A Kernersville man was shot and killed by a fellow hunter who mistook him for a turkey. I know. It sounds absurd. But such incidents are not isolated and, in fact, are on the rise. According to the International Hunter Education Association, more than 1,000 hunters are shot every year resulting in more than 100 deaths. And, according to the Committee to Abolish Hunting, the month of March was particularly violent.
Last month alone there were scores of hunting-related shootings and five documented fatalities.
Those included a Florida man who was killed by his grandson while hunting and, that same day, another Florida hunter was fatally shot by his friend while carrying a dead turkey over his shoulder.
Also last month, an 11-year-old Oklahoma boy was killed while hunting with his 12-yearold friend. A Rupert, Idaho man was killed while hunting, and that same day in Charleston. WV, a high school boy was killed by a hunter who mistook the youth for a coyote. All of these incidents brings me back to the mistaken identity defense.
Time after time, perpetrators of woodlands violence go unpunished because they argue successfully that they mistook a friend or family member for a turkey, deer or some other varmit. I am very familiar with woodland terrain and the wildlife which roam there, and I can tell you that no one in their right mind can accidentally mistake a man for a turkey. Yes, wildlife usually move about while partially camouflaged, but a competent hunter (pardon the oxymoron) knows to be patient and sure, and to take careful aim before discharging his weapon. In my opinion there are only three reasons why so many hunting accidents occur in which the victim has supposedly been mistaken for wildlife. The shooter is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The hunter is incompetent and trigger happy. Or the hunter intended to shoot the victim.
No matter the reason, innocent people are dying, and the laws of most states do nothing to properly punish the shooters. Moreover, cases of hunter harassment and violence toward homeowners are also on the rise. That’s why the Homeland Protection Group was founded. According to IHEA, “Hunting is one of the few activities that endanger the entire community, not just the participants”. Their warning is based on growing incidents of trespassing, poaching, spotlight hunting and threats of violence to homeowners.
Do all hunters shoot fellow hunters? Of course not. Do all hunters trespass and harass property owners? No. But just as with shooting incidents, acts of violent harassment by hunters are going unpunished. In fact, at a recent HPG meeting, one of its founders, Jan Haagensen revealed that as a result of her complaining to local authorities about harassment from hunters, those same hunters set her woods on fire and threatened to kill her and her pet. To add insult to injury, police then charged Haagensen with harassing the hunters who complained about her complaints. At that same hearing, HPG member Kathy Andrews told about how a hunter shot at her when she asked him to leave her property. There are hours of similar testimony available on the internet.
The solution to preventing and dealing with violence by hunters is to enact tougher laws. Unfortunately that’s not happening — except in Missouri, where recent legislation proved to be an insult to victims. Thanks to the Missouri Senate, if you now kill someone while hunting, you will lose your hunting privileges for 10 years. Gee, that’s pretty harsh.
Fatal shootings and violence toward others by irresponsible gun owners must be dealt with more severely, and judges must start rejecting the mistaken-identity defense altogether. I know a turkey when I see one, and most of them reside in the environs of state legislatures where they can’t see the forest for the trees.
Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15)