with slugs. Had I needed to shoot a bear, it would have been justified only if I didn’t provoke the bear’s attack and I had no alternatives. In other words, if the bear isn’t about to attack you, you can’t shoot it. Oh, and you also have to pack out many of the “bear parts” such as the skull and hide.

In Arizona, there is no open season on gila monsters, for example. Not that they’re especially dangerous to humans, as they move at about half a mile per hour on a good day.

I can’t cover all of the possible encounters, but you should understand the laws regarding use of force and wild animals before you set off into the woods – or move to a place where development is replacing the habitat of wild animals.

Being a stupid hippie, or a clueless city slicker, and getting killed by wildlife is worse than just shooting it. When a bear kills a human in Alaska, not only is the human quite obviously dead, but state wildlife officials have to track down and kill the bear. Same goes for other forms of wildlife in other states. This latest “bear attack” resulted after an outsider took photos from as close as 50 yards of a bear that was “grazing and not acting aggressively.” The man pushed his luck and ended up getting eaten. The bear is now dead too. Hooray- not.

When I saw Timothy Treadwell’s interview with David Letterman in 2001, I knew Treadwell would die at the claws and teeth of a bear. Sure enough, he and his girlfriend were killed and eaten by a bear in 2003. Park rangers killed both the “killer” bear and a second bear which showed aggression towards them as they approached the campsite.

Who cares for bears and wildlife more – someone who respects bears but is willing to kill an aggressive one, or someone who forces others to kill multiple bears after voluntarily putting themselves and others in a situation which resulted in their being eaten by a single bear?

It is sometimes necessary to kill wild animals, and I recognize this. There are truly aggressive wild animals out there. They do not form a majority of any one population, in my opinion, but they do exist. Killing them in self defense is perfectly reasonable.

For those with pets or small children, killing a wild animal may be necessary. The actions of pets and young children may not be as rational and logical as those of adults (this depends on the adult), which might result in a choice between killing a wild animal or watching a child or treasured family pet die. In these examples, there is really only one logical choice.

I would advise taking precautions, however. Simply having a gun does not guarantee the safety of everyone in your party. There are “snake avoidance” classes for dogs, for example. Also, you should tell your kids what to do if they encounter wildlife – if they aren’t old enough or smart enough to understand and follow directions, you might not want to let them out of your sight too often. I don’t know, I don’t have kids, but this seems like a good idea.

The bottom line is that if you understand the wildlife in your area and are not a total idiot, you should be able to avoid the unnecessary killing of wild animals or reptiles. You should also be capable and ready to kill aggressive wildlife when necessary.

51 thoughts on “Why I Avoid Shooting Animals & Reptiles”

  1. When I was out with the family in Cades Cove, TN., one of the rangers was giving a small class on bears and what the park was doing to keep them out of people’s hair. He went on and on about the levels of repelling the bears, from screaming and yelling to pelting them with pepper-balls. He kept enforcing the concept that every last precaution was taken to not harm the bear, that we were in their home, that they were beautiful creatures, etc.

    When it came time to talk about what happens to bears who harm a human, he said without hesitation that they would hunt down the bear and kill it.

    I admire those people. They do everything in their power to protect the bears as much as possible, but understand that sometimes that means killing the individual who is a problem and do so when needed.

    I don’t find your position hippie-dippie at all. In fact, it’s mature and reasonable. I won’t kill any animal that is not a threat to me or my family or that I don’t plan on eating. Hence why the squirrels in my yard are safe (no idea how to prep them).

  2. I have nothing to add, thanks for posting. Was this story prompted by a recent personal experience of yours and interacting with an “I’m gonna get me a bear/coyote/snake” ?

  3. My last backpacking trip, I had a close encounter with a rattlesnake. It was my first one, and I was leery about going around it in the tall, brown grass to the side of the trail. Finally got my nerves under control and walked around (carefully – it was near dark and just to summon help my friend would have had to hike almost half a day) instead of shooting the snake off the trail.

    So I can identify. If the animal isn’t messing with you, leave it alone.

