The days are getting shorter, leaves are starting to change colors and hunters are beginning to shoot one another—it would appear that hunting accident season is already upon us. With almost two weeks to go before fall officially begins, the guns of autumn are gearing up for another season of fatal mishaps.
According to the International Hunter Education Association, roughly 1,000 people in the US and Canada are accidentally shot by hunters each year; around a hundred of those victims are fatalities. Though the majority of unintentional targets are hunters themselves, innocent bystanders are also routinely injured or killed.
Hunting is one of the few outdoor activities that endangers the entire community (not just the willing participants), yet the perpetrators are almost never charged with manslaughter or any lesser crimes. As long as they are “lawfully” pursuing a recognized blood sport, the shooting of their fellow human is acceptable.
A case in point of a shooter hitting the wrong target (sent to me by an alert reader) happened just today in West Columbia, Texas, when a grandfather was aiming at a stray cat and accidentally shot his 3-year-old granddaughter in the leg.
The grandfather, Gary Van Ness, said some cats have been known to come inside his ratty trailer home uninvited. “The cat is brave enough to come in there and got him a couple of loaves of bread,” said Van Ness, adding, he’s already decided he’ll start trapping cats now, rather than shooting them. Granted, this one wasn’t a legitimate hunting accident, but he clearly had the same mindset, and armed response towards, “nuisance” animals as the typical nimrod…or game manager.
If that doesn’t fit your idea of a bona fide hunting accident, this other one that made headlines today surely will, as it was a clear cut case of one New Zealand deer hunter, Henry Worsp, mistaking his partner for prey. A local police commander called it, “another tragic reminder of the absolute necessity for hunters to properly identify their target before they shoot.” That’s no shit. But far too often hunters blast away at the sound of rustling in the bushes with a casual, shoot first, ask questions later attitude. I was shocked the first time I heard a hunter brag about getting off a “nice sound shot,” but now I know it’s just business as usual for some of them.
Today’s incident was New Zealand’s third hunting death so far this year. Cam McDonald, 29, was shot dead by another hunter in Aorangi Forest Park, on April 7. A few weeks earlier, 26-year-old Southlander Mark Richard Vanderley was killed by another man in his hunting group while spotlighting for deer. Of the 12 hunting-related deaths in NZ between 2002 and last year, 10 were caused by someone in the same hunting party.
And who can forget Dick Cheney’s world famous allegedly inadvertent peppering-in-the-face with birdshot pellets of Texas campaign contributor, Harry Whittington while at a Corpus Christi ranch, hunting quail? (No, not that other former Republican Vice President whose last name is Quayle; Cheney was out stalking small inoffensive birds this time.)
Whittington had just shot a quail and had dropped back to retrieve it and, upon rejoining the group, Mr. Cheney let him have it (apparently mistaking the tall, lanky fellow Republican for a small, inoffensive ground-dwelling bird, witnesses said). Though hit with pellets in the face and chest, to the 78 year old Whittington’s credit, he never lost consciousness. As though expecting trouble, an ambulance had been posted at the ranch while Cheney was hunting, and after debriefing, Whittington was taken to the hospital.
The owner of the ranch called the former Vice President “a very conscientious hunter,” adding “I would shoot with Dick Cheney everywhere, anywhere, and not think twice about it,” while at the same time cautioning, “The nature of quail shooting ensures that this will happen. It goes with the turf.”
Instead of perceiving the whole fiasco as a black eye for the Republican Party, it appears they see all the negative media attention Cheney received as a good thing (why else would they have chosen avid hunters Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan as Vice Presidential candidates?). In that way, the Republican camp is a lot like PETA.