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Hunting Accident File > Safe Hunting?: > 2004

FATALITY INVESTIGATED AS HUNTING MISHAP

October 18, 2004

By Dominic Weilminster

Herald Staff Writer

A 41-year-old man was killed Saturday evening in what is being investigated as a hunting accident west of Vallecito Reservoir.

Authorities released limited information Sunday, pending the completion of an autopsy and full investigation of the incident. The man's name was not released, pending notification of relatives.

"It appears that it was an accidental shooting," said Sgt. Todd Hitti, with the La Plata County Sheriff's Office.

The man, who Hitti said may have been American Indian, died before help reached him about 6 p.m. Saturday.

It was not clear whether his wound, a rifle shot to the torso, was self-inflicted. He was with other hunters at the time, Hitti said.

Rescue personnel from the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District were first on the scene.

The area, on the east side of Miller Mountain near Freeman Creek in the Weminuche Wilderness, climbs sharply to about 9,000 feet in elevation.

Because of the rugged topography of the area, it took rescuers more than two hours to move the man down from where he was found.

If it is determined that the fatality was indeed the result of a hunting accident, it would be a rarity for the sport, said Tom Price, an instructor of Hunter Education Certification classes in Durango for the past 35 years.

In 2003, out of 560,000 hunting licenses issued, two fatal accidents were recorded, including the death of an archer in San Juan County who stumbled and cut an artery in his leg with an arrowhead, according to the 2003 Hunting Incident Report from the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

"Hunting is very safe if you consider the amount of people out there and the hours spent hunting," Price said.

"These things usually aren't accidents," said Price, adding that most hunting accidents can be avoided.

The most common hunting accidents involve dropping or falling onto a loaded firearm, accidental discharge in a vehicle or while loading or unloading a gun, ricochet and mistaking a victim for game.

Price said those are all scenarios warned against in hunter education classes.

All hunters in Colorado must complete hunter education classes before buying a license to hunt.

Since the program was mandated by law in 1970, hunting accidents and fatalities fell dramatically from an average of 10.1 fatalities and 24.2 non-fatal incidents per year in the 1960s, to about one fatality and nine non-fatal accidents a year for the past 10 years, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

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