  4. Agreed. That’s why I’m no fan of a rather well-known little man with a big hat who plinked animals for fun.

  5. when folks find out i’m into guns the first thing they start on is how could you possibly kill innocent defenseless animals. after i tell them i’m not a hunter, i just like shooting guns i think most are even more confused. we owe it to the gun owning community to try and explain what we do with guns if we want to keep the right to own guns. i always try to give examples of why i personally own guns and why others should have the right to own guns for self-defense, hunting, and target shooting. it’s even important to discuss the importance of hunters controlling the population of animals in order for them to have enough food and not become a burden to the public. often as not my words seem to fall on deaf ears.

    when i’m out in nature i usually carry a firearm, just in case. andrew is right most animals will leave you alone, but sometimes stronger action is required. nature is not always as nice as many clueless nature lovers sometimes think.

  6. My Sámi (indigenous people in the north of Europe) friend R explained to me their view of the world and their place in it a couple of years ago as we were walking a mountain. Sámi are some hard mofo’s and back in the days they hunted as nomads have always done, to feed and clothe themselves. My friend R can catch, trap and cook anything on legs (two, four or six), with wings or fins because his family raised him in the old way. But they were very careful about it, never hunting too much and almost always leaving (brown) bears alone.

    They left the bears alone for several reasons. Firstly the bear was the most sacred of the animals, kin to the Sámi themselves. Secondly, a bear wasn’t a very easy kill for people with bows and spears (bitch big n’ strong). Thirdly, much like your example with the rattlesnake, the bear would help keep the wolf away from their herd of reindeer.

    Me, I try to leave the nature and lands I move around in as untouched as I can. It seems our modern life is hard enough on wild animals without me disturbing it more. Laws and such nonwithstanding I just don’t really want to kill something that a) I can’t/dont want to eat and b) isn’t causing me any real harm. Granted, we don’t have many dangerous animals (apart from bears) in my part of the world. Every now and then a bear eats someone and has to get put down by the authorities, while we never really know how shit went down (due to the only witness being lunch) I bet that he/she did something stupid and was to scared/stupid/proud to just walk the fuck away. It always saddens me when it happens, such a pointless waste of two lives.

    Great post.

    1. Ditto. I have a 2,000 acre prairie/forest on the other side of the fence of my back yard. This post is an almost verbatim conversation I’ve had with my kids. Again. With the latest knuckle-head naturalist scooby snack incident. We respect nature AND human life. Sometimes to respect nature, you need to keep your distance. I’ve encountered several hikers recently that have been playing with the coyotes here. I pointed out that once they blur that line for the animal, it will ultimately lead to it’s death. I’ve had to train my kids to shoo away the coyotes and deer for their and our own good. I’d hate to have to shoot them, but my kids and the neighbors kids will come 1st.

    1. Same here. This article is very good. I particularly like the photographs. The world can certainly use more gila monsters.

      I am a follower of the traditions of Wicca and a student of the natural sciences. Both of these things inform my opinion that almost all animals are very good to have around, and that it’s desirable to avoid killing them.

      1. Except when you’re hunting them. I think responsible and respectful hunting is a great thing. (Just to clarify.)

  7. I was bitten by a rattle snake once…after I thought I had killed it I picked it up and was carrying it around like I was Steve Erwin, I was nine years old, I deserved the 2 weeks in the hospital. Lesson learned: leave shit alone.

  8. So if I *happen* to wander by a Wild Boar…and if this walking bacon factory *happens* to insult my Irish / Italian heritage…I’m not justified to pistol-whip it with my gold plated Desert Eagle?

    Seriously though, I lived in Alaska almost 10 years, and I always thought it funny how the people in the ‘lower 48′ were so much more concerned about bears and dangerous critters than we were. We had about 1 bear per square mile where we lived, rarely any issues unless they got into folks’ garbage and started equating people smells with food. Now living in Arizona I’m more worried about snakes (though not much). At least I know where I’m gonna find a bear, and could usually smell them (eau de fish breath) before I saw them. Those beady little snake eyes though….*shudders*

    1. “wild boars” are not indiginous to this country. “wild boars” are of no benefit and are harmful to the North American ecosystem, and as a side note are one of the worst ecolocgical problems in the State of Hawaii.

      I will shoot them on the side of the road for no other reason than they are a scourge on native flora and fauna. It is no different that stepping on a cockroach.

  9. I have a large jack rabbit problem, but a larger coyote problem here in Co Springs.
    Tunneling under my back porch has caused it to sink n crack.
    So I sent my 12 yr old out on perimeter patrol with his airsoft AI gen-U-ine sniper rifle to whack jack rabbits.
    Once they are tapped with a 6mm airsoft pellet they seldom return, and I don’t have to throw a carcass away that will then attract yet more coyotes etc etc etc.
    So there is a useful purpose for airsoft in this world.
    Good article Andy.

