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Opinion

Gun accident inspires caution

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November 1, 2007

This past weekend I was able to get out to the woods for my second hunting trip of the fall. It looked like it was going to be a picture-perfect fall hunt. The target was ruffed grouse, and I have heard nothing but good reports about grouse hunting success this year.

The weather was beautiful and I was with two great people: UWRF senior Joel and a guy he knows, Tom. Upon first impression I could tell Tom was a great guy. The drive northward to the land we were going to hunt solidified that impression.

Before we knew it we were at the land. Joel warned us that the first strip of woods was holding grouse the last time he had hunted the land, so we were careful to pay attention. Before we knew it, the rapid, pronounced sound of two grouse flushing had our hearts pounding. As the day pressed on, we covered a few hundred acres and saw a lot of birds. Joel and Tom were each able to get a bird.

We were heading back to the truck for some chili and sandwiches. There was one last piece of woods to push, and Joel was confident that there could very well be birds in there. We all decided on which positions we would take; I was on the far left, while Joel was in the middle and Tom was on the far right. A straight line is the typical way to drive any piece of land when hunting birds with multiple people. It is a generally safe and effective method.

Not long after getting into the woods, sure enough, two birds flushed. Joel and I shot and it appeared as if we both had missed. We continued to proceed into the woods. I spotted one of the birds off to my left and shot it on the ground. As I was picking the bird up, Joel began shooting at the second bird. I got up, assuming that we were all still in a straight line, and fired at the same bird that Joel was trying to take down.

After I fired, Tom began yelling. I spotted his blaze orange and it was clear that he was not where I had thought he was. Instead, Tom was slightly in front of us, and he was yelling because he had been shot — by me.

I have been around firearms and hunting my whole life. I took gun safety when I was 12, and I have been hunting since then.  I have passed on hundreds of shots at game, for hundreds of reasons. I have safely, successfully harvested more animals than I can remember. All of these factors became worthless in one instant, and I knew I had committed the worst possible act that anyone who carries a firearm, possibly could.

Tom took a few BBs in the leg, while another had gone through his lip and ricocheted off his tooth back into his lip. Thankfully, he was able to walk away. I was utterly shocked about what I had just done. Not for one minute did Tom place blame or try to make me feel guilty. All three of us sat there and reflected on the moment in disbelief, me speechless.

The details after the event are not all that important. We ate lunch, drove home and Tom dropped us off at Joel’s. He went to the hospital to get his injuries checked out. I spent the remainder of the night going over the situation in my head.

A combination of factors contributed to the accident. I had been to the land several times before, but I was still not fully acclimated to the layout, especially to the particular strip of woods where the accident occurred. Tom had never been there before, so he was completely unfamiliar. We were spread too far apart, the woods were dense and throughout the day there were times during which we did not all have visual contact with each other, despite the blaze orange. Tom got a little too far ahead of us. We were all relaxed and ready to go eat lunch. The birds and shooting caused excitement amongst everyone. All of those things played into the situation; however, the most important factor was of course me taking a shot before completely assessing the situation. I knew exactly where Joel was, but I made a poor assumption that Tom was still in the safety zone. Luckily, that assumption didn’t cost Tom his life.

The purpose of me writing this is to have anyone who is involved in hunting or any handling of firearms learn from my mistake. No matter how many years of experience you have, always second-guess the safety of every situation any place where a gun is involved. Firearm safety can be more complicated than it may sometimes seem, and I hope my experience will help everyone be more cautious.