Bridge Magazine culled 20 accidents from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ annual summaries of hunting-related injuries and deaths involving weapons from 2010 to 2018.
Over these nine years, 86 people were injured and 16 died after being struck by bullets, slugs, pellets or arrows. The incidents selected illustrate a wide variety of mishaps that can lead to hunting tragedies.
April 23, Van Buren County: Woman, 21, turkey hunting with shotgun, accompanied by her boyfriend, 27. State’s comment: “Female scooting backwards in brush with firearm, hammer cocked, and discharged firearm hitting boyfriend at close proximity.” Outcome: Injury, hunting partner.
Oct. 14, Lenawee County — Squirrel hunter, 14, with shotgun. State’s comment: “Victim/shooter was crossing over a down tree when the shotgun discharged striking the victim/shooter in the lower abdomen.” Outcome: Death, self-inflicted.
Nov. 16, Allegan County — Deer hunter, 59, with rifle. State’s comment: “Victim climbed ladder stand with loaded firearm on a bungee cord, pulled firearm, catching trigger, causing discharge of round through subject’s wrist and into face.” Outcome: Death, self-inflicted.
Michigan hunting accidents
by the numbers
Accidental shootings have declined sharply following safety rules imposed on hunters beginning in the early 1970s. Yet hunting seasons still provide ways for hunters to shoot others or, just as likely, themselves. Here are major takeaways from a Bridge Magazine analysis of state hunting accident reports from 2010-18.
16 people died and 86 were injured in hunting-related shootings over this period.
The three hunters killed by others’ guns in 2018 were the most in Michigan since 2011. But the five non-fatal incidents in 2018 were the fewest since at least 1970.
Top factors accounting for people being shot:
Careless handling of firearm — 58 incidents
Victim not in sight — 25 incidents
Failure to identify target — six incidents
Other factors included ricochets, swinging a gun to follow a moving target and malfunctioning weapons.
Alcohol was mentioned as a factor in one incident (shooter with blood- alcohol level of 0.14)
Half of fatalities and 31 percent (27 of 86) of non-fatal injuries occurred during firearms deer season (Nov. 15-30). Squirrel hunting and coyote hunting each led to two fatal incidents.
47 of Michigan’s 83 counties had at least one incident. St. Clair County had eight, including one fatality. Six counties had four incidents and 36 had none.
7 of the 16 fatal incidents were self-inflicted; half (43 of 86) of non-fatal incidents were self-inflicted.
Rifles were the weapon used in nine of the 16 fatal incidents (shotguns were the weapon in five and muzzleloaders in two.) Shotguns were used in 46 of 86 non-fatal incidents.
A separate, less detailed DNR record shows that 18 people died in hunting-related shooting incidents in 1970 and again in 1973 — the most since the state kept reliable annual records. 1974 has the distinction of the most hunting-related weapons accidents, with 288, including 13 fatalities.
That same report shows an apparent link in reduced incidents following the effective date of laws in (1) 1971 mandating hunter safety courses for hunters 12-16 years old; (2) 1977 requiring hunters on public land to wear at least some “hunter orange.” The law was amended in 1984 to extend the rule to private property open to hunting; (3) 1988 when all first-time hunters born after Jan. 1, 1960 were required to complete a hunter safety program.
The reports analyzed above only cover fatalities and injuries from hunting weapons. Other risks for hunters include heart attacks (especially from exertion, such as dragging a deer for a long distance) and falling from tree stands.
Oct. 20, Bay County — Duck hunter, 10, with two others; victim, 39. State’s comment: “Three subjects hunting waterfowl together. Shooter on the left, victim in the middle. Shooter swung to the right to shoot at a flock of ducks at the same time the victim stood up. Victim was struck in the back of the head.” Outcome: Death, hunting partner.
Nov. 16, Mecosta County — Deer hunter, 23, with rifle. Victim’s age unavailable. State’s comment: “Shooter out on a deer drive with other hunters, shoots at a running deer. The victim, who (was) sitting in a ground blind a couple hundred yards away was struck in the head by one round. Victim not wearing hunter orange.” Outcome: Death, nearby hunter.
Nov. 17, Iron County — Deer hunter, 35, using a rifle; victim, 41. State’s comment: “Shooter fired at a white patch in thick cover believing it was a wounded deer, striking victim through the arm and chest.” Outcome: Death, nearby hunter.