  10. Great post. It’s always great when someone manages to dispell the stereotype that all firearms enthusiasts are hunters who will shoot anything that moves.

  11. This reminds me of a summer I spent as a seasonal park ranger. I worked at Custer state park in South Dakota for the annual buffalo roundup and I recall a story of some tourists who had gotten out of their car to walk up to a huge bull buffalo to take photos. When one of my fellow rangers approached them and pointed to the sign that said “Buffalo are Dangerous” they looked at him and said that they had seen the buffalo, but where were the dangaroos? Point being, people are incredibly ignorant about wildlife.

  12. I have taken care of many patients with rattlesnake bites, they usually fall into two categories (1) Those young males who were drunk and wanted to kiss/play with/ hug the rattlesnake and are shocked when they are bitten or (2) the innocent who was cleaning their yard or landscapers who were clearing brush. Living in rattlesnake country we try to move them to a safe environment out of our way. I have read that you cannot move them far from their own home territory so when we move them it is mainly out of our way and not miles away.

    Great article as always.

  13. I’m sorry, but I have to set the record straight when it comes to Treadwell.

    I was up in Katmai with a bear biologist that knew Treadwell. From what I’ve been told from several sources in different departments is that once a bear actually attacks and kills a human they basically realize that humans are prey.

    It’s very unfortunate but there really isn’t another option at that point.

    Suggesting that a bear that has killed and perhaps partially eaten a human should not be shot is not only presenting an opinion that is not informed but just irresponsible.

    1. I did not state that the bears should not be killed. I stated that the situation requiring the bears to be killed should not have taken place.

    2. C’mon, Leonard.

      It’s almost like… you didn’t read or understand the article. I’ve got one for you.

      Suggesting that Andrew is suggesting that a bear that has killed and perhaps partially eaten a human should not be shot is not only presenting an opinion that is not informed but just irresponsible.

  14. And I’d like to clarify that I’m not saying that Treadwell was not a complete moron, which he was in my opinion, but….

    I did actually go up there and meet the people that recovered his and Amy’s remains.

    I really like your blog and I’ve gotten and learned an incredible amount of knowledge from it but if I can offer a bit of advice is that you should realize the reach you have with it and not make statements on subjects that you don’t have a solid background without doing a bit of research first.

  15. Agreed once again. I only wish the right people would count as traffic here for prevention. I really hate it when those not familiar with wilderness run out there and stuff like this happens. On that note, my friend recalls during a hike some city slicker called the cops on an open carrier. Of course the call ended short when the caller said he wasn’t doing anything wrong other than, “but he has a gun!”

  16. I’m also a shooter who has yet to go hunting, for anything. I always intend to get a permit but whenever I see anything out on a hike I’d rather just take pictures. I laugh when I think back to all the Marine Corps power points pleading with us not to play with dangerous wildlife, and I’ve of course met Marines who ended up in the hospital for trying to “charm” rattlesnakes, and witnessed corpsmen almost taking Marines down for screwing with snakes. Good times.


  17. Good post Andrew. I agree. Leave ’em alone, give ’em space. I used to collect King snakes near my mothers home, throw ’em in the back of my truck and let ’em loose around her house. Eventually the pack rats stopped chewing away the insulating blanket attached to the underside of her car’s hood, and the snakes got fatter. So I’ll make exceptions. For rodent control for instance. Rattlesnakes give me the heebee geebees though, but that’s no excuse to kill ’em.

  18. I enjoy hunting and I completely agree with you.

    I have run into plenty of dangerous game but had no reason to shoot them nor was I hunting them so I admired them from where I was and watched them wander off.

    I have one come across one gila monster though, I was very surprised as I had never seen one In the wild. I enjoy coyote hunting but sadly enough, have never called one in so have never drawn down on a yote. I have however seen plenty of yotes while dove and quail hunting and never had the inclination to shoot them.

    I have this thing where I will only shoot what I am set out to hunt, nothing else.

    I am a better paper hunter as is 😉

  19. I’m intrigued by the notion of “snake avoidance classes for dogs”; is the idea to make dogs afraid of snakes? I might be OK with that ‘cept I don’t like messing with my dogs heads too much. I keep snake shot as the first couple-three up in the wheel gun during the summer here in Colorado since I like my Airedales better than I like snakes – or most people for that matter.
    I’m big on L&LL and was told from an early age not to shoot critters “…unless you’re going to eat it or it’s going to eat you.” I do carry whenever I’m out in the boons but would very much prefer not to have to shoot anything/anybody.
    When we ran buffalo I carried a 4″ Redhawk loaded with Buffalo Bore solids, but we all agreed that shooting one of our own animals would be the second-worst thing that could happen.

