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,
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
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
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.