Hunting accidents are rare in Alberta, fatal ones rarer still, and rarest of all are charges-court proceedings arising out of any of them.
Readers who hunt are applauding the police for pressing charges against a Lacombe hunter who, on the second last day of the hunting season, allegedly mistook a hunting companion for a deer, fired two shots at about 300 metres (328 yards), and gut-shot the companion who later died from his wounds.
It seems that generally there has to be some outrageous element in hunting accident cases before charges are laid. Herbert Stanley Meister, 57, has been charged with criminal negligence by discharging a firearm and causing death. But I suspect the reason that charge was laid so quickly is found in the second charge: for possession of a weapon while being prohibited from doing so.
That second charge has now been withdrawn by the Crown because, at the time of the fatal shooting, the prohibition order against Meister had expired.
If the criminal negligence charge stands and proceeds to trial, there will be answers to burning questions Alberta hunters are asking: Did the rifle have a scope?
What was the time of day?
Was it open country, or treed?
Did the shooter ever take the provincial hunter training course, or the federal firearms safety course?
Some facts, not yet proven in court, have been released by the RCMP. The accused and three companions were hunting deer in a heavily-wooded area about 13 km. west of Bentley.
These hunters were allegedly all wearing either camo or dark clothing, rather than scarlet or blaze orange. The accident allegedly happened in mid-afternoon.
I suspect these hunters were “pushing bush,” trying to drive deer toward one or another of their companions.
Had I been there, everyone would have worn some blaze orange, or I’d have gone elsewhere.
Having said that, the only times I wear blaze orange are when other big game hunters are around, or when upland bird hunting in thick, close quarters.
When big game hunting by myself, where few hunters are around, I prefer the invisibility of full camouflage, having had the chilling experience of being “scoped” (another hunter aiming at you while he studies you through rifle’s scope) too many times while I was festooned, head to foot, in blaze orange.
Which raises a question that nobody but me ever seems to ask: was the alleged shooter carrying binoculars and did he use them to look at what he allegedly thought was a deer before he shot? The visual acuity and the light gathering capability of binoculars is so superior to riflescopes that I cannot understand why more big game hunters do not use them or why their use for big game hunting is not made mandatory.
The “Alberta Conservation and Hunter Education” manuals I have do not even mention the use of binoculars in the “Vision” section.
Five years ago I did not risk even one iffy shot at the biggest white-tailed buck I have ever seen on the hoof, lest I wound him.
He appeared suddenly, only 50 meters away, two minutes before the end of legal shooting light.
I could practically count every point of, and score his heavy rack through my Leitz 8X32 binoculars, but I simply could not “find” him in my rifle’s scope.
Two of the more outrageous items in my thin Hunting Accident file are the decisions of the B.C. Court of Appeal in 1962 in Regina vs. Weber and of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in 1969 in Regina vs. McCrea.
Around 7 a.m. Weber saw something moving along Crooked River and fired two shots at 365 yards. What he thought was a moose was really a 14-foot aluminum boat with outboard on the stern and three passengers, one of whom he killed and wounded another.
In considerably increasing Weber’s sentence for criminal negligence, Mr. Justice Robertson said: “There are reasonable rules of conduct which most hunters observe and the observance of which can eliminate so-called hunting accidents . . . . When (Weber) saw the boat with three men in it on the water and thought it was a moose, he cannot have taken any precaution to confirm his impression before he fired.”
McRea, another moose hunter on foot, shot dead a conservation officer who was a passenger riding on a running Bombardier, then admitted: “I didn’t know what I was shooting at when I fired.” Chief Justice Culliton said this: “Under the common law, anyone carrying such a dangerous weapon as a rifle is under the duty to take such precaution in its use as, in the circumstances, would be observed by a reasonably careful man.”
At the very least, keeping the rifle lowered while using binoculars, even though not required by Alberta law, gives a hunter a good look and the quiet time to confirm or negate — in the heat of the hunt — his impression, that what he is seeing is really what he thought he saw.
Bob Scammell is an awarding winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.