Youthful Hunters Cause Undue Share of Injuries


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Drizzt
December 26, 2002, 03:57 PM
Copyright 2002 The Columbus Dispatch
The Columbus Dispatch


December 22, 2002 Sunday, Home Final Edition

SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 01B

LENGTH: 933 words

HEADLINE: ACCIDENTAL SHOOTINGS;
YOUTHFUL HUNTERS CAUSE UNDUE SHARE OF INJURIES

BYLINE: Geoff Dutton, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

BODY:
Along with pride, Tony Cramer always felt pangs of concern.

One by one, his four children decided they wanted to be hunters like their dad.

Just about as soon as they could walk, they wanted to follow Cramer into the woods. Even his daughter tugged at his sleeve. The Fairfield County man was always thrilled -- and a bit leery. He worried about their safety and set up strict ground rules.

"There's just too many things that can happen," said Cramer, of Baltimore.

Through the years, young hunters consistently have been responsible for more than their share of accidental shootings in Ohio.

Overall, hunting-related injuries and deaths have been on the decline for two decades, a trend attributed to better hunter-safety programs, stricter laws and people spending less time stalking game in the woods.

Last year, there were 32 accidental shootings, or one for every 15,625 licensed hunters -- one of the lowest rates in more than 20 years, records show.

But accidental shootings involving young hunters have remained disproportionately high.

Last year, there were four shooting injuries involving hunters age 19 or younger -- the fewest since at least the 1950s, records show. But those incidents still accounted for 12.5 percent of all accidental shootings.

Young hunters hold only 8.8 percent of hunting licenses.

State wildlife officials stressed that hunting is safer than ever. The rate of hunting-related injuries was nearly three times higher in 1988, a peak that officials have been chipping away ever since.

With more than 44,000 teens with hunting licenses, officials said efforts to reduce injuries have been remarkably successful.

"We can't prevent all of them," said Dave Wilson, a hunter education coordinator with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division.

He added, however, that "Statistically, hunting is one of the safest things you can do outdoors."

Still, with two months left in this year's hunting season for most species, the state has recorded several injuries and deaths among young hunters.

A 14-year-old Ross County boy was critically injured Dec. 9 when his 13-year-old hunting companion accidentally shot him in the face on the last day of the weeklong gun season for deer.

In Wilmington, a 10-year-old boy aiming at a pheasant shot and killed his father Nov. 24.

Unknown is the total number of teen-agers and children injured or killed in hunting mishaps. State officials who compile annual reports don't track the age of victims, only the age of shooters.

It's unclear, for example, how many fatal shootings Ohio has logged like the one on Oct. 5, when a Middletown man accidentally fired an arrow into his 14-year-old son's chest while crossbow hunting in Muskingum County.

A moment of carelessness can devastate a family.

In November 2000, while Kayla Conschafsky's uncles loaded the truck for a hunting trip, the 8-year-old girl, her two young brothers and a cousin sneaked out the back door with three guns.

The children weren't allowed to go with the grownups, so they embarked on their own secret outing in the woods behind the house in rural Scioto County. Before long, Kayla's brother, Blake, then 10, stumbled, bumping the trigger and shooting the girl.

The blast almost blew off Kayla's arm.

Both of her brothers had youth hunting licenses. They come from a family of hunters. Ryan, now 13, still hunts with his uncles. "It's in his blood," said their mother, Lorie Conschafsky.

Even Kayla, who has undergone nine surgeries on her arm and faces countless more, enjoys tagging along. But Blake "has not touched a gun since then."

"All guns have been removed from my home," Conschafsky added. "I don't blame guns for anything. I'm terrified of another accident."

There is no age limit for hunting in Ohio, but children 16 and younger must be accompanied by a licensed adult. Before buying a first license, hunters also must pass a state-certified safety course.

Those restrictions generally don't apply to people hunting on their own land, or on their parents' or grandparents' property.

Cramer said he never pushed hunting on his children but was pleased when they took an interest.

By the time they reached kindergarten, his daughter and three sons, now 11 to 26, each had asked to go hunting with him on the family's property.

Cramer, 43, knew how they felt. He vividly remembers the excitement of tromping through the woods at night to hunt raccoons with his grandfather.

Cramer developed a system for nurturing his children's curiosity about the outdoors while instilling safe habits.

"When they were younger, before they could hunt, they would dress and go out with me," Cramer said.

When his children were 6 or 7, he would walk with them in the woods -- unarmed -- pointing out trails, different types of trees and other environmental lessons.

Eventually, they shot at targets and learned how to safely handle a gun.

When they were ready to hunt, Cramer at first left his gun at home. His children watched for prey while he scrutinized their every move.

"All my attention was on them and what they were doing and how they handled themselves," Cramer said. "They graduated after I felt comfortable having them hunt."

His oldest son wasn't allowed to hunt without him until he was 18, after they had spent years walking the woods together. When there are news reports about hunting accidents, he discusses them with his children, reinforcing the lessons he teaches them in the field.

"It's just a little bit more of a reminder to watch what they're doing."

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