Experts say sport safer now than it's ever been
Sunday, December 12, 2004
By Paula Reed Ward, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A 12-year-old Punxsutawney girl was the youngest of three people who died
in accidents during the two-week firearms deer season, which ended
The two other hunters killed were also Western Pennsylvanians, a
46-year-old Armstrong County man and a 45-year-old man from Butler County.
State Game Commission statistics through Friday showed that, in addition
to the three fatalities, there were 18 nonfatal shootings. Eight of those
wounds were self-inflicted.
Brittanie Frantz's fatal wound also was self-inflicted.
Her mother, BillieJo Frantz, said Brittanie couldn't wait for her father,
Jim, to get home from his overnight shift Dec. 4 so they could hit the woods
and hunt for deer. They set out about 7 a.m.
Ever since she was 9 years old, Brittanie talked about going hunting.
When she was finally old enough this year, she and her best friend, Stefany
Walker, took a required hunting-safety class together, and both scored 100
BillieJo Frantz said she wasn't sure her daughter could steel herself
enough to actually shoot at a deer, but the young girl told her mom she
The oldest of three children, Brittanie loved spending time with her dad,
and they had been out hunting together every day the first week of deer
That Saturday morning, Brittanie, her dad and a cousin were hunting in
Perry, Jefferson County. About 10:15 a.m., Brittanie and her dad stood up
when they saw two deer.
"They were just sitting there talking and carrying on," BillieJo Frantz
They didn't have a clear shot at the deer, she said, and neither fired a
"Whenever they sat down, [Brittanie's] gun went off," she said. "It was
just an instant."
The shot hit the seventh-grader in the neck, and she died at the scene.
"He said he lost his best friend," BillieJo Frantz said of her husband.
The family isn't sure what happened. The shotgun trigger may have gotten
caught on her clothing -- there was a tear in her coat -- or she may have
dropped the weapon, causing it to fire.
The State Game Commission is investigating.
Even though three people died hunting this year, experts say hunting is
safer now than it's ever been.
In the 1950s, there were 50 or more incidents per 100,000 hunters. Now,
there are maybe six or seven per 100,000, Game Commission spokesman Jerry
Feaser said. There are about 1 million licensed deer hunters in
Hunter-education classes were voluntary when they were introduced in
1959, but in 1982, they became mandatory for all hunters.
"You can see the precipitous drop corresponding to that," Feaser said.
In most cases, experts say, injuries are caused by unsafe gun handling.
"That's why we don't call them accidents, we call them hunting-related
shootings," Feaser said. "For most cases, there is a basic fundamental flaw
in firearm handling or hunter safety."
Mel Schake, a regional spokesman with the Game Commission, said that what
he found surprising was the high number of self-inflicted injuries.
"The one thing we preach is, you can't rely on the safety. It's a
mechanical device, and it can fail," he said. "The only real thing anyone
can do is to keep their muzzle pointed in a safe direction."
"Don't ever point your gun at anything you don't plan to kill," added
Gary San Julian, a professor of wildlife resources at Penn State University.
That means hunters should constantly scan their surroundings to be aware
of such things as what's behind their targeted deer and what is between the
hunter and the deer.
In the other fatal shootings this deer season, Dean R. Baker, 46, of
Cowansville, Armstrong County, was accidentally shot in the chest by his
father, Raymond Baker, 69, about 1:15 p.m. Nov. 30 in Sugarcreek. Evidently,
Dean Baker was in the line of fire when his father shot at a deer, Schake
In Butler County, William E. Campbell, 45, died after being shot in the
chest about 10:15 a.m. Dec. 3.
The Game Commission is still investigating.
Unless there is a question that a shooting could have occurred purposely,
the Game Commission investigates all hunting accidents.
In York County, the commission has filed charges against a hunter who
fired his weapon across a roadway Nov. 29, striking a woman in the leg as
she passed by in a vehicle. The hunter is charged with causing serious
bodily injury, a misdemeanor that can carry a six-month jail sentence, and
lesser charges of shooting within 150 yards of an occupied building,
shooting across a roadway and damaging property.
In Lehigh County on Nov. 30, an 18-year-old woman sitting in a vehicle in
her driveway was struck in the temple by a stray bullet. The bullet did not
enter her head, but she had to have surgery to remove bone fragments.
State police and the Game Commission are investigating, and several
hunters have come forward with information.
Hunting accidents in Pennsylvania
Figure represents the number of hunting incidents* in Pennsylvania in all
seasons, including deer, turkey, bear, small game
*defined as an occurrence when a person is injured as the result of a
discharge of a firearm or bow and arrow while hunting or trapping.