Hunting in Maine Was Safe In 2009
Hunting in Maine in 2009 was about the safest thing you could have done outdoors.
Only one person was injured during the fall deer seasons. No one was killed. The injury came when a first-time hunter shot herself in the foot. She learned that the foot is not a proper place to rest the barrel of a loaded gun.
Six other hunters were injured during October’s upland bird season. Sometimes when two hunters are working along a brushy stonewall, they can lose track and sight of each other, and when one shoots at a flushing bird, he may hit his partner instead.
The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife calls these “incidents” instead of “accidents” because they believe negligence is involved every time. I disagree. Accidents do happen.
Regardless of what you call it, you can chalk 2009 up as one of the safest hunting years in the state’s history.
National statistics show that far more injuries occur in other outdoor activities including fishing, swimming, hiking, and biking.
Maine sportsmen take great pride in the fact they have made their sport so safe. It wasn’t always so.
Fifty three hunters were killed during Maine’s deer seasons in just the first three years of the 1950s. Another 142 were injured. And back in those days, far fewer hunters were in the Maine woods in the fall.
Today if hunters killed that many people in the fall, hunting would be banned.
Most of the deaths and many of the injuries in the old days came when hunters mistook other hunters for deer. Today many of the injuries and even the deaths are self-inflicted, when guns accidentally discharge due to negligence or an accident (such as a stumble).
The only death during the 2008 deer season was just such a self-inflicted wound.
Hunters initiated several key changes to make their favorite sport safe. One was the requirement that all hunters take a safety course. Another was the mandate that hunters wear two pieces of orange clothing. And a third was a detailed target identification law that requires hunters to see the entire deer before shooting. Failure to do so is a felony.
Truth is, there is no excuse for shooting another human being, or anything but your target animal.
And that’s the final action that most hunters have taken. They’ve made the conscious decision to hunt safely, to pass up unsafe and uncertain shots, to always maintain the highest standards of safety when carrying a loaded firearm.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean every hunter obeys all of the state’s complex hunting laws.
Joel Wilkinson, Colonel of the Maine Warden Service, recently provided me with a report on the number of investigations of hunting law violations in 2009.
Examples would be baiting deer, illegal possession of wildlife, hunting without a permit or license, illegal transportation of fish and game, unlawful possession of wild birds, hunting under the influence, abuse of property, use of artificial lights or illegal weapons, and shooting too close to a dwelling.
Maine game wardens investigated 248 cases in the categories listed above. Another 192 investigations involved laws specific to various species, including 15 for bear, 54 for deer, and 13 for turkey. Twenty five investigations concerned night hunters.
Interestingly, game wardens investigated 48 cases of illegal waste dumping, a good example of the mission creep that has caused serious problems for the Warden Service.
It is telling that a force of more than 100 game wardens investigated so few hunting law violations.
Wilkinson cautions that the numbers above represent investigations, not the number of summonses issued or convictions achieved. Many cases take months to adjudicate and are still awaiting a court date. Some investigations will result in no summonses being issued.
“Overall I was pleased with our enforcement efforts,” Wilkinson told me. “I credit a great deal of the great information we receive to the outstanding relationship and renewed focus of our cooperative efforts with Operation Game Thief and the public who responsibly report these willful acts.”
OGT provides a toll-free telephone number to allow anonymous reports of possible poaching activity.
Over the past twenty years, a game warden’s responsibilities have changed significantly. Far less time is devoted to protecting wildlife and more to a host of other activities including snowmobile and ATV enforcement, drug busts, and even murder investigations. And lots of time goes to non-enforcement activities.
For example, over the past 10 years, Warden Service’s top five prosecutions have included drug prosecutions., operating unregistered snowmobiles, and operating unregistered ATVs.
Beyond this trend, enforcement of laws has continued to diminish as part of the every-day warden’s work. Former Colonel Tim Peabody, in 1999, issued this report:
“The time period of 1975 through 1988 shows enforcement making up roughly 70 percent of our hours worked. The analysis during the nineties shows enforcement making up 60 percent of our total hours. Fish and Wildlife enforcement makes up approximately 45 percent of this effort, and all recreational vehicle enforcement makes up 7 percent of the effort.”
Since then, more duties have been heaped on game wardens, and the traditional job of looking after the state’s wildlife resources has continued to diminish. Less than half of a warden’s time today goes to the Service’s original mission of protecting the wildlife resources of our state.
Fortunately, hunters as a group are more law abiding and safety conscious than they have ever been. And the year 2009 can now be recorded as another very safe hunting year.