As an Illinois Conservation Police Officer, I responded to numerous hunting accidents during my career. These accidents certainly were not the favorite part of my job however they do happen and are all too common. Broken bones, lacerations, falls from trees, health emergencies, ATV accidents and drownings largely make up the list. All of them disturbing, unfortunate and avoidable with planning and safety practices. The calls I dreaded the most were those reports of hunting accidents that involved fatalities. Not only would I have to investigate the scene, interview any witnesses or participants, but I would speak with the families and offer an explanation as to how they lost a loved one who was participating in an activity that was supposed to be enjoyable.
One such accident involved two waterfowl hunters who arrived early at the lake to get into position with their boat blind. It was a perfect day for waterfowl hunting as the weather was cooperating and the ducks had been active. All the equipment had been checked, the boat was in good condition and both hunters were excited to get started and enjoy the sport they loved so much. As shooting hours opened, they could hear other hunters in the distance calling and shooting. One of the hunters looked over his shoulder and observed some low flying ducks approaching from the rear and side. As the ducks came into range circling the boat, the command was given, “Take’em!” The hunter in the rear of the boat stayed seated, swung his aim following the ducks and pulled the trigger…just as the other hunter stood up in front of the shooter. This hunting trip sadly ended in a fatality. It was an unfortunate, devastating and yet avoidable mistake. As hunters, we must all be aware of our surroundings, always err on the side of caution, practice safe hunting techniques and cause others to do the same. Could these hunters have made a game plan prior to hunting? Could they have talked about not standing up in the boat, each hunters swing pattern, when to shoot and who would shoot? The answer to all these questions is YES.
Unintentional, unexpected mistakes happen. What we all must do is learn from these mistakes, train ourselves to think, plan and practice safety in every hunting situation. Talk to your partners prior to hunting, know each other’s position, what is expected and what is unacceptable.
The worst hunting trip that you will ever take is the one that you or a hunting partner never returns home from. Please think, learn, practice, and enjoy your hunting season.
Have a successful hunting season and as always, be safe!
Retired Lieutenant Eric Bumgarner spent 24 years with the Illinois Conservation Police. Eric is an avid outdoorsman and has a passion for protecting the natural resources.