Fatal Hunting Accident In Washington

Seattle pi, Bear Hunting Magazine

Skagit County authorities continue to investigate an apparent hunting accident that left a 54-year-old woman dead. On Saturday, a 14-year-old boy was hunting bear near Rockport when he shot and killed a woman.

The boy, who was hunting with his 16-year-old brother, told investigators that he mistook the woman for a bear, said Will Reichardt, chief criminal deputy of the Skagit County Sheriff's Department. The decision was made to charge him with first degree manslaughter.

The boy was hunting without adult supervision, which is legal in Washington. Hunters under 35 are required to take a safety class before being issued a hunting license, said Mik Mikitik, of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's hunter-education division. The classes focus on gun safety, as well as game management and sportsmanship.

Mikitik said it is not uncommon for young teens to hunt. Most hunters start young, Mikitik said, as they are introduced to hunting by relatives. Statistics show that hunters under 30 are more likely to be involved in a hunting accident, Mikitik said.

Still, fatal hunting accidents are rare in the state, with only eight reported in the past decade. Bear hunting season opened at the beginning of August for Sauk Mountain, which includes trails popular with hikers. The season goes through the end of the year. The hunter and the victim were about 120 yards away from each other, said Sgt. Bill Heinchk, of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

As with any type of hunting, hunters needs to confirm the safety of their shot before lowering their firearm and pulling the trigger. This accident should be used as a safety reminder for all hunters going out in the field.

Update August 13, 2008
The Aug. 2 accident was a rarity in Washington, Almli is the first nonhunter killed by a hunter in the state in more than 25 years, but that has not made wildlife officials and the hiking community any less anxious to find ways to make sure it does not happen again.

Capt. Bill Hebner of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said he and his colleagues would like the state to re-institute an age restriction for people who go into the wilderness with a gun. Washington previously required supervision for hunters 14 and younger but eliminated the restriction in 1994 when lawmakers revised the state's gun laws.

Blake, who believes the change was accidental, is seeking support for a measure to restore the age limit for solo hunters. Attempts to raise the hunting age in Washington, last tried in 2005, have been met with widespread opposition. He does not think organized lobbying by hunting groups and the National Rifle Association was entirely to blame. "Even family members can disagree about how this should be administered," he said.

Any move by the state to tighten restrictions on hunting would buck the national trend. More than a dozen states put no age limit on hunting and several others have recently lowered their age restrictions. Some, such as Washington, require a safety course for new hunters, but others leave instruction up to parents. From Arkansas to Washington, anyone who has legally purchased a license can go into the woods to hunt without adult supervision.

Accidental hunting deaths have dropped nationally in recent years, from 91 in 1995 to 42 in 2005, according to the International Hunter Education Association. Many of the deaths involve young hunters and nearly every victim was either the hunter or someone else in the hunting party.

Hikers in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are more likely to see a bear than a hunter on the trail, said Gary Paull, wilderness and trail coordinator. That is because this year's heavy mountain snowpack has bears foraging for food at lower elevations.

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