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November 29, 2010

In hunting, safety is the only thing that matters

A 7-year-old boy was killed by his 10-year-old brother in a deer hunting accident over the weekend.

It happened in Virginia, not Maryland, but the news is sobering, nonetheless.

It's almost impossible to fathom the horror of the moment. We are a society that likes our blood on flat screens, with ear-shattering sound effects and a power-off switch, thank you very much.

The shooter will have a lifetime to think about that split second when his younger brother darted in front of him. Their father will replay the scene until the day he dies.

According to news reports, the father and his two boys were hunting on private property Saturday afternoon south of Charlottesville. The younger boy, carrying a pellet gun, shot and missed a deer. His brother, armed with a .410 shotgun, tried for a follow-up shot.

But the younger boy ran into the line of fire and was stuck in the back with the shot, according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

The investigation continues, so we don't have all the facts. Unfortunately, people already are saddling up their high horses. But safety questions come to mind as we enter the height of deer hunting season in Maryland:

Why was the youngster allowed to shoot at a deer with a pellet gun? The fire power of the gun in the hands of an unskilled hunter was unlikely to bring the deer down, only wound it. Virginia law mandates at least .230 caliber.

How well could one man supervise two armed boys? Virginia law requires that hunters under the age of 12 must be “immediately supervised” by a licensed adult. They might have been the best-behaved sons in the world, with a healthy respect for the guns they were carrying, but national statistics show that youths under 19 are disproportionately involved in hunting mishaps, including self-inflicted injuries and deaths.

Had the two boys taken a hunter safety course? Children under the age of 12 are not required to have a hunting license or hunting education in Virginia. It might not have changed the outcome, but it couldn't have hurt.

Closer to home, a 10-year-old Baltimore County boy hunting with his father on the Eastern Shore was killed in 2003, when he shot himself in the chest with an arrow. The boy, who had never handled a crossbow before, was climbing down from a tree stand, the crossbow in hand, when the accident happened.

The crossbow was faulty. The boy had never participated in the state's hunter safety program and did not have a hunting license. So many mistakes in one, single outing.

Were these two deaths avoidable? Almost anything is avoidable. In the Maryland case, I'd have to say, yes. In the Virginia case, it would be pure speculation at this point.

But if there's any good to come from these deaths, any teachable moment, it's this: If you're a first-time hunter, take the safety course. If you're about to go out with one, insist that they do.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 7:52 AM | | Comments (1)


Lord, today...May his soul rest in peace.

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About Candus Thomson
In a world of paper vs. plastic and candy mint vs. breath mint, my early memories involved a debate about the merits of freshwater vs. saltwater.

On the one hand, a great uncle’s fishing cabin on the Susquehanna River beckoned, but so did family gatherings on the Jersey Shore.

The correct answer, thankfully, was, “both.”

As The Sun’s outdoors writer for more than a decade, I’ve fished across Maryland in one day, hiked the width of the state in one hour, camped overnight in the median of I-95 to experience the wildlife between the fast lanes and chased mountain bikers in a 24-hour marathon race.

Those are some of the highlights. I’ve also fallen in a raging Gunpowder River during a trout survey (photo available upon request), had a shark spill its guts on my clothes and been stuck in a sub-freezing Vermont wilderness with men armed with flintlocks and hatchets, shuffling along on ancient wooden snowshoes.

And, in my travels I’ve met lots of you, who share a love of the outdoors and the good times and mishaps that go along with it.

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