I was working patrol sergeant one day when a deputy got me on the radio. He was dealing with an injured deer on the roadway. Animal Control had an hour ETA, which meant two hours. In the meantime, the terminally wounded animal was thrashing about on a blind curve.

Humane issues not withstanding, the situation was a no-brainer: The deer had to be put out of its misery before it caused a traffic accident.

After ascertaining that it was safe for the deputy to do so, I advised him over the radio to shoot the animal, but to be sure to use the shotgun instead of his Beretta. When I arrived on scene some minutes later, what remained of the deer occupied the side of the road.

Now, I'm a veteran of numerous accident and crime scenes and it takes a lot to get to me. But the sight that I beheld transcended all carnage that I had seen before.

Surveying the damage done to Bambi, I found a ballistic assault the likes of which had not even borne on the Alamo. The deer had more holes in it than a pound of Swiss cheese. Tiptoeing around piles of spent casings, I made my way through a nimbus of gun smoke to inquire about the events preceding my arrival.

Dabbing at the beaded sweat on his forehead, the deputy explained that his Beretta 9mm sidearm didn't do the job.

"No kidding," said I. "Why didn't you use the shotgun in the first place like I told you to?"

"I'm sorry," he replied. "I guess I just didn't hear you."

He paused.

"Or maybe I forgot. Whatever." All he could remember was the enthusiastic exhortations of the Department of Water and Power guys who had directed his shots.

This deputy’s failure to understand my instructions had proven to be sheer hell for the deer whose last lucid moments were doubtlessly occupied with prayers that the car that'd hit him would return to finish the job. Even then, I recognized that the situation could have been worse had it not been for the gracious assistance of the two DWP guys who acted as spotters.
"Shoot it there!" They'd enthusiastically yelled to the badged Kevorkian. "And there!" "Try there!".

Throughout this mess, "shots fired" calls had flooded our already over-taxed desk. At one point, the dispatcher even got the flustered deputy on the working frequency to ask just how many rounds he was capping. "I'm on my third magazine!"

The last thing heard from a strained spotter's vocal chords was when he prudently surmised, "Your gun is a piece of shit!"

The deputy readily agreed that a 9mm Beretta was not a good deer hunting gun and retrieved his department-issued Ithaca shotgun, whereupon he finally succeeded in dispatching the poor creature into the hereafter with two additional salvos of double-aught buck. The first shot struck the deer in the side of the abdomen—either the deputy was a poor judge of anatomy or the deer was still thrashing around more than I would've thought capable of at this point.

Of course, I was frustrated, as the implicit faith I'd put in the deputy could have come back to bite us on our collective asses. I videotaped the scene, showing the blood where the deer had thrashed about, as well as the occasional speeder coming around that blind curve that made the deputy's actions—such as they were—all the more necessary.

Even the watch commander ultimately agreed that our decision was reasonable and prudent, even if its execution (no pun intended) wasn't. I had the deputy draft a memo on the shooting, making sure to include victim one of one: John *Doe*—killed by *buck shot*.

The deputy eventually came to be known to his fellow deputies by a variety of names, "Deer Slayer" being one of the more popular (PETA's contributions were somewhat more colorful). The last I heard, he and Dick Cheney had become commiserating pen pals.

Some time thereafter, we had an equestrian accident involving a Metro train wherein the horse bore the brunt of the trauma. Angry locals demanded to know why our otherwise gun-happy deputies wouldn't put the horse out of its misery. I advised them of an incident wherein such compassionate effort had resulted in the death of an officer: one officer attempted to put a horse out of its misery and the round ricocheted off the horse's skull and into another officer's throat.

I was also reminded of that incident when I recently read of a Oklahoma tragedy in which a five-year-old boy was killed by a shot fired by a cop who was trying to kill a snake in a tree. The trajectory of the errant round found it sailing some distance to where the boy and his grandfather were fishing.

A related story link found me perusing yet another misadventure wherein a bystander sustained two wounds from stray buckshot fired by a police officer. The report subsequently lamented that the officer's decision to use a 12-gauge shotgun in a residential area stunk more than the skunk he'd originally targeted.

With these sordid scenarios in mind, I figured it was time that someone touch upon the problems that arise when God's less sentient creatures are dispatched by two-legged creatures who wear badges.

So, for future edification, please consider the following when shooting critters:

• Keep some snake shot in your war bag.

• Be aware of your backfield.

• Be familiar with the anatomy of your prey.

• Select the right tool for the job.

• Take careful aim.

By using some caution on the front end, we can avoid getting snake-bit on the back end.


Dean Scoville
Dean Scoville

Associate Editor

Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

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Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

View Bio