"I heard a young child scream. I thought he got a deer."
Four kinds of hunting stories involving children reach ANIMAL PEOPLE with tedious regularity: children killed while hunting; children killing their own fathers, brothers, mothers, or sisters in hunting accidents; children using hunting weapons to commit murder; and adult authorities working to lower the minimum age for hunting.
Among the child and teen victims of legal hunting during 1998:
Isaac Earl Reynolds, 13, of Paonia, Colorado, killed on his first hunt by his father Earl A. Reynolds’ accidental discharge;
Marvin Olausen, 9, of Oriska, North Dakota, killed by an adult hunter’s stray shot as he sat with his mother in a pickup truck;
Jarod Nign, 9, of Carrollton, Ohio, whose killer, Lester Manns, 57, of Canton, was on December 8, was charged with negligent homicide;
Misty Taylor, 16, of Topeka, Kansas, killed by an accidentatl discharge as she rode down a bumpy rode with two young male hunters;
John L. Schultz, 17, of Wellsville, Pennsylvania, who apparently accidentally killed himself;
Bobby Ahrns Jr., 16, of Dayton, Ohio, killed by an accidental shot when his 13-year-old brother tripped on a log;
Joshua Jesperson, 12, of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, who tripped on his first deer hunt and accidentally killed his father, Neil M. Jespersen, 34.
“I heard a young kid scream. I thought he got a deer,” witness Charlie Calabrese of Pittston, Pennsyvlania told Philadelphia Inquirer correspondent Aileen Soper. “But he kept screaming.”
At least two other boys killed their brothers. Their names were not disclosed.
At least two other boys killed their fathers. Their names were also not disclosed.
The other kind of young hunter story starts arriving in spring, when state legislatures convene. One name often figuring in that sort of story is New York state assembly majority leader Michael Bragman.
Soon after the massacre of four children and a pregnant teacher by two adolescent hunters in Jonesboro, Arkansas, in March 1998, Bragman unsuccessfully introduced a bill to lower the legal deer and bear hunting age in New York from 16 to 14. The timing, noted by news media, may have doomed that effort, but Bragman returned to the assembly this year with an almost identical measure (A1083) plus another bill repeatedly defeated in past years which would legalize the use of drowning snares to kill beavers, who can stay submerged without drowning for up to half an hour (A1084).
The Bragman effort to lower the hunting age echoes repeated findings by psychologists and demographers that children tend either to learn to hunt young or not at all. Alarmed by declining hunter numbers, wildlife agencies and pro-hunting organizations are vigorously pushing special seasons for youth, classroom hunting instruction, and other means of inuring youth to recreational bloodshed.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, for instance, allows youths under 17 to hunt free of charge on designated public land, if accompanied by a license-holding adult. Participation in the program has gradually risen from 415 in 1984 to 8,206 in 1997.
In Michigan the current hunter recruitment campaign figurehead is Ted Nugent, the one-time “Motor City Madman” rock guitarist who may by now be better known as a hunting columnist and radio talk show host. “Nugent’s approach to promulgating killing through thinly veiled love-of-nature rhetoric is actually taken from a rather scary 1996 document entitled Governor John Engler’s Hunting and Fishing Heritage Task Force Recommendations,” Jackson psychologist John S. Hand informed Citizen-Patriot readers in a letter-to-the-editor published on January 15, 1999. “All but a handful of the 32 members of the Heritage Task Force had a strong financial stake in the hunting, fishing, and trapping industry. They recommended that five-to-ten-year-old children be targeted, especially females, and that public schools should be used as the primary delivery system for pro-hunting, fishing, and trapping propaganda, with the assistance of the Department of Natural Resources. That sounds a bit Orwellian, but it gets worse.
“This 14-page report talks about creating ‘an aggressive marketing strategy,’ so as to depict hunting, fishing, and trapping as ‘acceptable, ethical, essential, time-honored and family-oriented.’ The task force also recommends propagandizing Scout troops, church and youth organizations, and 4-H households––in direct conflict with the morals and values taught in the homes and families of the vast majority of children, who have chosen not to participate in blood sports.”
Hunting and family
“Many social scientists have theorized that strong families and stable communities dampen human aggressive tendencies,” B. Bower of Science News summarized in September 1998.
However, Bower continued, recent research by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign psychologist Dov Cohen “suggests that in regional cultures that condone certain types of hostility, social stability may promote violence and even murder. Within those regions, areas with solid families and communities have the highest rate of honor-related homicides and the greatest support for violent social policies and hobbies...such as watching violent television shows and hunting.”
Other investigators––criminal investigators––are beginning to recognize that so-called hunting accidents are in themselves often a form of violent crime. Explained Columbus Dispatch hunting writer Ken Gordon in November 1998, “In the old days, shootings in the woods were called ‘accidents,’ and were treated as such. Today they are called ‘incidents,’ and the places where they happen are treated like a crime scene.”
Ohio Division of Wildlife outdoor skills section supervisor Dave Wilson told Gordon that about 90% of the investigations of “incidents” reported to his department result in some sort of criminal charges being filed––usually, negligent hunting or manslaughter.
“There used to be a saying,” Wilson said, “‘If you want to knock off somebody, take them hunting. That’s not the case any more. Investigating these incidents is now our top priority.”
In 1997 there were 1,038 hunting “incidents” including 96 fatalities in the U.S. and Canada.
The 1998 totals are not available yet––but ANIMAL PEOPLE is aware already of six murder prosecutions proceeding in 1998 “hunting accident” cases. One of the alleged murderers was a 17-year-old.
