- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

The way the news reports told the story, several deer hunters were walking through the woods in northern Wisconsin when they came upon a stranger in one of their tree stands. Asked to leave, the trespasser opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle and didn’t stop until the clip was empty, leaving five people dead and three wounded.

Police identified the shooter as Chai Vang, 36, of St. Paul, Minn., who is a member of the Twin Cities’ Hmong community.

“While authorities do not know why [he opened fire], there have been previous clashes between Southeast Asian and white hunters in the region,” the Associated Press reported.

It also was reported local residents had complained that the Hmong, refugees from Laos, do not understand the concept of private property and hunt wherever they see fit. In Minnesota, a fistfight once broke out after Hmong hunters crossed onto private land.

Why am I rehashing this when you already know what happened?

It’s because of a thoughtless remark I overheard by an obvious animal rights advocate who, shortly after the Wisconsin tragedy, suggested the killings might have been poetic justice. You know — bad for the humans, good for the deer.

What kind of hogwash is this?

In 52 years of hunting, I had never heard of an incident before this one in which a hunter intentionally shot another. It is a monument to the American hunter’s good behavior and common sense that not once (as far as I know) has a hunter fired a gun or released an arrow at animal rights advocates who vow to interrupt a hunt, walking about the woods shouting and making hunters’ lives miserable.

Talk about showing miraculous restraint when such things occur on public hunting lands.

In 52 years, I can recall only two incidents that anywhere else would have resulted in a back alley brawl or worse, but since both involved recreational hunting, they didn’t.

The first involved my brother, who shot a deer and saw it still moving, though mortally wounded, through the brush and across a hillside on national forest land in Virginia. When he reached the other side, another hunter (who had watched the deer collapse and die) was bent over it, field-dressing the animal. He swore it was his deer. Heated words were exchanged, but the other man thought better of it and left.

Both hunters carried rifles. The incident could have evolved into an intentional shooting, but it didn’t. That’s the whole point.

Another time I encountered a trespasser on private property that our group of hunters was leasing. I was atop a deer stand, with a 12-gauge slug gun hanging on a hook. When I whistled at the man, he wheeled around startled. When informed he was trespassing on posted, private land, he didn’t like it but agreed to leave.

I listened to his presentation of the oldest trespasser’s excuse in the land: “Oh, I thought this was the Johnson property, where I have permission.” We both knew there was no Johnson property. That’s why he didn’t wear a fluorescent orange hat or vest. He knew I knew he was lying, but the smart thing to do was to let him retreat.

That’s it. Two incidents in more than 50 years of hunting.

The Wisconsin killings are so rare, they defy description. Ethnic differences and stubborn behavior by people not used to the American way of doing things might have been the cause of this tragedy. It certainly wasn’t everyday hunter behavior.

Yes, now and then accidental shootings occur when an untrained idiot mistakes a human for wild game, but intentional shootings of fellow hunters are not part of the American hunting scene.

Keystone bear hunters score — On Nov.22, the first of three bear hunting days, Pennsylvanians shot nearly 1,600 of the black bruins. Compared to last year’s opening day when 1,454 bears were taken, this time out Pennsylvania Game Commission employees processed 1,573 black bears at the agency’s check stations.

The top four bears checked by hunters that day had estimated live weights that exceeded 600 pounds. The largest was a 671-pound male taken by Ray Reed Jr. of Howard Township in Centre County.

That the Pennsylvania Game Commission passed along such news in a matter-of-fact way contrasted sharply with the recent one-day Maryland bear hunt, in which only 20 bears were shot and people who were for and against the hunt acted as if the world had come to an end. It didn’t.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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