Food For Thought On Hunter Orange

Earlier this afternoon one of my Portland writers turned in a story on mushroom hunting for our November issue. Pretty good piece, I thought — unexpected too, which pleased me even more.

As we bantered back and forth over email about how to illustrate the article, I gave him a rough idea for setting up a photograph when he heads afield soon with a pail and high hopes of chanterelle soup.

With Oregon rifle deer season on now, and last week’s tragic shooting death of a brush picker in Mason County, I added, “And for criminy sakes, wear something bright so you don’t get shot.”

He said he always did.

I don’t mean to imply here that the Northwest’s woods are some sort of free fire zone in fall — or winter, or spring, or summer. Statistics from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife back me up that it’s not.

The sport is extremely safe compared to the days before Hunter Education was required. Compare the 400-plus fatal and nonfatal accidents between 1967 and 1976, in the pre-hunter orange and pre-Hunter Ed requirement days with the 110 fatal and non-fatal incidents between 1997 and 2006.

To me it just makes sense to wear hunter orange while afield.

Heck, I’ve worn it even when I haven’t had to — while grouse and bandtail pigeon hunting with dad or friends.

(Sportsmen chasing ruffies, blues and spruce grouse, as well as bear, bobcat, cougar, coyote, fox, hare, rabbit and raccoon are now required to wear hunter orange while hunting areas open for rifle deer and elk seasons.)

But today another one of my writers, longtime Washington hunting and gun pen Dave Workman, came up with a “food for thought” blog.

It wonders whether hunter orange itself may have played a role in the shooting deaths of Carlos Pablo Carrillo last week and Pamela Almli last year. Both were mistaken for bears. Another forest worker was mistaken for an elk and killed in 2008, he notes.

Writes Workman:

Over the weekend, I spoke with a pal about these incidents, and one might wonder if hunter orange, or the lack of it, might have played a part in these tragedies. Before anybody blows a gasket, just consider the possibility, however unlikely (and even foolish), that the shooters in these incidents including a 14-year-old kid, might have subconsciously presumed that the image they saw – the target – could not have been a person because he/she wasn’t wearing orange. Sounds stupid, right?

It’s not that this column subscribes to the theory, nor is interested in removing any fault from any of the shooters. It is ultimately the responsibility of a hunter to confirm the target, and even what is in the background, before pressing that trigger. But we’re tossing it out there as proverbial “food for thought.”

Color association may or may not have some link to vision-related hunting mishaps, but long ago, this writer consciously decided to never use targets with orange bull’s eyes. You don’t need three guesses why.

I don’t know that I buy into the argument — I think, like Workman notes, that the hunter is ultimately responsible for knowing his target and what’s behind it before firing — but it is worth noodling.

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