Hunting data reveals tragic, strange accidents

Think you have a good yarn to spin at this year’s Christmas party?

That may be. But Hutch Murphey’s is better.

While hunting in 2010, Murphey got shot by his dog – in the butt.

Incident reports list the shooter as a 3-year-old yellow Labrador named “Buddy.” (The same report also states – it really does — that Buddy didn’t have a hunting license and had not graduated from a hunter education course.)

“It’s a pretty freak accident,” Murphey said. “We joke about it. We laugh about it now.”

It happened while the 23-year-old Newnan resident was goose hunting with his brother and two friends in Coweta County.

Murphey’s is one of 256 hunting incidents reported to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources over the past six fiscal years – an average of 43 such mishaps per year.

Tree stands – platforms attached to trees that enable people to hunt from elevated positions – are involved in more injuries and deaths than are guns, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of DNR data. Though hunting deaths don’t happen often, Georgia has three or four each year. And the largest percentage involved tree stands, followed closely by firearms, according to the newspaper’s analysis.

“Number one,” DNR Maj. Stephen Adams said of tree stand injuries and deaths. “It’s very predictable.”

Falling 18 feet

Robert Razzano had a run-in with a tree stand in November 2006.

The Florida resident was deer hunting near Columbus with a few friends.

He said he was perched in a ladder stand, 18 feet off the ground, waiting to set his eyes on a buck.

He stood up, but his legs had fallen asleep and he tumbled over.

“I had no feeling in my lower legs,” he said. “I got up too fast and my momentum, I just kept going forward.”

Razzano’s face slammed into a tree root and his elbows jabbed into his ribs.

He said he broke his back, his jaw, both wrists and multiple ribs. He spent the next six weeks in a hospital.

While Razzano attributes his fall to the loss of feeling in his legs, the DNR report on the incident also says that alcohol played a role.

Razzano acknowledges that he had had “a drink or two” at lunchtime about three hours earlier.

Razzano’s investigative report also states that the incident could have been avoided had Razzano been wearing a safety harness.

“I tell people it’s the cheapest life insurance you can buy,” Maj. Adams said. “I’ve never worked a fatality where somebody had a harness on.”

Tragedy in the woods

Since the start of the 2007 fiscal year, 21 people have died in hunting incidents in Georgia, according to the DNR data.

Nine of those deaths involved tree stands; eight involved firearms; and one involved both – a boy who shot himself in the jaw while climbing down from a tree stand.

Another of those deaths came a few days after Christmas in 2007.

A 12-year-old boy was hog hunting with his father, uncle and cousin southeast of Macon, according to DNR documents.

Night began to fall and, sitting in a tree stand, the boy got excited because his uncle had just killed a hog not far away.

Then he saw something moving toward him in the dark.

His father was coming to get him out of the stand. The boy thought it was a hog.

He stood and fired. The fatal bullet struck his father on his left side.

“Due to his degree of excitement and inexperience as a hunter, he perceived this movement to be a feral hog when it was actually his father,” DNR’s investigative report states.

Adams, who supervises the DNR special operations unit that investigates major hunting incidents, said that all hunting incidents are preventable. Stored in the investigative files on each incident, he said, is information that reveals the specific missteps that lead to trouble.

In its data analysis, the AJC scrutinized shooting incidents.

There were 104 incidents that involved an identified shooter, including two involving crossbows.

In 41 of those cases, the shooter had not completed a hunter education course, which is required before anyone hunts in Georgia, with a few exceptions.

“To me, [that statistic] says that hunter’s education is important,” Adams said. “Hunting is an activity that, before you do it, you should receive some training.”

In some of those shootings, people accidentally shot themselves. But there were 69 incidents – roughly a quarter of all hunting incidents – in which people shot other people.

There appears to be only one incident, though, involving a hunter who was shot by his own pet.

‘I was glad to see him’

Arthur “Hutch” Murphey said it happened after his group had finished hunting and was packing up. Murphey was retrieving the boat.

He and Buddy were both in the boat. So was his 12-gauge shotgun, pointed toward the back.

When Murphey got out to pull the boat out of shallow water, “my dog ran to the back of the boat and stepped on the safety and trigger at the same time,” he said.

The shotgun blast tore through the back of the boat and into Murphey’s backside.

“I didn’t even know I’d been shot,” Murphey said. “And then my leg started burning. And I was like, ‘Oh crap, something ain’t right.’ ”

A senior at Auburn University, Murphey said he didn’t hold a grudge against Buddy, who’s now about 5 years old and still his family’s pet, after getting home from the hospital.

“When I got home, he came in the house and lay right by my bed,” Murphey said. “I was glad to see him, and he was glad to see me.”

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