Joe Hunter, Track Your Prey: A Cautionary Tale

see-ya-later-sucker-1In New Hampshire, hunting season is in full swing. Some might not know this about me — especially those who read my books and wonder what goes through my crime writer’s mind — but at heart, I’m a sucker for animals. Large and small, with fur or feathers, I love them all. As such, I don’t condone hunting. I’m also not blind to the fact that it exists around me.

Every time a gunshot echoes through the woods around my home, I cringe, knowing full well some poor furbaby won’t see his/her family again. In my mind, the scenario goes something like this…

Clayton, a young whitetail deer, gallops through the woods. For hours, he and his older brother, Bucky, play tag and antler wrestle (gently, though; Clayton only has make-believe antlers at this age).

Mom says, “Boys will be boys,” and Clayton titters. “Love you two. Be sweet.” Without waiting for a response, she turns and trots back to the den.

Now out of earshot, Bucky whispers, “Cover for me, will ya, bro? I’m running down the stream for a sec.”

“Okay, but hurry. You know how Mom worries.”

“She’ll never know I’m gone. Promise.” Bucky skips down a dirt path in the forest.

Clayton could go for some cool water, too. Allowing some distance between them, he follows. Bucky’s the best brother on the planet, even if he doesn’t let Clayton tag along when he leaves the yard around their den. As long as Clayton stays downwind, his big bro will never know he’s behind him. The young fawn suppresses a snigger. Being naughty is fun.

Before stepping off the makeshift bridge Bucky’s head volleys left and right, checking both ways like Mom taught them. The trip to the stream is a bit of a hike, but it’s the only fresh water for miles. Clayton darts behind a wide oak tree, cranes his neck around the trunk. Is he really going to the stream? At night, while Mom’s sleeping, he’s caught Bucky chatting with Doe-reen outside the den twice now. They weren’t just talking, either. They were K-I-S-S-I-N-Ging. If Mom ever finds out, she’ll ground him for life.


Vibrations from the gunshot rumbles the earth beneath Clayton’s tiny hooves, and the hairs on the scruff of his neck snap to attention. The bullet strikes Bucky dead-center in the forehead, blood splatters a nearby conifer, and he crumbles to the earth, the snow crimsoning beneath his face. Dead.

Oh no! What should he do? A sob tangles in his throat as he bolts in the opposite direction, his heart thrumming faster than a locomotion. How can he tell Mom? Why didn’t he tell Bucky how much he idolized him? Should he go back, or head home? He’s too little to make these decisions. In the wild, life isn’t fair. In a voice barely audible to humans, he cries, “I want my mom.”

When Clayton rounds the corner to his den, Joe Hunter storms the area with Bucky’s limp body over his shoulders. Mom’s inside. He can’t leave her. What if something happens? With Bucky gone, he’s the man of the house now.

Clayton charges toward the entrance. Mom gallops to meet him halfway.


“Mommy! No,” he shrills, his heart shattering like a bullet through a windshield.

Blood trickles down her forehead.

What now?  He’s too young to start a family. Hell, he’s too young to survive on his own. But did Joe Hunter care? No. He thirsted for venison.

An invisible strike to the gut buckles Clayton in half when Joe Hunter strings up his precious family and guts them down the middle. His baby buck-eyes pool with tears. Hanging his head, his insides twisting in desperation, he slogs into the forest. Alone. No idea what to do, or where to go.

Later that night, Clayton meets an ugly fate. The details of which remain sketchy because Smokey the Bear refuses to comment on an open investigation.


So you see? My heart breaks more and more with each round of gunfire. Some of you might argue that hunting is necessary to keep animal population in check. I get that; I really do. But still, I can’t help the sorrow that bubbles to the surface when I drive by a truck with a dead animal on the tailgate. I even make my husband promise to catch-and-release when he goes fishing. Which he does. He can’t cause animals/fish/birds harm, either.

Regardless of my views, I’m writing this post so Joe Hunter doesn’t shoot anyone’s beloved pet while he tries to add another bust to his Wall of Fame.

Know your prey. Stalk your prey. Track your prey.

In the first image below — top left — is a whitetail deer print. Next to the deer is a moose track (I love moose by the way. Just sayin’).

white tail deer to gray fox tracks bobcat to weasel tracks

Next row down are dog prints. If you see these in the snow/dirt, please go the other way if you have murder on your mind. That’s someone’s baby you could be getting ready to shoot. If you’re aiming for a coyote, make sure you know it’s a coyote. To the right of the dog’s paw prints are coyote tracks. Notice the slight difference? They’re not easy to spot, but please take the time to learn. Print this chart if you need to.

Third row down (left), we have red fox and gray fox. Also similar to dog prints, they’re usually smaller with more space between the pads.

Row one (top right): Bobcat, Lynx, and house cat. Notice the pad shape? Learn it. Memorize it. Poor Fluffy did nothing to deserve a bullet to the– I can’t even finish that sentence, not outside fictionland.

Row two and three (top right): Otter, Fisher Cat, Minx, Weasel. Not even close to any of our pets’ prints, but to an untrained eye baby Joe Hunter might confuse them for something else.

Below (left), you’ll find snowshoe hare and cottontail rabbit. I didn’t realize there was a difference, but clearly there is. If you know the difference between a hare and a rabbit, let us know what separates the two. Second and third row down (still left) is gray squirrel, white-footed mouse, crow, turkey, and ruffled grouse.

snowshoe hare to ruffed grouse tracks racoon to muskrat tracks

On the right (above): Raccoon, Striped Skunk, Porcupine, Beaver. Next row down is Black Bear. Now, even though a black bear devoured every single stalk of my butter-and-sugar corn one summer, and I’d envisioned strangling him, I would never want them harmed. Ever. Would I want to come face-to-face with Mr. Bear? Or worse, Mrs. Bear with cubs? Probably not. Although, if there was a way to safely rub their furry ears, I’d be all over it.

