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WI: DNR: 5 shooting incidents, 1 fatality in deer hunt

DNR: 5 shooting incidents, 1 fatality in deer hunt

November 24, 2008

WAUSAU - Five hunters were shot and one died during the opening weekend of Wisconsin's deer hunt - a number one state safety expert described Monday as fairly typical.

A 48-year-old Appleton man died after a member of his hunting party shot him in the chest during a deer drive in Outagamie County on Sunday morning, said Tim Lawhern, safety administrator for the Department of Natural Resources.

Two victims shot themselves in the foot, Lawhern said. One was a 45-year-old man who shot himself inside a vehicle while hunting illegally in Washburn County. The other was a 13-year-old boy in Shawano County who shot himself when he pulled his shotgun up to aim at a deer.

The nine-day hunt that opened Saturday attracted some 630,000 hunters. The DNR was expected to announce later Monday how many deers were registered during the first two days of hunting. It estimates the whitetail herd at up to 1.7 million deer.

A year ago, one shooting incident occurred on opening weekend with one hunter killed. The only season in history with no shooting fatalities occurred in 1973, Lawhern said.

The first two days of the gun season usually produce half the hunting accidents before participation drops off, Lawhern said.

"We know so much about these over the last 10 to 15 years that it is gotten to the point where I can basically tell who is going to be shot," Lawhern said. "I can tell you what they are going to be doing. How it happens. The kind of hunting they are doing. I just can't give you the name and address."

Three of the five incidents last weekend involved deer drives, in which groups of hunters walk forward, pushing deer toward other hunters. Often, a hunter will shoot at running deer, and another hunter ends up in line with the shot, Lawhern said.

More deer drives occur as the season progresses, and they historically cause half the hunt's incidents and injuries, he said.

The Washburn County incident was troubling because the wounded hunter did not have a license and was hunting illegally from the passenger side of a vehicle, Lawhern said. Charges are expected.

The other deer drive shooting incidents were as follows:

-In Shawano County, a 24-year-old man was shot in the shoulder by 51-year-old hunter who fired three shots at a deer who ran between them.

-In Washington County, a 61-year-old hunter was shot in the lower right leg by a 62-year-old hunter who shot at a running deer.

The safest deer hunt on record occurred in 2004, with five shooting accidents and one fatality, the DNR said. It measures safety based on the number of shooting incidents, not the number of fatalities.

But the 2004 hunt was marred by a tragedy in northwestern Wisconsin. Six white hunters were killed by an Asian hunter following an angry, racially charged confrontation over trespassing in a tree stand on private land in Sawyer County.

A St. Paul, Minn., truck driver is serving six life prison sentences after a jury convicted him of six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and three counts of attempted murder.

The most dangerous hunting season in recent times was 1987, when eight hunters died in 53 shooting accidents, Lawhern said. Forty-four hunters were killed and 57 were injured during the 1908 deer season, which included only about 20,000 hunters, he said.

Wisconsin started its hunter education program in 1967, requiring new hunters to take training in gun safety and proper gun handling. Safety also improved once hunters were required to wear blaze orange, making them easier to see.  

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