Illinois Department of Natural Resources
February 2020
February 1, 2020
A safe, successful squirrel harvest by a young hunter. Photo by Mark Alessi.

I’m No Squirrel

By Eric Bumgarner

While on patrol as a Conservation Police Officer, I received a dispatch to a hunting accident with injuries. Experience told me that these incidents can and do sometimes become very serious, so I responded to the location as quick as possible.

Upon arrival, I noticed two older gentlemen by a pickup truck, both dressed in hunting clothes. One of the men was sitting leaned against the truck and appeared to be bleeding from his head. The man identified as “James” advised he had been shot in the head but that he felt okay. Inspecting his wounds I noticed three distinct lines from back to front across the top of his head that appeared to be only skin deep but were producing some blood. I immediately administered first aid and then began my investigation.

Too many times Conservation Police Officers must deal with hunting accidents that could have, and should have been, avoided. A cardinal rule in hunting: You never pull the trigger without identifying your target and your surroundings. Some hunters have fallen victim when someone shot at a glimpse of what they thought was an animal through the brush, shot at a noise, shot during low light conditions, or missed their target and struck an unintended victim. The list goes on, all with bad consequences.

Two orange and grey harvested squirrels on the forest floor next to a firearm.
Photo by Jared Duquette.

As hunters, we must do whatever it takes to be safe. Know your weapon and how to use it by going to the range and practicing. Practice engaging the safety after each shot. What kind of ammunition are you going to hunt with, and do you know its capabilities? What are you going to hunt? Who is going with you? While hunting in the field, always know where your hunting partner is and avoid shooting in their direction.

Now, back to James. James and “Harmon” had been lifelong friends and had hunted together many times. They arrived at the woods with their shotguns to do a little squirrel hunting, like they had many times before. As they became separated, James and Harmon lost track of each other’s location. James became a little tired and decided to sit on the ground while leaning against a fallen tree. Sometime after, Harmon, using a stalking technique to locate squirrels, thought he saw a squirrel sitting on a fallen tree and shot. Harmon did not realize what he saw was the grey-haired head of James, who was sitting on the other side of the fallen tree. Harmon quickly realized that he had shot his hunting partner and had made a serious mistake. This explains the three lines (BB tracks) across James’ head.

Fortunately, James was not seriously injured and required only minor medical attention. Both James and Harmon learned the importance of always knowing where your hunting partner is and identifying your target before shooting.

A grey squirrel on a branch of a tree eating a nut.

I’m not sure of the longevity of their friendship as in parting, James advised he was never hunting with Harmon again because “I ain’t no squirrel.” James did, however, live to hunt another day.

Please, always be safe, know your partners location, and identify your target and its surroundings.

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.