Hunting Accident File > VIOLATIONS: > 2003


19 November 2003

As we enter the third week of deer hunting season reports of criminal trespass and neglect for safety continues at an alarming rate. As more private lands continue to be posted off-limits to recreational use, hunting opportunities will become even more limited.

One recent trespassing incident nearly cost an innocent bystander her life. Tara Mitchell of the Bellsqueeze Road in Benton doesn't hunt in back of her home, but often takes a stroll through a neighbor's field to watch wildlife. The Benton property, owned by Daniel Sheehan is posted with no trespassing signs. Mitchell said Sheehan posted his property because he often places his horses out to pasture. The landowner installed 30 posted signs systematically surrounding his property, but had to replace the signs after they were vandalized during hunting season.

"Dan has given me permission to walk in his back field to watch and film two fawns that appear just about 4:30 every day," Mitchell said. "On this particular day, I took a walk out to see if both fawns had survived the hunting season. I put on my fluorescent orange vest and hat just to be on the safe side."

Mitchell said the Sheehan property is bordered by two other property owners who have not posted their land. She was walking through the field, when she spotted an orange-clad hunter sitting inside the woods, less than 60 yards away and looking in her direction. Mitchell turned to walk away and had only taken several steps when a shot was fired. She actually felt the percussion of the rifle shot at her back.

"I looked over my shoulder and saw one of the fawns down only 30 yards away. It was between me and the hunter," she said. "I was standing in the direct line of fire when the hunter pulled up and shot."

Mitchell was petrified and didn't know if she should move in case the hunter decided to touch off another round.

"He (the hunter) just sat there looking at me. He didn't move," she said. "I didn't want to approach him because I didn't know what he'd do next."

Mitchell eventually walked away, but continued to look back to see if the hunter had walked out into the field to retrieve the yearling deer. He never moved.

"I walked over the Sheehan's to tell them what happened and ask if he had given anyone permission to hunt on his property," she said. "Dan said he hadn't and went to get his tractor to drive out into the field and confront the hunter."

Mitchell said the hunter and fawn were gone when Sheehan arrived in the killing field approximately 15 minutes later. An avid deer hunter herself, Mitchell said the deer was small enough to be picked up and carried away with little effort on the hunter's part.

"It really frustrates me to think this person was out there hunting with no concept of safety," she said. "He was also hunting over posted land and was actually sitting near a posted sign when he fired. So much for good hunting ethics and sportsmanship."

Several calls to Sheehan were not returned.

Warden Steven Couture of Benton investigated the complaint and says the Mitchell incident falls in line with several other similar occurrences.

"Reports of hunters shooting deer on posted land or shooting from a vehicle are coming in on a daily basis," he said. "There are hunters out there who continue to believe that it's appropriate to hunt on lands that are not posted without asking landowner permission first."

Couture said he's seeing more landowners posting their lands. The reason? Most are tired of hunter harassment during deer season.

"There are some honest, ethical hunters out there who continue to abide by the law, but unfortunately, there are those who have no respect for landowner rights and will break the law at every chance to bag a deer," he said.

Within minutes of talking to Couture, I spoke with Tammi Sterns of Vassalboro about another incident. Sterns was driving along the Nelson Road in Vassalboro early Tuesday morning when she spotted two deer standing in a small field, just several yards of the road and within 50 feet of a residence. Sterns, a Vassalboro school bus driver, was on her way to pick up her school bus when she met co-worker David Dunton, also of Vassalboro, on his morning bus route, ready to pick up children for school.

"We met exactly where the deer were standing and I saw the deer. I noticed a pickup truck following Dave's bus," she said. "I didn't think much of it until I saw Dave about a half-hour later and he told me what happened."

Duntin, a Crowell Hill resident, said it was 6:05 a.m., when he spotted the deer, a nice buck and doe, standing only yards off the tar roadway. He slowed down for a look, but noticed a pickup truck trailing behind. Duntin pulled over to let the vehicle go by.

"He started to drive out around me and stopped in the middle of the road," he said. "I just figured he was looking at the deer too."

Duntin started to pull away when a shot rang out from behind. The blast jumped the bus driver nearly out of his seat.

"Holy crap, what was that," he said. "That's when he fired again."

Duntin said the hunter was still sitting in the truck cab when he fired both shots out through the driver's side window. An ardent deer hunter, Duntin couldn't believe what had just taken place. He said the shot was aimed straight at a house and U.S. Route 32, a busy highway, less than 200 yards away.

Sterns, who also hunts, drove past the shooting site while on her bus route. She watched the hunter making his way along the edge of the field, heading toward the woods. Luckily, the house was unoccupied at the time.

"The people who live here are away," she said as we stood on the front lawn looking at the home. "I don't think he got the deer, but I just can't believe someone would be so stupid."

Warden Terry Hughes of Oakland investigated the incident and a Vassalboro hunter was charged Tuesday with shooting from his vehicle and discharging his shotgun too close to a dwelling.

Hughes says it's illegal to have a loaded weapon in a vehicle without a permit, shoot from a vehicle without a permit, shoot from a tar roadway or across a tar roadway and discharge a firearm within 300 feet of a dwelling without permission of the owner.

"You have to be standing 10 feet off a tar roadway before you can legally discharge a firearm, but outside legal range of a dwelling."

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