Sept. 9, Livingston County — Son, 6, shot father, 32, after squirrel hunt. State’s comment: “Victim took 6-year-old son squirrel hunting. After hunt, victim advised son to unload rifle and at the same time turned his back to his son. The firearm discharged, striking the father in the right calf and shattered his tibia. Victim was not licensed as necessary to be a mentor.” Outcome: Injury, hunting partner.
Sept. 20, St. Clair County — Coyote hunter, 24, with rifle; victim, 17. State’s comment: “Shooter was coyote hunting and watched what he believed was a raccoon 181 yards away at the base of a tree. Shooter took one shot and struck the victim in the head.” Outcome: Death, victim misidentified as raccoon.
Nov. 17, Genesee County — Deer hunter, 59, with shotgun. State’s comment: “Victim was climbing up tower into blind without harness or haul line. He noticed his thumb was not where it was supposed to be and was not sure if the safety was on or off. Firearm discharged.” Outcome: Self-inflicted injury, hand amputated.
Sept. 21, St. Clair County — Boy, 12, hunting deer with shotgun; victim, also 12. State’s comment: “The shooter shot at a deer in a field. His shot was high and travelled beyond the deer and field striking a chicken coop which was out of sight. The victim was standing next to the coop and was struck in the arm from the impact of the slug hitting the wooden coop.” Outcome: Nearby non-hunter injured.
Nov. 15, Hillsdale County — Deer hunter, 47, with crossbow. State’s comment: “The subject fell asleep with crossbow resting between his legs and with finger in the trigger guard. Crossbow discharged hitting subject in the foot and passing through.” Outcome: Self-inflicted injury.
Nov. 25, Oakland County — Deer hunter, 64, with shotgun; victim, 34. State’s comment: “Subject lost sight of a deer, saw movement and thought it was the deer then shot. One of the pellets of buck shot hit the victim, who was walking on a trail, in the hip.” Outcome: Injury, victim misidentified as deer.
Jan. 25, Sanilac County — Rabbit hunters, unclear who fired shot; victim, 61. State’s comment: “The victim was in her residence watching friends and family hunt out in the yard when the hunters all shot at a flushed rabbit. One bullet penetrated the window and hit the victim in the wrist, exiting through a finger. Outcome: Injury, victim was non-hunter in her home.
May 7, Crawford County — Turkey hunter, 39, with shotgun; victim, 59, also hunting turkey. State’s comment: “Shooter mistakenly took victim’s movements and turkey calling for a turkey. The shooter shot at the victim, striking him in the leg, abdomen and hand.” Outcome: Injuries, victim was nearby hunter.
Sept 1, Muskegon County — Hunters fired shotguns at geese; victim, 59, driving by. State’s comment: “Several hunters were hunting geese when they began shooting at an incoming flock. Pellets from one of the shooters entered a vehicle window as it passed by, striking the driver in the face and neck area.” Outcome: Injury, driver passing.
Nov. 26, Branch County — Deer hunter, 18, with muzzleloader; victim, 71, hunting nearby. State’s comment: “Shooter attempted shot at a deer but missed. The projectile proceeded to travel before entering an enclosed blind, striking the victim in the chest. Victim out of sight of shooter.” Outcome: Death, victim was nearby hunter.
Feb. 18, Oceana County — Squirrel hunter, 62, with rifle; victim, 13. State’s comment: “Shooter shot at a squirrel in a tree near the victim and the projectile ricocheted off the tree and struck the victim in the head.” Outcome: Death, unclear if victim was hunting.
Nov. 18, Roscommon County — Deer hunter, 32, with pistol. State’s comment: “Victim fell asleep in the blind with pistol in his hand. Victim was startled by his cell phone ringing. At that time, the victim squeezed the trigger, discharging the firearm into the victim’s leg.” Outcome: Self-inflicted injury.
July 11, Branch County — Raccoon hunter, 80, with rifle; victim, 57. State’s comment: “Victim was lying in soybean field, dressed in full camouflage. Shooter mistook victim’s head movement as a raccoon and shot the victim. Failure to identify target.” Outcome: Injury to person mistaken for raccoon.
Sept. 16, Allegan County — Squirrel hunter, 71 with shotgun; victim, 57, hunting partner. State’s comment: “While squirrel hunting, shooter shot at what was thought to be a squirrel but turned out to be the hunting partner.” Outcome: Injury to hunting partner.