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 with Rob Miskosky

A Case of Mistaken Identity?

We've all heard the stories about how one hunter shoots another in a case of mistaken identity. Headlines scream and many of us cringe as hunters are media-cast in poor light to the general public. But unlike poorly and unfairly written headlines that scream "Hunter Charged With Poaching"—where clearly the use of the word 'hunter' does not belong—"Hunter Shoots Hunting Partner" cannot be dismissed as poor writing by an uneducated headline writer. Rather, it speaks the truth and should be taken seriously by other hunters and not rebuffed as the actions of a fool who shouldn't be afield with a gun. Accidents happen—it doesn't matter who you are. And when you add firearms to a wide variety of hunting scenarios, sooner or later, something is bound to happen.

Following is a letter I received from Kodi Ferguson, a 17-year veteran hunter. Like most of us, Kodi believed that nothing would ever happen to him while hunting. Statistics prove over and over again that hunting is an extremely safe pursuit and that your odds of being shot by another hunter are insignificant at best. In fact, your odds of having a heart attack while hunting far exceed those of being injured by a firearm. However, rare as they may be, injuries and fatalities occur every year in North America and the world abroad where hunting is allowed.

Please read Kodi's letter carefully.

Dear Mr. Miskosky,

My name is Kodi Ferguson and I am a subscriber and avid hunter. I hail from the Vermilion, Alberta area and have hunted now for around 17 years and continue to learn each and every day I go out.

What I want to bring to your attention today is a matter that carries extreme importance to me and I'm sure every hunter around.

Every year I go hunting the number of vehicles out road hunting seems to increase and the number of hunters populating the woods consequently increases as well.

There is a specific 1/4 section of mostly bush land that I hunt every year and know like the back of my hand. It was this 1/4 that I sat a mere 40-feet from a cow moose as she drank from a slough and foraged around. One hundred yards from that same spot, I sat witness to the most awesome buck fight I have ever seen from 100-feet.

It was also this 1/4 in which a good friend and I were walking last weekend looking to fill his antlerless moose tag. I was staying upwind and hoping to push one of the several I knew of in the area towards him. We had seen a bull and a cow and calf not 1/2 hour before walking in and were hunting with high hopes of filling his tag. As we walked through the several cutlines cross-sectioning this 1/4, we heard no less than three big magnum shots from within a couple hundred yards of us. I knew of no other hunters who had permission to hunt this 1/4 besides my family and I knew where they all were. With every shot, I contacted my friend over the two-way wondering if he was the one shooting. As it was, he wasn't lucky enough to put a moose in the crosshairs.

We continued on our trek through the 1/4 and took two different cutlines back towards the truck. Only a few whitetails and mulies were spotted with the occasional grouse scaring the crap out of us. 

When we returned to the truck there was about 40 minutes before legal shooting time would end our hunt for the day. We decided that we would scout around the back roads for the remainder of the day and hopefully we would spot a moose. The 1/4 we were in was backed on the west side by a rolling stubble field that has an old road access. Driving the two miles around would be no problem and not take up much time in case the moose had decided to come out after our passing. Didn't hurt to check, right?

Our assumptions turned out correct. No sooner had we made it around to the backside when a cow moose stepped out into the open 1/2-mile away across the spot I had only walked 10 minutes prior. With light getting lower, we rushed to the middle of the field and got out of the truck to get a better look. What we saw was somewhat disappointing but not altogether fruitless. Rather than the cow moose we had just seen, not even 40-yards from that spot stood her calf. After multiple checks through both binoculars and scopes, we both decided that yes it was indeed a calf moose with its head down feeding and facing straight towards us but upwind. We were 400-yards or so from the calf and light was low so time was limited—my friend decided to take the shot. Immediately after the shot, the calf did a gangly run towards the bush and disappeared from sight.

Not ones to give up, we watched for five minutes and then headed down to where he had shot to confirm a miss and maybe catch sight of the calf or cow again. When we arrived we got a complete and absolutely stunning surprise. Walking towards us from where the cow moose had been was a hunter.  Completely dressed in camouflage from head to toe and everywhere in between. As he approached, the most feared words of my hunting life came from his mouth...

"Do you guys know you just shot at me? How stupid are you? I can't believe you shot at me!"

I was stunned beyond comprehension. There is No WAY in my 17 years of hunting that I EVER thought I would hear those words come from someone in the woods. I was positive we had shot at a calf moose and so was my friend. How could this be possible? Did I actually hear him right? Had we done the unthinkable and actually fired a bullet towards another human being? Speechless is what we were to say the least.

After some time calming the man down, we all tried to figure out what the hell had just happened. What it was was a case of extremely bad timing and wrong place, wrong time. We had seen a cow and calf pair earlier and in retrospect, was what we were looking for and therefore, what our subconscious told us we were looking at. We weren't 150% certain that it was a calf moose, but I'll be damned if it wasn't a spitting image at 400 yards. 

What we saw was a man dressed in camo, standing stock-still, facing us, and looking through his binoculars the whole time we were looking at him. Instead of wearing orange in an almost over-hunted area where there are too many hunters for the deer population, he was camo'd up. Instead of waving his arms and making himself look human, he stayed still until the shot. Even when he ran, he looked like a calf moose running.   

On top of that, he had no permission on that land so we were not expecting anything other than a moose or deer to be standing there. 

As it turns out, THANK GOD WE MISSED!  We were talking about this an hour before that with each other, trying to figure out how in the hell idiots shoot other people. Well, now we know. It takes the right combination of light, distance and a million other unexplainable factors to make it possible. 