So far, well-funded attempts to revive hunting by recruiting youth are emminently unsuccessful. Even in Texas, one of the states with traditionally high hunting participation, the number of active hunters has fallen 18% in 10 years––and when population growth is taken into account, the proportion of hunters per capita is down 31%. Hunting participation is especially low among minorities: 26% of Texans are Hispanic, according to Texas A&M University researcher Myron F. Floyd, but they form only 8.6% of the hunting population, and 12% of Texans are Afro-American, but Afro-Americans are just 2.6% of the hunting population. The average age of Texas hunters is meanwhile up from 36 in 1974 to 41 today––yet another indication that attitrition far exceeds recruitment.
Yet another measure of the decline of hunting is the rapid increase in the amount of land posted against hunter incursions. Vermont has some of the most tedious posting regulations, and long had one of the highest per capita rates of hunting participation of any state. Nonetheless, the volume of posted acreage in Vermont increased by 33% from 1996 to 1998.
Failing to bring new hunters into the field, hunting recruiters are now shifting their emphasis to keeping the already involved active––at any cost.
Making more animals available to kill is one option. Claiming that snow geese have increased their numbers four-or-fivefold in 30 years, and are now eating themselves out of Arctic summer habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on February 12, 1999 announced that 24 states will be allowed to expand snow goose hunting opportunities this year. Utah and Indiana are reportedly close to approving legislation to permit so-called canned hunts, in which hunters pay to kill captive-reared animals.
In southern Maine––within a short drive of parts of New Hampshire and Massachusetts where deer overpopulation is allegedly a problem––the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife was in December 1998 revealed to be spending $10,000 a year to kill 150-250 coyotes, so as to increase the number of deer available to be hunted.
The annual Mosquito Creek Sportsmen’s Association coyote-killing contest in Frenchville, Pennsylvania has a similar pretext, as do many other coyote-killing contests around the U.S.
In 1994, a man identifying himself as a member of the Mosquito Creek club actually called ANIMAL PEOPLE to insist that coyotes had to be killed to undo the damage to the deer herd caused by animal rights activists who were releasing coyotes in the area in an effort to destroy hunting.
But the participants have another motive, too: the entry fees are pooled, with the person who kills the most coyotes getting to keep the jackpot. At least 3,880 hunters signed up for the February 20 event. “It’s a no-holds-barred hunt,” wrote Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Sandy Bauers. “The hunters can use every calling mechanism imaginable, even go after the quarry in groups. Last year, Brian Weidener of Easton and his team had nine foxhounds, each fitted with a radio transmitter that had a range of 15 miles.”
The humans followed the dogs in comfortable four-wheel-drive vehicles. The coyotes, however, outsmarted that particular team. Indeed, the entire bag, among 2,700 participants in 1998, was four coyotes. This year, the mob killed 21.
De-emphasizing so-called sportsmanship in hunting is another ploy. Minnesota liberalized the rules for issuing “disability permits” in 1993, allowing holders to kill antlerless deer from their cars. The number of disability permit holders more than doubled.
Recently reported Doug Smith of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Some Department of Natural Resources officials fear that applications for disability permits will only increase because of a new law that requires grouse hunters to be 20 yards away from their vehicles when they shoot at grouse. The disability permit would allow them to shoot from their vehicle.”
They may not have to be sober behind the wheel, either.
“Since 1992,” wrote Conrad deFiebre of the Star Tribune on February 18, “Minnesota hunters have been subject to a little-noticed law forbidding them from being drunk within two hours of taking game. State senator Bob Lessard, of International Falls, says he sees an injustice in the making, especially now that some legislators are pushing again to cut the blood-alcohol standard for drunken driving––and drunken hunting––from 0.10% to 0.08%. Lessard, chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said that the law could trip up innocent hunters celebrating a kill. ‘You could lose your hunting privileges,’ he said. ‘It borders on being unconstitutional.’”
Minnesota––whose voters passed a “right to hunt” amendment to the state constitution in November 1998––and Virginia are the last two states which have not complied with the 1996 federal welfare reform act. The act requires states to suspend the hunting and fishing permits of parents who don’t pay child support as per court order.
Under the circumstances, hunters have showed little sense of humor in response to Deer Avenger, a parody of the popular Deer Hunter Avenger video game. As described by New York Times computer game critic J.C. Herz, in Deer Hunter Avenger “you play the title character, Bambo, a camouflage-clad buck out for blood. Your arsenal includes a slingshot loaded with deer dung, an M-16, a bazooka, and a stream of snide one-liners. Your quarry is big-bellied rednecks, goofy Minnesotans, and over-equipped yuppies––moronic cartoons irresistably drawn to hunter calls like, ‘Help! I’m naked and I have a pizza!’ Instead of deer droppings and tree scratchings, they leave beer cans, toilet paper, and freshly wrinkled pornographic magazines.”
Safari Club International president Alfred “Skip” Donau in December 1998 reportedly asked the maker of Deer Hunter Avenger, Simon & Schuster Interactive, to withdraw it––even though it has apparently increased teen interest in hunting, at least in a manner of speaking.
That was about the same time the Detroit chapter of Safari Club International reportedly reneged on a pledge to donate $5,000 to the Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation to assist wildlife law enforcement, by way of apology because five members had hired convicted poacher Donald Dungey, of Medford, to guide them in pursuit of trophy deer and elk. Four of the five were eventually convicted with Dungey as co-conspirators.
Explained former Detroit chapter president Donald Black, “We were reluctant to put chapter money into something that could become a public relations nightmare,” because it might be seen as “wealthy hunters buying themselves out of a problem.” Returned Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation spokesperson Rod Brobeck, “This may confirm some negative feelings some people have about that group––that they are just a bunch of rich hunters.”