Opossum is in the third row (right): Granted, these animals aren’t the cutest animal on earth. As a kid, my mother babysat domestic and exotic pets for folks who went on vacation. Why, I have no idea. It was fun, though! Anyway, for an entire year we took care of an opossum. That thing was vicious, too. Still, I don’t condone their slaughter. If you must shoot them, or any other animal on this list, please don’t share your hunting stories with me.

Woodchuck (last row — right image): Over the summer a woodchuck strolled in front of my office window, raised up on his hind legs, and I swear he smiled at me.  The face on that sweet, little fella was so stinkin’ cute! Lastly, we have Muskrat. I don’t know much about muskrats, but their tracks are pictured above.

So there you have it. If you’re writing a story about Joe Hunter, you’ll have a visual aide. If you are Joe Hunter, perhaps you’ll have a better understanding of what you’re tracking to eventually murder. For non-hunters, comparing prints in the snow is a lot of fun, and a great way to clear your mind.

In other news, I’m thrilled to report that my publisher loved CLEAVED (MARRED‘s sequel). In my acceptance letter they used the word “intense” and “love” about six times. LOL Also, as my Facebook friends are aware, I’ve been invited to write a novella for New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Elle James’ Kindle World, BROTHERHOOD PROTECTORS. My story releases as part of the Sept. 7, 2017 launch. Exciting, right?


About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thrillers and mysteries. OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive magazine published her flash fiction and her short stories are published in numerous anthologies and collections. InSinC Quarterly featured her forensic articles about Radiocarbon Dating and Skeletal Differences. In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue's also the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project. As a way to help fellow crime writers, Sue created a team of crime experts (detectives, coroners, police captains, etc.) and founded #ACrimeChat on Twitter. She's also a proud member of the Kill Zone, where she blogs every other Monday.


  1. Hunting breaks my heart. I do understand about the deer population needing to be thinned out; otherwise, they could starve to death. Or if someone truly needs the meat. But no one gets to hunt the deer that come across my yard from time to time. Nor will I allow them to hunt the rabbits and squirrels.

    • I’m with you, Lauralynn. Beautiful name by the way. I may have to steal it for my books. LOL I, too, recognize the need for hunting to control population, but it doesn’t make it any easier to witness. Good for you for allowing a safe haven for animals on your land. Ours is off-limits to hunters, too.

  2. Jeez, and I thought “Bambi” was sad! That said, I used to hunt. I wouldn’t hunt from a tree stand or over a planted plot. Now THAT I consider murder, not hunting. I’d also use everything I could on any deer I killed, including the heart and liver. I would also cure and save the hides, antlers, and make gun racks using the legs. I no longer hunt; haven’t in years. I don’t condemn those who do, IF they are making full use of the game they kill. I absolutely DETEST trophy hunting! That doesn’t mean someone who kills a deer with a nice rack and has it mounted. I’m talking about killing for the sake of hanging a mount on the wall. That stinks.
    Also, not being a vegan or vegetarian, I realize that every time I buy a chicken or beef or pork or whatever meat you choose, I AM PARTLY RESPONSIBLE for that animals death. In effect, I’m paying someone else to do the killing and cleaning for me. Okay, hunting rant over.
    That’s great news about your new novel and novella–congratulations, Sue! Well-deserved cheers for you! 🙂
    E. Michael Helms recently posted…Writing 101: The RebootMy Profile

    • LOL Fair enough, Michael. My husband watches all those Alaska shows where they have to hunt to survive. The really nice part about is, they always thank the animal for their sacrifice so the hunter’s family can eat. It’s hard to be upset over that when they hold the animals in such high regard.

      Thank you! It’s been an exciting year!

  3. While I don’t hunt, I let others deal with the choices they make to hunt. I think there should be a lottery for a one time human hunt. When the lottery, pick the bad guy, and have at it. (This is purely fiction. I am not considering hunting anyone….really….I’m serious…

  4. Loved your little story… I used to hunt, but never took more than we could use, and we used it all. We were pretty poor and it really helped get us through the winters. I still love going out camping, but without the guns.

    • Now that I understand, Bonnie. If you’re hunting to survive, then that’s a different story. It’s the hunters who do it for sport that bother me. Don’t even get started on big game hunters and/or poachers. Hmmm…actually poachers would make great murder victims. Maybe I should write a story about poachers getting their come-uppance. How fun!

  5. I raised rabbits for years. Rabbits are born naked whereas hares are born with hair.

  6. So happy to hear your news about Cleaved, Sue! That’s fabulous!!!

    About your story… you wrote it beautifully – just beautifully. I’m just so sad for the deer, though, I must say. I’m very glad you included examples of the different prints, too. People really might go for the wrong prey, which would really be heartbreaking. Thanks, as always, for the valuable information.

    • Thanks, Margot!
      The story breaks my heart too. Poor Clayton. But that’s exactly how I feel when I see those deer. It tears me up inside. I’ll tell you a little secret. I started this post last fall, and then decided not to finish. It’s a touchy subject for sports enthusiasts, and I’m sure I’ll get flack from hunters.

  7. Fantastic, Sue! Congrats! 🙂

  8. Well, that was a downer. Glad you ended on a happy note. Great praise for Cleaved, and kudos to you for the Kindle Worlds deal. Really happy for you!

  9. The difference between a hare and a rabbit has something to do with birth. I believe a hare is born naked and a rabbit is already furred out. Tracks are fascinating, but that’s not how most people hunt.

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