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Hunting Accident File > Safe Hunting?: > December 2004

PA. HUNTING SEASON CLAIMED 3 LIVES

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 yesterday.

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 percent.

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 could.

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 season.

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 said.

They didn't have a clear shot at the deer, she said, and neither fired a shot.

"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 Pennsylvania.

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 said.

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

2003: 57

2002: 68

2001: 62

2000: 69

1999: 83

1998: 91

1997: 92

1996: 85

1995: 97

1994: 104

*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.

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