Mike North: Hunting demands safety

11/29/2011 1:05 AM

11/29/2011 1:40 AM

Despite taking on the importance of hunting safety in past columns, two tragedies I read about over the weekend show just how easy it is to glance over the basics of being a safe outdoorsman.

The more troubling of the two articles detailed a story about a hunter who accidentally shot and killed his friend before reportedly turning the gun on himself and committing suicide.

Three men were hunting near Readsboro, Vt., when the accident happened, according to the U.K.'s Daily Mail.

Benjamin Birch, 39, shot a deer, and while going after it, his friend, Timothy Bolognani, 49, took a shot at what he thought was the deer. Instead, he hit Birch, who died on the spot, according to the article. Stricken with grief, Bolognani allegedly committed suicide with his own rifle.

This isn't the first time I've heard a story of this nature.

Hunting always involves risk, but we risk our lives every time we walk out the front door. You never know when you may be the victim of a crime, be involved in a car crash or anything else.

Hunters' education classes stress how important it is to clearly identify your target before pulling the trigger, but there are certainly more ways to help avoid accidents in the woods.

I've always worn camouflage on hunts to help mask my human outline. Full camo is usually fine when hunting on private land with friends, but public land is another story.

On a few occasions, I've been a little too close to the action when hunting in public mountain land, having errant shots whiz past me. None of them were meant for me -- I hope -- but that doesn't make it any less dangerous.

I finally started wearing a red bandana, which doesn't throw off my camo outfit and can come in useful if I need to flag someone down.

Too often, hunters create their own dangers.

A 46-year-old New York man, David Ternoois, was found dead Saturday after falling 21 feet out of a tree stand while hunting in Rose, N.Y., according to an Associated Press story appearing in the Wall Street Journal.

The death came just days after a 70-year-old Livingston County hunter punctured his lung and died after falling 15 feet from his tree stand, according to the AP.

The unfortunate part of both of those stories is that had the hunters taken precautions and used a safety harness or even a safety cable while climbing and sitting in the stand, the deaths could have been avoided.

There are ways to stay safe in the woods, and I try to practice them when I can.

I'm definitely no role model when it comes to safety, and I've never claimed to be. But injuring yourself in the middle of nowhere without any help is a bad feeling (I've been there), and sometimes just relying on your own instincts in nature is your best way to stay safe.

Just as with any other sport, you need to think when you hunt.

But unlike many sports, a lapse in judgment while on the hunt could mean death.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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