Hunting Accident File > Safe Hunting?: > December 2004


"He keeps saying that he lost his best friend"

Sam Lewin 12/7/2004

Two unrelated tragic hunting accidents over the weekend involving members of two separate tribes have rocked communities in New Mexico and Montana.

In the first case, officials say a 16-year-old boy was shot and killed Saturday on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana when a member of his hunting party apparently mistook him for a deer and opened fire. Francis Plante Jr. was struck once in the chest and died. Lake County Undersheriff and Coroner Mike Sargeant said Plante was hunting with a friend and a family member when the trio cited a buck and decided to split up, eventually leading to the accidental shooting. Plante and the others were members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Plante lived in the town of Arlee and was a student at Two Eagle River School in Pablo. Sargeant refused to say which member of the hunting party fired the accidental shot, but Plante’s great-aunt, Betty Plante, confirmed to the Native American Times that it was an older brother.

“[The brother] is in such terrible grief -- he keeps saying that he lost his best friend. He is going to need a lot of help to get through this,” she said.

Everyone who knew Francis, Betty Plante said, admired him.

“At his school-all the teachers and kids thought he was the best. They believed he was polite and everyone liked him. They thought he was going to go a long way.”

The second tragic mishap took place the following day on the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona. In that incident, a 24-year-old member of the tribe mistook his father for an elk and fatally shot him. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, William Delma, 44, and his son Brian were part of a four-man hunting party who decided to split up when they spotted a herd of elk.

The shooting, like the one in Montana, has been ruled an accident.

"My understanding is the father and son obviously had split, and the son mistook his father as an elk moving in the brush," Warren Youngman, a Phoenix-based assistant special agent for the BIA told the Arizona Daily Star.. "He reported it right away. The victim had to be airlifted out, but he had already expired.”

In response to the shooting, the San Carlos Recreation and Wildlife Department almost immediately passed a resolution requiring hunters to wear an orange cap and an orange vest or jacket during hunting season.

This is the second time this hunting season that the San Carlos Reservation has seen a fatal accident. The last incident occurred in October and involved one tribal member mistaking another for an elk and shooting him.

According to the International Hunter Education Association, in 1998, the last year such statistics are available and only based on 48 states and five Canadian provinces, there were 93 hunting-related fatalities. The numbers do not include Alaska, which the previous year led the nation in such accidents.

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