VA - Without blaze orange, hunters' lives at risk


December 31, 2002, 10:03 AM
FYI - Like the 4 rules - this is a reminder for me to wear my BlzOrange hat just walking around the farm during hunting season. Never know the details re who's behind those sights.

Would have been more timely at the season's beginning rather than end, but...


Jerry Parker of Driver Variety Store in Driver hangs $4.98 orange hunting hats on a display rack. Despite the law and the fact that deer are colorblind, many hunters go without the orange hunting wear. Photo by John H. Sheally II / The Virginian-Pilot.

By DAVID GULLIVER, The Virginian-Pilot
© December 31, 2002
Last updated 12:02 AM Dec. 31

During the past four decades, hundreds of hunters in Virginia have been shot, including 148 killed, while disregarding a basic safety precaution of wearing blaze orange, a Virginian-Pilot analysis of state hunting accident records found. The wounded hunters were not wearing the bright-colored material that helps distinguish them. Hunters have been required by state law to wear orange during firearm deer season since 1987. The season continues through Saturday in most of Virginia.

Hunters do not have to wear orange during other seasons, but the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries recommends they wear it at all times.

During all seasons from 1960 through 2001, hunters shot at least 741 people who weren't wearing the orange clothing. That total doesn't include self-inflicted wounds, victims out of the shooter's sight or those struck by ricochets or misfires. Another 242 people wearing orange were shot, during the same time.

Most shootings where blaze orange wasn't worn happened while hunting turkey, when there were 274 accidents -- and the special coloring is not required.

In deer season, hunters accidentally shot 240 people.

Since the orange-clothing law took effect in 1987, 54 deer hunters were shot, 19 fatally, while wearing no blaze orange. Over the same time, 132 turkey hunters were shot, 15 fatally, without blaze orange.

"It's just total carelessness, that someone shoots at something they're not supposed to,'' said Billy Maurice, 54, a Virginia Beach resident who said he has hunted for 40 years without an accident.

The shootings, while serious, are relatively rare compared with the 250,000 people with Virginia hunting licenses. The state has no estimate of how many actually hunt each year.

The hunting accidents records also show:

- Almost one-third of accidental shootings are by hunters 18 or younger. One in 10 is by a hunter 14 or younger.

- The most dangerous times in the season are the first few days: One of every six accidents happens in the first two days of a season.

- At least 146 hunters were hurt using tree stands, either by falling or by shooting themselves while climbing. The stands attach to trees to elevate a hunter.

- Hunter education classes seem to make a difference. About three-quarters of the shooters in accidents had not taken the state's course, which is mandatory for new hunters.

- Shooting accidents seem to be declining, from about 22 a year from 1970 through 1989, to 12 a year in the 1990s.

Maurice said he has seen a few close calls -- most often, someone shooting in the direction of another hunter.

Planning "shooting zones'' with other hunters is crucial, he said. When hunters are working together, each only shoots in a specified area. But not everyone is that careful.

"You've got to decide in a split second whether to shoot,'' he said. "Some people will get excited and shoot when they're not supposed to.''

Blaze orange helps a hunter make that quick decision, he said, and that's why he wears it regardless of what he's hunting. "I don't care what season it is. I wear it.''

Some hunters still don't. At least 54 victims since 1960 were dressed head-to-toe in camouflage with no orange.

"Some people think the deer are going to see it,'' said Adam Maurice, Billy's son. He's learned otherwise.

"I've had deer come within 10 feet of me while I was wearing it,'' he said.

Many hunters don't know deer are colorblind.

"I think it's a matter of educating people about blaze orange and getting them to change their habits,'' said Lt. Scott Reynolds, a hunter and state game warden.

Violating the blaze-orange rule is punishable by a $25 fine. Last year, there were 195 convictions, down from 235 the year before.

Simply wearing an orange hat can be enough -- each hunter must wear at least 100 square inches of the color that must be visible from all angles.

Turkey don't see color, but they can distinguish shades and patterns -- such as a block of orange in a forest of green -- so blaze orange isn't required while hunting the birds, said Julia Dixon Smith, a Game and Inland Fisheries spokeswoman.

In its hunter education course, the department recommends that hunters wear orange while moving in and out of the woods and while setting decoys, Smith said.

