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VA: Virginia facing deadly hunting season

Published: January 8, 2009

An Appomattox man was shot in the head last week when another hunter mistook him for a deer in Campbell County.

A Halifax County man died after he apparently dropped his firearm and it discharged, hitting him between the eyes in Campbell County.

A hunter in Lee County died when he fell 17 feet from a tree stand and broke his neck.

And a hunter in Isle of Wight County died after reaching for his loaded shotgun; it went off and shot him in the face.
These are four of the nine people who died in hunting accidents in Virginia since July, and the hunting year is just half over. Hunting-related accidents claimed just two lives in all of 2007-08.

The dramatic increase in deaths has alarmed conservation police officers. They are scrambling to figure out why — and what they can do to keep more people from dying.

“The last two weeks of deer season, there was a flurry — that’s rather a fluffy word to describe the number of hunting fatalities, and we are only halfway through the year,” said Julia Dixon, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

This year, five of the nine deaths were from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Two involved falls from a tree stand and two were hunters shooting at what they thought was a deer or turkey and hitting another hunter instead.

“I don’t know that we can put our finger on why,” said Capt. Ron Henry, of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. “There is no common thread as to a causative factor.”
The death toll does not include Brookville High School principal Jim Whorley and retired Lynchburg engineer Terry Reid, who died Dec. 27 after their boat capsized in Buggs Island Lake, where the two men were headed out to duck hunt.

“The common thread we are seeing this year is a lot of fatal self-inflicted gunshot wounds caused by careless gun handling,” Henry said. “They are ignoring the first rule of safety — not respecting a loaded firearm.”

Henry said it’s essential that hunters be sure of their target and what is behind it.

Officers have investigated several incidents of people being shot because a hunter took aim at a deer without a good back-stop to catch the bullet. In Craig County recently, a hunter shot a deer with a high-powered rifle. There was nothing to catch the bullet so it traveled through the woods and shot a person in the arm who just happened to be driving down the road.

“If you don’t have a safe back-stop, you need to wait until it moves to a place where there is something safe behind it,” Henry advised.

He said it is also extremely dangerous to drive around with a loaded firearm. A wreck in Amherst County a while back killed one hunter when the truck flipped over and the muzzle-loader went off.

In another earlier incident, a hunter wrecked and when a state trooper reached into the vehicle to get the gun, it went off and killed the trooper.

“Someone can get killed be-cause there is a loaded gun in the truck,” Henry said.

He’s even dealt with a case where the hunter’s dog shot him. The gun was leaning against the fence and the dog knocked it over and stepped on the trigger.

While officers do not know why hunting fatalities are on the rise this year, they are looking to see if parts of the hunter safety education curriculum need to be emphasized in upcoming classes.

Hunter education is mandatory for 12- to 15-year-olds and first-time hunters, according to the game department’s Web site. The courses, which are free, teach hunting safety, principles of conservation and sportsmanship to 14,000 people each year.

“In my world, no death is acceptable,” Henry said. “Everyone should have the absolute right to get out there and enjoy the sport without getting shot. People also need to exercise responsibility.”.

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