Hunting Accidents

It’s the first week of deer season and our local newspaper reports the casualty toll from day one. “Three hunters died and five others received non-life threatening injuries in four accidental shootings on the opening day of Pennsylvania rifle deer season…”.

One hunter died of a gunshot wound, and a second of head injuries after he fell from a tree stand. There are no details given for the third death. The five non-life threatening injuries included a ten year old girl and her father injured when a gun fell and went off.

Victims of hunting accidents sometimes contact accident attorneys. The accident attorney must obtain the Hunting Related Shooting Incident (HRSI) report, which will typically include witness statements and photographs of the scene as well as an examination of the rifle, etc. The accident attorney will rarely encounter a hunting related shooting incident which does not involve a violation of safe hunting practices.

Occasionally a case goes to trial and an opinion is written by a judge. Such was the situation in the Bissett case where Dauphin County’s colorful Judge John C. Dowling set forth the facts:

In the invasion of Clemson’s Island, Scott Bissett, who had gone ashore in the pre-dawn, was shot in the thigh when as day broke the battle began. His company had dug in, and when the fighting became intense even considered retreating to the landing craft, but as this entailed crossing an open field which was under a heavy barrage, they stayed on the line.

While the assailant is unknown, it is evident it was not the enemy, but another member of the invasion force, for the island to be subjected was inhabited only by an army of deer…[and hunters armed with] bow and arrow and flintlock rifles, thus making the ensuing engagement a combination of Agincourt and Bunker Hill.

So, how dangerous is the first day of deer season in Pennsylvania? The Pennsylvania Game Commission estimates that 750,000 hunters took to the woods on the first day. Assuming that the early reports are correct, and that one hunter died of a gunshot wound and five suffered non-life threatening injuries, the casualty rate represents a minute fraction of the number of hunters in the woods.

The low casualty rate can be attributed to Pennsylvania’s stringent gun safety regulations and the efforts of its law enforcement agencies, particularly the Pennsylvania Game Commission, as well as the increased safety concerns of the hunters themselves. So, despite Judge Dowling’s hyperbole, stepping into the woods on the first Monday after Thanksgiving is not the equivalent of landing on Omaha Beach.

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