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Drivers, beware: Deer-car collisions increase during hunting season

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By Paula Moore

November is the peak month for collisions between cars and deer, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Insurance groups estimate that about one in every 100 drivers will be involved in a deer-vehicle collision at some point in his or her life. A fatal crash late last month in Indiana illustrates how heartbreaking such encounters can be. Seven people—including four children—were killed after their minivan hit a deer and was subsequently struck by a semi-trailer.

While hunters invariably point to such tragedies as justification for killing even more deer, the blame for deer-vehicle collisions falls at least partly on their own shoulders.

Pennsylvania-based Erie Insurance, which has analyzed deer-vehicle collision data in the state for more than a decade, found that the opening day and opening Saturday of deer hunting season are “[t]wo of the most dangerous days to drive.” According to the Missouri Insurance Information Service, increased deer activity associated with hunting is a “major factor” in the rise in deer-vehicle collisions in the last three months of the year. With more people (hunters) in the woods, deer are spooked out of wooded areas—often out onto the road.

Hunting also increases deer populations—which increases the likelihood that deer-car collisions will occur. While several studies have suggested that sterilization programs may provide an effective, long-term solution to controlling deer populations, hunting just makes the problem worse. It’s been shown, for example, that in hunted populations, does are more likely to have twins rather than single fawns and are more likely to reproduce at a younger age. Immediately following a hunt, there’s less competition for food. The surviving deer are better nourished, which can lead to a higher reproductive rate and lower neonatal mortality.

The state agencies responsible for wildlife “management” know this, of course, but they’re primarily run by hunters, who hardly have the animals’ best interests in mind. So, instead of setting up sterilization programs, they destroy the deer’s homes by clear-cutting to increase the amount of vegetation for the deer to eat—further increasing their population. Such programs help to ensure that there are plenty of animals for hunters to kill (not to mention plenty of revenue from the sale of hunting licenses).

Simple, nonlethal methods can reduce the risk of deer-vehicle collisions. A team of scientists from the University of Alberta found that simply placing warning signs in hotspots where deer are known to cross roads can reduce collisions by 34 percent. Other communities are experimenting with roadside sensors that trigger lights and whistles as cars approach to scare deer away and with laser beams that sound alarms to alert motorists to the presence of deer.

Drivers should also slow down and watch the road carefully—especially during hunting season. Scan the side of the road for wildlife and use high-beam headlights at night when there is no oncoming traffic. Also be aware that deer tend to travel in groups, so if you see one deer, slow down and watch for more. In many deer-vehicle accidents, the driver slowed down for one deer, then sped up and hit another one.

Hunters like to say that killing deer is the only way to prevent traffic collisions with them, but it’s not. When hunting season turns deer territories into a war zone, it’s no wonder that the animals panic and run—often right out onto our roadways.

Paula Moore is a senior writer for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

November 17, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Time to rethink youth hunting

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By Paula Moore

In just one week recently, a 7-year-old boy was fatally shot by his 10-year-old brother as they were hunting deer with their father in Virginia and a 14-year-old was shot and killed during a squirrel-hunting trip in Wisconsin. Another teen was flown to the hospital after he was shot in the leg while deer hunting in West Virginia. Most people wouldn’t dream of handing a child a loaded gun and hoping for the best. Yet that seems to be exactly what some parents are doing when they encourage their children to hunt.

In an effort to revive this dying blood sport, states across the country are loosening hunting restrictions and putting loaded weapons into younger and younger hands. Last year, lawmakers in Wisconsin lowered the state’s hunting age from 12 to 10. Since 2004, more than a dozen other states have also changed their laws to allow younger children to hunt. In Texas, children as young as 9 can hunt by themselves. Many states do not even have a minimum hunting age.

But that doesn’t mean that parents should go along with it. Teaching children how to kill is inherently dangerous—and not just to Bambi and his friends.

In 2008, the Tulsa World in Oklahoma (a state with no minimum hunting age) analyzed reports compiled by the International Hunter Education Association of hunting-related injuries and fatalities. Of the more than 6,650 hunting accidents included in the group’s database since 1994, nearly 35 percent involved hunters who were 21 years old or younger. An analysis by Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel found that young hunters were more than twice as likely to cause accidents as other hunters.

Psychologists and pediatricians warn that children are simply not mature enough to safely handle firearms, and several recent incidents seem to confirm this. In October, a 13-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his father while they were squirrel hunting in Louisiana. Another squirrel-hunting trip, this one in Illinois, turned tragic when a 14-year-old shot and killed his 17-year-old friend. In April, an Ohio man was fatally shot by his 15-year-old son during a kids-only turkey hunt.

