More than deer are nervous when hunters are about


October 29, 1990|By ROGER SIMON

It is fall. There is a nip in the air. The leaves are turning. And throughout the state the sound of autumn will soon be heard:


Hunting season will soon be upon us. And it will not be safe in the woods for man or beast.

The trouble is, however, it is often not safe out of the woods, either.

This is not a column exploring the ethics of hunting animals. This is a column exploring the ethics of hunting people.

More than 1,500 people a year are killed or wounded by hunters in this country and Canada. In some cases the hunters kill themselves. In some cases the hunters kill each other.

And while this is distressing, anybody who engages in hunting assumes a certain risk.

But what about the people who do not hunt? What about the people who simply wish to walk outside their homes during hunting season?

They, I'm afraid, are in big trouble.

The case of Karen Ann Wood has become the most famous. I wrote about her a year ago. Mrs. Wood, her husband, and their twin 1-year-old girls lived in a small suburban subdivision a few miles west of Bangor, Maine.

On Nov. 15, 1988, a hunter -- he was the produce manager of a local supermarket and a Boy Scout leader -- began hunting very close to the subdivision.

At 3:30 p.m., Mrs. Wood went outside her house, possibly to make sure her children were safe from the hunters in the neighborhood. She was wearing two white mittens.

She was 130 feet from her house and five feet within her own property line when the hunter killed her. She was 37.

The hunter, Donald Rogerson, was 189 feet from Mrs. Wood when he fired. He was armed with a .30-06 rifle mounted with a scope.

At his trial, Rogerson said that he saw a "deer" in his scope and fired twice. "I thought I heard the noise of an animal," he said. "I heard a snap. I looked up and there was buck deer in front of me. Then, I saw the brown of the deer in my scope." He fired, saw "two white flags," which he believed was the white underside of a deer's tail, and fired a second shot.

The shot went into Mrs. Wood's chest, killing her.

Certain questions were raised. What was Rogerson doing hunting so near a suburban subdivision? Weren't there plenty other places to hunt?

Yes, there were, he said, but he was hunting there because the area was "well traveled" by deer.

Others questioned how anyone could mistake a woman for a deer from only 60 yards away, especially when looking through a scope. Rogerson said he did.

Rogerson was arrested and charged with manslaughter. But a grand jury refused to indict him. And he received a great deal of public support.

He was not considered a selfish, irresponsible killer who slaughtered a woman while she was standing in her own back yard.

On the contrary, some said Rogerson was only doing the manly, traditional thing, going after deer. And why, some asked, was Mrs. Wood wearing white mittens? Didn't she know they could look like the rear end of a deer?

Bangor Daily News outdoor columnist Tom Hennessey wrote that if Mrs. Wood "had been wearing one piece of blaze-orange clothing, she'd be alive today." In other words, it was her own damn fault, the big, dead dummy!

Not that Hennessey was correct, however. On Oct. 23, 1989, Betty J. Maynard, 40, was shot to death by a hunter who was standing only 100 feet from her. Mrs. Maynard was dressed in red and wearing a fluorescent orange vest. The hunter said he thought she looked like a deer. And that is why he fired his shotgun into her head.

To hunters everything seems to look like a deer. Women dressed in red and orange. Women wearing white mittens. Cows. Road signs. Anything.

The refusal of the grand jury to indict Donald Rogerson drew media attention, and a Portland television station poked around and found out that a nephew of Rogerson's lawyer was on the grand jury.

So a second grand jury was convened and Rogerson was indicted. He went to trial last week. The lone defense witness was Rogerson, himself.

He said Mrs. Wood looked like a deer.

The jury deliberated nine hours and found him not guilty.

So what defense do people have during hunting season? They can stay indoors and hope they don't get shot through their walls.

Or, they can arm themselves. I strongly recommend against this. But some people have reacted with anger and say the only way to protect themselves and their children during hunting season is to get guns and stand guard.

I hope this doesn't happen. I hope no mother trying to protect her children shoots a hunter.

But if she does, she'd probably know what to do next.

She'd probably say he looked like a deer.

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