LOS BANOS -- The Los Banos duck hunter who was accidentally shot by his own dog broke one of the cardinal rules of hunting safety and was fortunate to escape with his life, experts said.
The accident occurred Saturday near Highway 152 and Midway Road when the female Labrador retriever stepped on her owner's loaded shotgun, disengaging the safety and causing the weapon to fire, according to the Merced County Sheriff's Department.
Authorities acknowledged that the report on the incident is public record, but refused to release it, discuss details about it or identify the hunter.
All that Merced County sheriff's spokesman Tom MacKenzie would say is that the 53-year-old man was hit in the upper back with No. 2 birdshot from a 15-yard distance.
Much of the talk revolves around the lapse in judgment of leaving a loaded shotgun on the ground and walking away.
The hunter did just that after exiting his blind to retrieve his decoys, authorities said.
"Anytime that gun leaves your hand it has to be unloaded -- period," said Susan Turner of Fresno, a longtime hunter safety instructor. "That's one of the first things you're taught."
Added Jeff Carroll, chairman of the California Waterfowl Association's local chapter: "You never leave a gun loaded when you're not with it, and that's the end of the discussion."
Both said the man was lucky to escape with minor injuries, let alone his life.
To increase the range of their shotguns, duck hunters typically use a choke that constricts the gun's barrel at the muzzle end.
A typical one-ounce load of No. 2 birdshot contains 125 steel pellets that exit the muzzle at up to 1,500 feet per second. At 15 yards and full choke, the spread pattern would be 16 inches in diameter, Turner said.
That's about the size of a large pizza.
"It boggles my mind that he's even alive," Turner said. "He's lucky the pellets didn't cut him in half." While rare, dog-shoots-hunter stories are not unheard of.