Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Preventable Hunting Accidents In Oregon

Here in western Oregon we are more than halfway through the hunting season, and the inevitable list of shooting accidents keep rolling in.

Now, I don't have a big beef with hunting.  My dad was a hunter.  A young friend of mine has shot two deer this year.  If someone wants to go out in the woods and get their macho on from shooting animals to death for food, more power to them.  It's a good survival skill, albeit one that isn't needed anymore in America.  I'll get my food from the store, thank you.  Year after year, more and more people agree with me, as hunting is on the decline in America.

One hopes that hunters are safe, obey the four rules, and identify their prey before shooting.  Sadly, wherever there are guns there are gun deaths.  Throw in testosterone-filled, trigger-happy men in an environment where ID of prey is more difficult, and you've got a recipe for tragedy.

Sadly, some hunters don't pay enough attention before they shoot.  Recently, an active Marine was shot dead while hiking.  The shooter mistook him for a bear.  The hunter bears 100% of the responsibility for pulling the trigger, and since the hiker wasn't lumbering on all fours, it's pretty hard to mistake a man for a bear.  Yet here we are.  This doesn't stop pro-gun extremists from blaming the hiker, though (see comments on THIS article) because of his dark clothing.  Interestingly, the shooter isn't facing charges.  Shucks, just another senseless accident, apparently.

Tragedy can be mediated with commonsense regulation.  Requirements for training in order to get a hunting license, for instance.  Or the requirement for hunters to wear an orange vest.

Last year the Oregon legislature considered mandating the wearing of orange vests by hunters, as many states do, to reduce the chances of accidental shootings.  Sadly, Oregon hunting organizations and pro-gun extremist groups fought the change.  Never mind obvious safety concerns; their problem was with government telling them what to do.  For example:

While the president of the Clatsop County chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association refuses to wear hunter orange, he is recommending that young hunters do.

"I wear blue," said Wendell Locke. "But I do recommend that the kids wear hunter orange so as they grow up they will be accustomed to it and will wear it the rest of their lives."

Locke, also the vice president of the Oregon Hunters Association, agrees that the bright orange colors are a good step in reducing shooting accidents among hunters, but he opposes the government regulating safety of the activity.

"You can't do anything anymore without the government telling you to do something," Locke said. "I just don't want to get involved with the government."

So, basically, even though he knows wearing orange makes sense to save his life and the lives of children, he's not going to wear it because "I just don't want to get involved with the government."  Not much of an example to the youngsters, is he?  Well, intelligence isn't a requirement for hunting, I guess.

The bill was passed, but the compromise was that only minors, aged 17 or younger, had to wear orange vests or hats.  Free orange hats were even being passed out to them.  Adults are free to get themselves killed.

Too bad adults weren't mandated.  It might have kept one tragedy from happening.  A father was trying to scare deer toward his son while they were hunting.  The son, mistaking the father as a deer, shot his father through the chest, injuring him.  Luckily he didn't die.  The father wasn't wearing orange.  His vest was brown.

This year, the Oregon legislature made it legal for hunters on ATVs and motorcycles to ride with a loaded, unlocked firearm while driving -- the only pro-gun measure to be passed this year in Oregon.  Never mind the obvious danger of accidental discharge.  The pro-gun extremists who pushed the bill scoffed at the idea that hunters could have accidents this way.  Yet, today, just such an accident was reported.  A son and father were elk hunting and had gotten their ATV stuck on a service road.  As he got off his vehicle, the son's rifle discharged, shooting his father in the leg.  Luckily no one was killed -- this time.  How many more accidents are needed to reverse this dangerous legislation?  How many need to die?  It's not an issue with Second Amendment freedoms, it's about common sense and safety.

But common sense isn't needed for hunting.  Consider the following case from Merlin, Oregon:  A man sees a deer in his yard, so he gets his rifle and shoots at it.  That's about as redneck as it gets, in my book.  Never mind that he's in a residential area.  He shot four times and killed the deer.  Unfortunately, only 100 yards away, an 11 year-old was shot in the leg by one of the bullets while waiting for his school bus.  Oops.  Shucks, just another accident.  Oh well.  What can you do?  Right?  At least the boy wasn't critically injured.  So far the shooter hasn't been charged. 

From 1990 - 2009, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife received reports of 170 hunting related firearms incidents of which 32 resulted in fatalities. Over the past 20 years, Oregon has averaged 8.5 incidents per year and 1.6 fatalities per year. From 1990-1994 there were an average of 13.4 incidents and three fatalities per year. From 2005-2009 there was an average of 4 incidents and 0.4 fatalities per year.  Looks like we'll be around the same percentages this year.

While you can't make hunters have common sense, you can at least reduce the chances of a mistake with mandated safety rules.  It's in the hunters' best interest to support these rules, to improve their image and protect their lives and the lives of those around them.

I'm an outdoorsman, but I'm not going hiking anytime soon.  Deer season ends November 30, and bear season ends December 31.  I'll wait until the bullets stop flying.

UPDATE (11/14/11):  Yet another accidental hunting shooting in Oregon reported today.  Elk hunter shoots his friend, thinking him an elk.  Of course, the friend wasn't wearing orange, and wasn't required to do so:

UPDATE (11/17/11):  The bear hunter is found guilty and charged with criminally negligent homicide for shooting the hiker:

ADDENDUM (12/7/11):  A pro-gun group tries to convince people that hunting is really, really, really safe, safer than bowling, golf, or cheerleading -- but laughably ignores information about hunting-related deaths, basically counting a hunting death and a sprained ankle in a sport as comparable "injuries": 


  1. This is one, as a gun guy and a hunter, we agree on, Baldr. Not wearing hunter orange during rifle season is simply stupid; especially as the deer are colorblind.

    And every single accident you've written about could have been prevented by following Col. Cooper's four simple rules. There is no excuse for such accidents. Every hunter is responsible for every round that leaves our gun.

    I usually hunt from a stand primarily for that reason: I know that my rounds, if they miss or pass through, go into the ground. And I've passed up good shots because I could not know of the backstop to my round.

    I'll disagree about one thing, however: in my neck of the woods, hunting is growing. More important, my ownership and lawful use of firearms is not dependant on any vote or poll. It's an inalienable right, guaranteed (not granted) by the Constitution, just as is your right to write on this blog.

    In addition, venison is healthier than beef. And if prepared properly, better tasting in the right dishes; if you've ever had good venison chili, well, it don't get better than that. Besides,if we don't hunt the deer, your cars will do it for us . . .

  2. Well said, GMC70. For once, we're in complete agreement. (and I've enjoyed a good bowl of venison chili in my time).

  3. How does hunting compare in accident rate to other outdoor activities--bicycling or motorcycling for example? It looks like Oregon has between 30-50 motorcycle fatalities per year.

    Some of this is a difference in philosophies. I'm against helmet laws, although I always wear a helmet when I ride. If I were in the woods during hunting season, I'd wear orange--but we don't need another law.