  20. I understand wild life, being an avid trail rider/camper in wilderness areas. I leave them alone at all times even the deer that come to my yard and munch on my garden. I worry more about the bozo out dumping a human body or running across a meth lab or grow operation. that is what is dangerous out in the wilderness. that bear or big cat isn’t going to do any thing to me or my horse more than likely. but the bozo w/drugs is a whole other story. I also do volunteer work for Dept of natural resources as a camp host. they give us a short training course of what to watch for and do while being camp hosts or out riding the trails. the new drug of choice that can be seen or found is a mason jar with a balloon on it the jar is filled with human waste(poo and urine) the junkie collects the methane and inhales it to get high.

  21. Great article. Most hunters take the same position; the jackasses get all the press.

    It even occurred to me that perhaps you could extend this attitude to the two-legged critters. Live and let live, and don’t get into a confrontation when you could just walk away. But I’m sure you never considered that interpretation of this article… (/sarcasm)

  22. Excellent post. My attitude exactly. My threshold for shooting non-meat animals is pretty close to self defense against people- standard deadly force rules. I worry more about my dog than about me since many more things are dangerous to her and as you say pets may not have the appropriate judgment skills. We have encountered many wild animals but most have been while she has been restrained. However, coyotes and rattlesnakes are sufficiently thick on the ground that she has encountered them off-leash. So far so good as she is afraid of snakes and won’t intentionally get near them. Both the dog and the coyotes we have encountered seem to understand the concept of “pistol range”. Coyotes won’t get in it and the dog won’t get out of it so no problem. Perhaps dogs and coyotes have better judgment than people. Admittedly, not a high hurdle.

  23. Another point about snakes, made recently by our state parks and wildlife dept via Facebook – when you kill non-poisonous snakes that were mainly eating rodents, that provides an opportunity for poisonous snakes to move into that territory. The first snake I shot was a big rat snake that was hanging out near the house. Thought it was something worse. After I killed it and got a good look at it, I studied more about snakes so I could tell one from the other better. Copperheads near the house still have to die but the others I leave alone now.

  24. one day, I was out hunting grouse with a friend when we encountered a grizzly bear and before I could say anything, my friend had unloaded 4 rounds of birdshot into the bear’s guts. He was just laying there, crying I think, until I walked up to it and dispatched it with my .44. Along with bitching my friend out a good bit afterwards, I never went hunting with him again.

  25. I’ve been into reptiles my entire life and it’s cool to see someone who doesn’t kill them. Where I’m at in Tx killing a big rattlesnake is considered a badge of honor. Great shot of the Gila’s too,that’s a rare sight!

  26. I saw your link to this in an earlier post and was originally a bit shocked…
    Reading through, I agree completely. But your title is awful.

    I think the belief that no life, animal or human, should be ended or even harmed unless you absolutely have to is pretty much the most basic requirement of any legitimate system of morals and ethics.

    Kill only what you eat and then eat as much of you can as what you kill should be the basis for any human predator — and reflects the critical respect and gratitude that should always be present for a hunter and his game or a farmer and his livestock…
    I have killed varmints and pests that I don’t eat or have use for, but try to do so only as a last resort…
    And every kill should be as quick and painless as possible. To kill anything without a genuinely needing to do so is wrong, and I am surprised that debating that is even required.

  27. late to the party, hope you see this.

    Thank you!

    I’m a very occasional hunter; I’ve gotten a few rabbits, struck out so far on deer and hog. I eat meat, I have 0 qualms with killing an animal to protect myself or to eat it. But I get absolutely irate at people that just shoot critters to shoot them. Even venomous snakes and most carnivores. I’m an avocational herpetologist in an area replete with venomous snakes; I find a few dozen C. atrox in a good year. I’ve never been bitten. Hell, I’ve *stepped* on one during a time of year they’re not normally out and I wasn’t paying attention. I grew up in the north country, where bear and cougar were common-ish. There were a few that had to be killed in my area when I lived up there, and we certainly took precautions….but you dang sure don’t need to shoot every bear or cat you see!

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