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IA - Hunting accident information

Article published: Dec 1, 2007
Hunting accidents dramatically decrease in Iowa

With the shotgun deer season opening today, Iowa hunters are on track for their safest hunting year ever.

With no deaths and just 10 hunting-related gunshot injuries so far, 2007 could be even safer than last year's record-low totals of no deaths and 14 injuries in 19 incidents.

Search the database of the hunting accidents in Iowa

Since 2004, the state has had just one hunting-related gunshot fatality — a record that stands in marked contrast with the carnage of 40 years earlier, when 66 hunters died of gunshot wounds from 1964 to 1967.

Many factors have contributed to the dramatic improvement — chief among them the education of a generation of hunters through mandated safety classes and an accident investigation program designed to determine the specific causes of each accident so they can be incorporated into the 1,800 hunter education courses taught each year in Iowa.

Still, accidents happen, even to graduates of hunter safety classes like James Knebel, 57, of rural Homestead, who fired the shotgun slug that killed Iowa's last hunting-related gunshot victim, his 31-year-old son, Scott Knebel of North Liberty, on Dec. 4, 2005.

For James Knebel, the loss remains too painful to discuss, but his housemate, Mary Young, a member of the hunting party that day, conveyed the following sentiments on his behalf:

"Just stay safe and make sure you know where everyone in your party is."

Knebel thought he was following that rule as he and his son drove deer toward Young and another blocker on the opening day of the 2005 shotgun deer season. They had agreed that neither would go down into a wooded ravine and that they would call out to make sure they stayed abreast of each other on opposite sides of the draw, according to the Department of Natural Resources investigation report.

But something went horribly wrong. Thinking his son was safe on higher ground, James Knebel "shot once at a walking deer and heard a loud scream," the accident report stated. His son had moved lower into the ravine, where he was struck in the torso and killed by the slug.

"We don't know why he was down there. We'll never know. We live with it every day," said Young, 48, who tried vainly to revive Scott Knebel with cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Hunting accidents cause physical wounds to the victim and mental wounds to the shooter, according to Rod Slings, the DNR's recreation safety program supervisor.

"Usually they've shot a friend or relative. They never really get over it," Slings said.

Though hunting accidents cause incalculable pain and suffering, some good comes of them, according to Slings.

The core of Iowa's success in preventing hunting accidents, he said, has been determining what causes them and sharing that information with hunters.

Among the most common causes are shooting at running deer and not knowing what is beyond the target, Slings said.

Slings has four words of advice that, if heeded, would eliminate many hunting accidents: When in doubt, don't.

"If it doesn't feel right, don't pull that trigger, because you can't take it back," he said.

Analysis of state hunting accident reports between 2000 and 2006 shows that 36 percent of the accidents befell deer hunters, while pheasant hunters were involved in 32 percent of them.

When hunters were not shooting themselves — 27 percent of hunting-related gunshot wounds were self-inflicted — they were shooting their friends and relatives. Only rarely is a gunshot wound traced to a shooter outside the victim's party.

About 54 percent (104 of 191) of those involved in an accident between 2000 and 2006 had gone through hunter education programs. Approximately 32 percent (61 of 191) did not have training, while the training status of another 14 percent (26 of 191) was unknown or not recorded.

Shooters under age 20 were involved in at least 27 percent of the accidents between 2000 and 2006 (52 of 191 cases).

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