Hunting Accident File > Safe Hunting

MD: Hunter mistaken for deer, shot by companion

December 4, 2010

Hunter mistaken for deer, shot by companion Baltimore man in critical condition after Dorchester Co. accident; charges possible

A 56-year-old Baltimore County man was in critical condition at Shock Trauma in Baltimore on Saturday after being accidentally shot Friday afternoon while hunting with a friend in Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore.

Maryland Natural Resources police said Darryl James Patrylak of Bear Creek was shot by his companion, Gerald Edward Merkle, 58, of Parkville, who was in a tree stand with a 30.06 rifle. Patrylak was wearing camouflage clothing, but not a reflective safety vest or cap, police said, and Merkle mistook him for a deer.

The men were hunting on Buck Ridge Road in Wingate, near Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, when the accident occurred around 3:30 p.m. Patrylak was airlifted to the hospital, and the investigation is continuing, police said. A woman who answered the phone at the Merkle residence declined to comment, and there was no answer at the Patrylak home.

Natural Resources police spokesman Sgt. Art Windemuth said all hunters are required to wear fluorescent orange clothing while hunting, and once the agency's investigation of the incident is complete, both men could be subject to charges of negligent hunting and reckless endangerment.

"The two cardinal rules of firearms safety are to treat every gun as if it is loaded, and never point a weapon at anything you don't intend to shoot," Windemuth said. Beyond that, hunters should be familiar with their weapon and always aware of what lies beyond their target. Last year a hunter in Clarksville, Howard County, fired a shot at a deer that missed and broke the window of an occupied day care center.

Windemuth said most hunting accidents are caused by falls from tree stands. "More people are injured playing badminton than in hunting accidents," he said.

So far this year, three hunters have been killed in falls, while Patrylak is only the second person injured in a firearms accident. The other firearms incident involved a man using a single-shot muzzle-loading rifle that accidentally discharged as he rammed home the shot, sending the ramrod through his arm.

In 2009, one hunting accident was fatal, when a 46-year old man died after falling 15 feet from a tree stand. Eight people were injured, including six who fell from tree stands.

If hunters used a safety vest that ties them to a line attached to the tree stand, they would be protected from falls, Windemuth said. Called a full restraint system, the body harness is a vest that uses two belts around the waist and one around each leg. Another belt with a metal link at the end is then clipped to a rope loop attached to a line from the tree stand. If the hunter falls, the line keeps him from crashing to the ground.

This year's two-week firearm deer hunting season ends Saturday, though another muzzle-loading and then a bow and arrow hunting period follow.

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