I'm not trying to ascertain who was or wasn't at fault with this incident. Both sides did wrong things to make it happen, us pulling the trigger being the worst but by far not the only factor.      

I'm still in shock as I write this to you that it even happened or that it's even real. Our "moose" decided to forgive us that day and I cannot thank his God-blessed heart enough. I'm not sure I could do the same before but now I think I could.

What I would like to see Mr. Miskosky is an article on the dangers of hunting in areas with a high hunter population. This is something I haven't seen enough of since my hunter education course 17 years ago and now more than ever I want people to know what to do in the bush and out of the bush. We had the closest call ever (we only missed him by an inch—a really long inch) and I want to do everything I can to help educate people in the proper etiquettes of hunting. I know them all. Did it help me? Obviously not. However, there are too many who don't know what to do when someone's looking at them through a scope and too many who shoot at sounds and shadows and ask questions later. Help me help them.

Thank you for your valuable time today and I look forward to your reply either here or in the pages. Hopefully you are willing to work with me and we can find some kind of solution to this ever-growing problem.

– Kodi Ferguson
Staying familiar with your firearm should be a priority for all hunters.
Before passing judgment on Kodi and his hunting partner, let's realize that what happened here could have happened to any one of us given the right circumstances. Many of you are probably thinking that 400-yard shots are unethical and shouldn't be taken at any animal, regardless. But ethics are for the individual—what may not be right for you is often acceptable for others, legally speaking of course. Long shots are made regularly by experienced hunters that know their firearm and how it shoots. Long shots are taken, and made, every year. So let's set that aside and realize that this was an avoidable situation for many different reasons.

First off, the hunter who was shot at was allegedly trespassing and had no right to be on the land Kodi and his partner had permission on. This in itself is illegal. However, had the hunter been granted permission without Kodi's knowledge, he then would have had every right to be there. In this instance, Kodi and his partner knew somebody was in the area—they had heard shots in the vicinity earlier. This alone should have raised their awareness that others may be close by.

Setting foot on private property without permission, however, could put you in a dire situation as witnessed here. Legalities aside, as a trespasser you would have no idea as to what type of activities are taking place on that land. Opposite of that, hunters who have been granted permission to access private land, should contact the landowner whose land they have permission on to make sure others haven't received that same permission. It can, and does, happen.

Knowing the situation you are in, especially when others are in the area, is of the utmost importance. While Kodi and his hunting partner were convinced that what they were shooting at was a cow moose, they were in a low-light condition where human vision is subdued. Until your target is fully visible and in good light, do not raise your scope. Clarify your target with binoculars. If light is low, avoid the shot entirely. No bird or animal is worth making such a serious mistake.

Saskatchewan is one of just six Canadian provinces that require the use of blaze orange while hunting.
Much has been made about the use of high-vis orange clothing when hunting. Many believe that heading afield without at least wearing a small amount of blaze orange borders on insanity, especially in hunter-heavy areas. However, studies have proven that even high-vis orange in certain low-light conditions is insufficient. An analyzation of the Virginia Game Warden's reports, both prior to and after the legislation of the use of orange in 1987, showed poor results where accidental shootings occurred in hunting situations. "In nearly two-thirds of cases (63.9%) of deer hunting accidents in Virginia... the victim was wearing orange to the legal requirement."

In a New Zealand colour recognition project a range of high-vis orange clothing was tested. Results showed that, "It was good in most conditions, but there are circumstances where it might be confused with deer, especially in some light conditions."

And, "The outcomes of this project indicate that the wearing of colour that contrasts with the environment, on its own, is not sufficient." However, it should be noted that the "wearing of high-vis orange may have prevented individual incidents, which are not generally reported."

While the Virginia data may not fully support the above statement, would this have been the case with Kodi and his hunting partner? Would the shot-at hunter have been recognized as another hunter had he been wearing blaze orange? Maybe, maybe not. Low light plays a huge role in how the human eye portrays colour and as such hunters must be aware of these situations and act accordingly. Interestingly enough, United Nations blue came out as the most visible colour in the greatest variety of conditions.

Never point your firearm in anyone's direction, even if it is unloaded.
The safe use of our firearms should be the first thought we have before embarking on any hunting activity. This alone is as important as our rights to own and carry firearms and will go a long ways in protecting those same rights.

Accidental firearm/hunting-related injuries and fatalities have dramatically decreased over the past 50-years. The reason for this has been mandatory hunter education programs that spend much focus on the safe use of firearms. Unfortunately this information is often lost to the hunter whose training may have taken place years earlier. And many hunters who head afield during hunting season often spend little time in preparation for the event. Re-familiarizing yourself with your firearm and the basic safety requirements needed for using that firearm should be a prerequisite for all hunters before a bullet is ever chambered.

Firearms should always be unloaded before crossing a fence.
-photo courtesy AHEIA
While there will always be the accidental slips and falls where a firearm is discharged and an injury takes place, many of these accidents can also be avoided. Unloading a firearm before venturing into a rough-terrain situation or prior to crossing a fence will increase your odds for a safe hunting trip.

Regardless of the circumstances that coincide with an accidental shooting, whether the fault lies with the shooter or the victim, the shooter is responsible for pulling the trigger, and this responsibility is his and his alone.

Before your next hunting trip remember Kodi's story. In fact, read it again right now. And remember, once you pull the trigger, there is no taking it back.

On a final note, I would like to thank Kodi for sharing his story with us. He has been shaken up to the point where he wants to help others avoid a similar situation. For this he should be commended, few would be so brave.

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

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