The herd is getting thinner as hunters die in woods

December 19, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

I would like to thank all hunters for thinning the herd once again this year.

Thinning the herd is one of the great justifications for hunting.

It is that practice by which hunters claim to kill only the weakest and the dumbest of any species, thereby leaving the rest of the herd stronger.

L Thinning the herd was once thought to apply only to animals.

But after years of studying hunting accidents, I am sure it applies to humans, too.

Nobody knows what primordial urge makes some people hunt. But maybe it is nature's way of removing the weakest and dumbest from our species.

The death of all humans is tragic, and I get no pleasure from reporting on it. But anybody who walks into the woods for the express purpose of killing something has to be willing to take the risk that that something may be himself.

A 1989 study by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta found that more than 50 percent of all hunting accidents are caused by hunters falling out of trees.

Why are hunters up in trees in the first place?

Since most deer do not instinctively look upward for predators, hiding up in a tree makes it easier for hunters to shoot them. (This is why hunting is called a "sport.")

There are three troubles that hunters have with trees, however:

1. Getting up them.

2. Getting down them.

3. Staying in them.

All three problems are complicated by the fact that hunters are often performing these activities while carry large, loaded weapons.

According to the CDC study, of those who fell, 55.5 percent fell out of trees, 24.5 percent fell while trying to climb down from trees, and 20 percent fell while trying to climb up the trees.

Of the 400 cases studied, 11 hunters fell asleep, and eight said they were drunk or were suspected of being drunk by game officials.

And since the CDC found that the average tree stand was 16 feet from the ground, you can see it is not the same as falling off a bar stool.

A classic case of how hunters injure themselves was reported by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency a few years ago:

"In his excitement to climb a tree stand, the victim put a loaded rifle in his coveralls with the muzzle pointed upward. The hammer was in a cocked position . . . and the rifle discharged as the victim climbed the tree."

He put a loaded rifle in his coveralls?

See what I mean about thinning the herd?

Or consider this case from a few weeks ago reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer of a 37-year-old hunter from Lancaster, Ohio, who died from a gunshot wound when he "apparently was trying to raise or lower a shotgun from his tree stand using fishing line."

One way to avoid these accidents would be for hunters to remove the ammunition from their guns while getting them in and out of trees.

But many hunters will not do it. Why? The same reason they stick loaded rifles in their coveralls, I guess.

Another, more terrifying, trend in hunting accidents has surfaced for the first time this year. This account is from the Atlanta Constitution:

"Olustee, Fla. -- The shotgun killings of two men perched in tree stands while awaiting passing prey have stunned the large hunting community along the Florida-Georgia border, disturbing the easygoing fellowship of people who normally respect guns, the woods and marksmanship.

" 'There's a lot of people talking about it,' said David Long, owner of Long Shot Sporting Goods in MacClenny. 'They're real skittish about going out by themselves. They don't know if it's a serial killer or what.' "

A serial killer?

Perhaps. But perhaps there is another explanation:

Hunters kill so many animals each year, they thin the herd so much, that those animals that survive are the Einsteins of the species.

They mate with other Einsteins and have baby Einsteins and each year the animals get smarter and smarter.

And maybe they are now so smart that they have learned how to look for hunters in trees.

And how to sneak up behind them.

And how to get even.

Which really would make hunting more sporting, wouldn't it?

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