Come November, I often end up in animated discussions with co-workers who don’t think dressing up like a pumpkin and sitting in a frozen tree for hours sounds like an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
They are nonhunters — not anti-hunters. These work pals don’t think (or have kept the sentiment to themselves) that I’m a barbarian or that I’m participating in an antiquated tradition that is no longer necessary.
They just don’t hunt. Many of them love being outdoors and like to hike or bike through the woods. But hunting? It’s just not their cup of tea.
Most of the time, I have pleasant conversations with this group of friends. They listen and nod and humor me when I talk about hunting. I listen and nod and humor them when they tell me about their hikes. But on Monday, all of that changed.
On Monday, I was trying to explain how responsible most hunters are. I was trying to tell my friends that a single tragic weekend doesn’t mean that the Maine woods are inherently unsafe during November.
And I expect my words sounded less than convincing.
Consider: Over a two-day period spanning Friday and Saturday, three hunting-related shootings were reported to the Maine Warden Service.
• On Friday, a Portsmouth, N.H. man who was target shooting in the woods of Casco was shot in the stomach by a hunter. The victim was taken by LifeFlight to a Lewiston hospital.
• Also on Friday, a Hebron man was shot in the leg by a hunting companion as they tracked a deer that had been wounded in Oxford. The wounded hunter was also transported to a Lewiston hospital.
• And on Saturday, 46-year-old Peter Kolofsky of Sebago was shot and killed while hunting in that southern Maine town. The alleged shooter, 61-year-old William Briggs of Windham, was hunting nearby but was not a member of Kolofsky’s hunting party.
Adding more fuel to the fire: Over the past week and a half two hunters shot and killed dogs in incidents that took place in Orrington and Magalloway. Both dogs were German shepherds that were mistaken for coyotes.
The good news, if there is any, is that hunting in Maine has become a very safe endeavor over the past few decades. In fact, the Sebago shooting was the first fatal hunting incident reported in the state since 2008. According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, there were six shooting incidents involving deer hunting that year, just one nonfatal deer-hunting incident in 2009, and none in 2010.
All it takes is a single weekend, however, to convince plenty of people that the woods of Maine are full of wild, gun-toting folks who don’t care what they shoot at, whether it’s a deer, the family pooch or another hunter.
And that’s why, on Monday, none of my nonhunting friends seemed willing to believe anything different.
We hunters have an obligation to make safety — not bagging a buck and filling a tag — our No. 1 priority. We say we understand that. And many of us, most of us, do.
A few years back, however, I realized just how thin the line between “knowing safety” and “being safe” can be.
On a hunt with a well-known outdoorsman, I noticed that the muzzle of his shotgun often strayed, either while working through the woods or when we stopped to chat. More than once, it was pointing directly at me.
This man knew the safety mantra better than any. He probably even taught it to others. But over time, he’d become frighteningly lax.
The gun was loaded. I was uneasy. And I’ve never hunted with him again.
The state-mandated hunter safety courses have done a solid job teaching new hunters how important safety is.
Unfortunately, incidents will continue. Mistakes will be made. Tragedies will occur. And hunters will be tempted to blame the other guys: the guys who aren’t like them. The guys who don’t get it. The guys who messed up.
Today’s message, I suppose, is this: That attitude is fine, as long as we understand that all of those guys “who messed up” are just like us in one vital way.
They likely thought that only “other guys” ended up shooting someone while hunting, too.