Adam Maurice first went hunting with his father when he was 3. Wrapped in a blanket, he watched and learned. He remembers learning how to carry a gun safely -- safety on, barrel straight up or straight down -- on those trips.

"Your father shows you what to do and what not to do. That's the best way to learn,'' said Adam, who runs the family's electronics repair business with his father.

Now 24, Adam said the state's hunter education course still was a good refresher. It drills home the basic point:

"You always have to make sure where people are. If you don't, you don't shoot. It's not worth the risk.''

About 14,000 people took the free, 10-hour state course last year.

Reach David Gulliver at 222-5823 or

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Art Eatman
December 31, 2002, 10:30 PM
A regular comment around our group of hunters was, "Nuthin' looks like a deer like a deer looks like a deer." I guess the general attitude was that since folks don't have horns and don't walk on all fours, blaze orange wasn't necessary. But, we all gave some thought for who was where, when one or two guys wanted to walk, and two or three wanted to sit in blinds.

Which is the good thing about lease hunting on a ranch, common in Texas. There is control as to who is where.

Federal lands, or lands where folks can traipse across without restriction, I'll wear blaze orange. And worry about some fool that doesn't like hunters...


January 1, 2003, 01:13 AM
My first experience with "shooters" in the field was early on - like 14 maybe - when a few .22s whirred by from the top of this sloping open field... I was at the bottom of it - guessing 500 yards or so.

Second time was on a "boar hunt" in Turkey. This was a paid recreational event for our Task Group's liberty party. Take three bus-loads of sailors & Marines with M-1's and 4 clips of ammo. Put them 10 feet apart on both sides of a deep gully (for a fast rememberance), start a dog-run at the top to drive any poor animal down the well-wooded/brushed-over ditch.

Understanding immediately what I had gotten into I had climbed the next hill over and at least 50 feet higher - deciding to get out of this mix. I broke out my trusty pipe & 'bacca, lighted up, and in anticipation awaited the dogs' efforts to rouse the game. It started slow, increased in fire as "the boar(s)" approached the middle of the line - then went into what I could only imagine as

......................CHOSIN RESERVOIR..................

or maybe the Ardennes.

One hog (of some sex), and two dogs died that day. One dog had a front shoulder ripped open. There was only one pass - the Turks, (very) unhappy about their dogs, "guided" us back to the buses.

As high and far as I was, and with the shooters pointing down into the vale, why, I wondered, was I hearing that familiar whirring in my area?

I did off-load one 8-round clip at a dish against an embankment before we boarded the bus. (Figured I had earned that - and, the Small Arms Gunner's Mate needed something to justify his existance).

I am wary about others with firearms... many scare me with their "manners". I respect those who know what they are doing.

Thanks for the reply.

A great 2003.


January 1, 2003, 02:10 AM
New York State does not require hunters to wear blaze orange. During deer season I like to dress up like the great pumpkin. You would be surprised how many nitwits shoot at sounds. It can get down right scary sometimes!

January 1, 2003, 02:51 AM
i've been bowhunting before wearing my everyday clothes (meaning no camo), and have had deer within 5 yards of where i was (i bowhunt from the ground)...

my personal best whitetail came at an estimated 10 feet (a little over 3 long paces away) during rifle season...i shot him w/ my rifle wearing an orange hat, orange vest, blue-jeans, and tan hiking boots (was warm that day)...

the point is that what you wear doesn't make a difference to the deer; orange should be worn during rifle seasons, especially on public land. using the excuse that the deer will see you doesn't wash... it certainly makes it easy for people to see you.

January 1, 2003, 08:27 AM
On private land (never on public), I have been known to take off my orange vest once I was up in my stand (20-25 ft off the ground). But after reading this article, I might just keep it on all the time.

I wonder if any of these victims were shot out of their climbing stands.

Art Eatman
January 1, 2003, 11:04 AM
The rate of accidental shootings has declined significantly since the requirement for blaze orange clothing and the common use of telescope sights.

I've long been amazed at what some hunters think is a deer, turkey or bear: Guys have been shot out of trees at 300 yards for being mistaken for turkey or bear.

A man saw a white tail, near dusk. With his iron-sighted .30-30, he shot it. However, what he had seen was the white of a tee-shirt in the vee of an outer shirt--on his nephew.