It’s almost impossible to imagine the devastating toll that such incidents will take on the young people involved as they are forced to spend the rest of their lives thinking about that split second when they accidentally killed a friend or loved one.

While these were clearly accidents, some young hunters have deliberately taken aim at other human beings. Numerous school shootings have generated headlines and caused enormous heartbreak, and in most cases, the student shooters were hunters. Samuel Hengel, the 15-year-old Wisconsin high school student who shot himself after holding classmates and a teacher hostage in November, enjoyed hunting and fishing. In 2009, an 11-year-old Pennsylvania boy allegedly shot and killed his father’s pregnant fiancée—apparently with the same youth-model 20-gauge shotgun that he had used to win a turkey shoot the week before.

Hunters will object, of course: Not every child who is taught to stalk and kill animals will stalk and kill a human being. But every person—regardless of age—who picks up a gun, aims it at another living being and fires must deaden a piece of his or her heart. The ultimate lesson of every hunting trip is that life is not valuable.

Many of the children involved in tragic hunting accidents are too young to have driven themselves to the hunting site. All are too young to legally drink. So why do we think that they are mature enough and responsible enough to be given a gun and taught how to kill? It’s time to stop this madness.

Paula Moore is a research specialist for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

December 10, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Turning kids into killers

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A new Wisconsin law begs the question: How low will hunting lobbyists go?

In an effort to revive a dying sport, states across the country are loosening hunting restrictions and putting loaded weapons into younger and younger hands. The Wisconsin law, which went into effect this month, lowers the state’s hunting age from 12 to 10. Since 2004, more than a dozen other states have also changed their laws to allow younger children to hunt. According to the Associated Press, 30 states do not even have a minimum hunting age.

But teaching children how to kill can be downright dangerous—and not just to Bambi and his friends.

In 2008, the Tulsa World in Oklahoma (a state that has no minimum hunting age) analyzed reports compiled by the International Hunter Education Association of hunting-related injuries and fatalities. Of the more than 6,650 hunting accidents included in the group’s database since 1994, nearly 35 percent involved hunters who were 21 years old or younger.

An analysis by Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel found that young hunters were more than twice as likely to cause accidents as other hunters. During the 2007–8 hunting season in Georgia, four of the five fatal incidents involved children or teenagers. Among those killed was an 8-year-old boy who died after shooting himself in the chest with a shotgun.

While these were clearly accidents (“waiting to happen,” some would add), some young hunters have deliberately taken aim at other human beings. Earlier this year, the nation was shocked by news reports about an 11-year-old Pennsylvania boy who allegedly shot and killed his father’s pregnant fiancée. According to the reports, Jordan Brown’s father had given his son a youth-model 20-gauge shotgun for Christmas. Jordan used the gun to win a turkey shoot on Valentine’s Day and then, allegedly, to kill 26-year-old Kenzie Marie Houk execution-style as she slept.

All the students involved in school shootings in recent years first “practiced” on animals, and many of them were hunters. In 1998, 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson and 11-year-old Andrew Golden of Jonesboro, Ark., took the hunting guns belonging to Golden’s grandfather and used them to ambush their fellow students, killing four girls and one teacher.

David Ludwig, who is serving a life sentence for shooting and killing his 14-year-old girlfriend’s parents in Lititz, Pa., when he was 18, was an avid deer hunter. Photos on Ludwig’s blog showed his grinning face as he disemboweled the bloody deer he had just shot. In 2006, the Pennsylvania Game Commission launched the Mentored Youth Hunting Program to encourage more young people to hunt.

It’s no secret why hunters are taking aim at state hunting laws. Hunters are fast becoming an endangered species. The number of hunters in the U.S. dropped from a peak of 19.1 million in 1975 to just 12.5 million in 2006. Between 2001 and 2006—the last year for which national figures are available—hunters’ numbers fell by 4 percent.

But is handing an immature 10-year-old a gun the answer? In a letter to the Wisconsin State Assembly, the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “No.” The group reminded lawmakers that young children are not “developmentally ready to safely handle a gun while hunting” and warned that causing harm to another living being—intentionally or not—can lead to “long lasting emotional disability for the involved child.”

Putting both children and the community as a whole at risk just to boost declining hunting numbers is appalling. In this culture of escalating violence among teens and even children, do we really want to desensitize young people to suffering, give them guns and teach them how to kill?

Martin Mersereau is the director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Cruelty Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

September 21, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Posted in hunting

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