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NY: Target: Hunting accidents

December 11, 2009

At sundown Sunday, big game hunting season comes to an end, wrapping up another successful - and for the most part, safe - year.

"There have been less fatalities and injuries. ... We have seen the trend has been down in the last seven years," said Lt. David Baker with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

He attributes that decrease to a number of factors, such as improved equipment, more attention to hunter-safety education and fewer hunters in the field.

Jim Catalfamo, president of Canandaigua Sportsmen's Club, a hunter for more than 40 years, said he's never been involved in a hunting accident. "It all boils down to basic safety and common sense," said Catalfamo, who has taught hunter safety courses. He has seen the trend in hunting accidents diminish in recent years, he said, with more emphasis on hunter safety.

But accidents still happen.

Tragic cases, close calls Baker has seen his share of hunting accidents during his 27 years with the DEC and eight years with the Ontario County Sheriff's Office before that. Just last month, after the start of hunting season, 18 year-old Joseph Jarnot of Williamson, Wayne County, was shot by his brother while hunting in Cohocton, south of Naples.

Jarnot was still in guarded condition Friday morning at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.

In Ontario County, there have been two hunting accidents this season, neither resulting in injury - though one last Saturday in East Bloomfield was a pretty close call. Both damaged homes.

On Nov. 28, said Baker, a hunter allegedly shot across Martz Road in Farmington and the slug ricocheted off a tree, hitting a house.

In East Bloomfield, last Saturday, a freak accident occurred when a group hunted in a field on the southwest side of County Road 39, near Eddy Road. When one of the hunters fired two shots, one shot traveled some 450 yards - farther than four football fields - crashing through an upstairs bedroom window on County Road 39.

"Only one other time have I seen a bullet go that far," said Baker, who responded to the scene. "It hit the head board and lodged into an interior wall."

A resident had been in that bed 10 minutes before the bullet hit about 8:40 a.m., he said. The family didn't realize what had happened, as they were all downstairs when it hit, he said, and thought the noise was something going on outside. Then someone went upstairs about 10:15 a.m., saw what had happened and called 911.

That bullet dropped some 60 feet in elevation, as well as traveling 450 yards, said Baker. "It does make you appreciate how powerful those things are," he said.

Though the DEC believes the East Bloomfield case was an accident, it will hold a routine administrative hearing to determine whether or not it resulted from negligence, said Baker. The case is also being reviewed by the Ontario County District Attorney's Office.

If a hunter is found to be negligent, the hunter's license could be revoked for up to five years.

Pets in the line of fire While the East Bloomfield accident and other hunting incidents involve the DEC and other law enforcement, some hunting-relating mishaps never get reported. But they happen, and some involve pets.

That is what happened to Beverly and David Rugenstein. The Gorham couple live in a quiet country setting on Yautzy Road, hospitable to humans and felines. Or so they thought, until their cat Mikey, a 1-year-old with silky black fur, dragged himself home one day this fall.

At first, Beverly said, she thought Mikey had broken his leg. But when the couple noticed he was having trouble using both back legs and a front leg, they knew it must be more serious.

Veterinary tests revealed Mikey had been hit with birdshot. "It hit both his (back) legs," said David. And a front leg was fractured, probably from running away, David surmised.

The Rugensteins were worried what would happen to Mikey - if he could recover and live a happy life.

Mikey ended up having his left back leg amputated. He is OK, now, said David, and can even jump. "He has adjusted to it."

But Mikey isn't allowed outside "without an escort," he added.

David said he doesn't want to blame anyone, but he wishes hunters would be more careful - for their own safety and the safety of others.

Beverly agreed. "If you are going to shoot, look at what you are shooting at," she said.

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