I guess what bothers me to some extent is that with blaze orange, I'm easily seen--and I'm just suspicious enough to have a mite of worry if it makes me a target, instead something to not shoot at. Great faith in my fellow man, no?


January 1, 2003, 11:26 AM
"During the past four decades, hundreds of hunters in Virginia have been shot, including 148 killed, while disregarding a basic safety precaution of wearing blaze orange, "

I'll bite on this. They weren't shot for disregarding a basic safety thing (wearing blaze orange), they were shot because some yahoo didn't follow basic safety rules - like in identifying your target.

Fine distinction, I know, but ...

I don't care to wear it. I do 'cause it's the law & there are idjits out there who will even shoot you off your horse while wearing orange.

My primo huntin' bud's color-blind & sees blaze orange as a light shade of grey ...... he does know to ID targets. (uh ... where'd the :cool: smilie go? )

January 1, 2003, 11:26 AM
With your expertise and my PFA (plucked from air) logical??? guesswork, we might invent a personal electronic shield, ala Star Trek, that protects from Ad's, Pd's (purposeful discharges), bush scars, bird dung, and the like. A chip, lithium battery, an antenna of sorts, the proper programming, and a few "other" things; who knows - we could solve these problems (and make a couple bucks).

Have to be careful about bounce-offs though; we'd have to test all kinds of ammo to ensure it worked. And, running through the woods could be - well - deleterious. Yet, I could see that bouncing off trees becoming a national-wide recreation.


January 1, 2003, 12:18 PM
I have known 2 people that have been shot while hunting.none of them was wearing orange.

January 1, 2003, 07:46 PM
I fully agree with all who state that nothing looks like a deer but a deer. I preach, actually obsess, to younger or inexperienced hunters in our camp that it ain't a deer unless it 100% absolutely looks like a deer; then look again before you pull up. I get angry when I read about someone getting shot because someone else thought they were shooting at a deer. Darn it! Don't pull up the gun unless you know it's a deer. White spots, brown patches or sounds don't count!

Blaze Orange - I've hunted on State Land and at times have been chased off the place. Hunters will surround a patch of woods and open fire at the first deer that comes through the gauntlet. In this case the orange really helps to see hunters beyond the target. A hunter concentrating on a deer will have a very very little chance of spotting someone dressed in advantage camo.

Ironbar - New Jersey wants you! With all of that "smart gun" technology they're legislating maybe you can help them with "smart hunter protection" technology.

January 1, 2003, 09:53 PM
There is one WMA here in NW FL that I refuse to hunt. The hunters sit at crossroads and watch for deer crossing. Of course this is highly illegal, but it is an accepted method of hunting with the Game Warden turning a prejiduced eye. No one dares to go into the woods.

I pretty much stick to hunting Tyndall AFB these days where you can lose your hunting priviliges indefinitely if they catch you road hunting. They also strictly enforce hunter orange regulations, something I'm definitely in favor of.

Good Shooting

January 1, 2003, 10:13 PM
Have a bud who was shot by his fellow duck-hunter - while he was in the bow of the same boat.

Tell me safety orange would have had any effect.

As Forest says, "stupid is as stupid does."

Nothing will fix that. Orange may mitigate it, but until folks actually stick SAFETY in their head, ain't a thing that'll prevent "acidents." (& I hugely express quotes around acidents = no such thing - only stupidity)

I could easily enough argue the same point reagrds the carnage on our roadways ....

Please do dispute it. Where's the safety orange on our cars?

Art Eatman
January 1, 2003, 11:16 PM
Dang it, labgrade, hush yo' mouth! Some clown from USDOT will start "thinking" and the next thing you know all vehicles will be some scheme of International Orange and International White.

Sheesh! I can see a whole new deal in Kaliforny.


January 1, 2003, 11:30 PM

Although I try to do an always "what-if-thing," I still try to bring it back to somewhat of a reality.

Let's cover the bases always though, no?

Still, in all my ramblings, there's somethings that are pretty much solid basics.

One of those is "Don't shoot yer bud in yer boat!" (orange or not)


I could ramble - I ain't gonna - my heart is so full of a chance at a re-birth & chance at another new life ..... guess I just started to, though, huh?

Thank you all for being here.

My Brothers 'n Sisters, I cannot ever thank you all enough.

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