In The Crosshairs: Hunting only as safe as you make it

This past weekend, I took a trip up north to see some friends graduate from my alma mater — Chico State.

Before heading back home, I went for a ride out to a desolate area on the outskirts of town where I used to hunt rabbits.

The trip brought back memories of shooting the critters with my single-action .22-caliber pistol, then bringing them back home to cook on the spit.

My fond recollections were quickly curtailed when I later read a story from a Texas newspaper about a hunting accident that took place in Hockley County.

A rabbit-hunting trip came to a tragic end when a grandfather, who was with four grandchildren, accidentally shot his 9-year-old granddaughter with a .22-caliber rifle when she walked into his line of fire, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

Though the incident was investigated, no charges were filed against the grandfather — Peter Dahlstrom — and officials said there was no sign of criminal intent or reckless behavior.

The story brought to mind a similar heart-sinking story told to me while I went through my hunter safety training as a kid.

A father and son were duck hunting in ground blinds several years back. When the father sat up to fire at some birds, his son next to him also sat up right as the father squeezed the trigger, killing the boy.

The guilt and depression that followed the fatal accident pushed the boy's father to shoot himself.

I've always said that hunting is one of the healthiest and safest sports out there, and despite the heartbreaking stories that arise from it, I still feel that way.

Every time I leave to go on a hunt in the mountains, my mom, seemingly convinced that I'll be eaten by a bear, tends to worry.

I always tell her people are more likely to be killed in the city, and hunting is as safe as you make it.

On average, hunting accidents account for 1.3 deaths a year in California, according to government data from 1994 to 2005. Many of the fatalities happened during deer hunts.

A majority of non-fatal accidents happened during bird hunts. Similar statistics show that other physical sports, such as skiing, record far more deaths than hunting.

But when stories like the one in Texas come up, it's always a sobering reminder to follow all those lessons they teach during hunter safety courses. Those include always handling your gun as if it's loaded, don't ever step in front of a shooter and if you're not sure if you have an unobstructed shot — don't take it.

A human life is never worth the risk.

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