Dr. Joseph Asiaf, a 73-year-old pediatrician from Centerville who was struck in the neck by one buckshot pellet fired by an unidentified deer hunter on November 30, has recovered from his injury.
Nevertheless, the scars from the accident, on the opening day of shotgun season, remain, literally and figuratively.
A tradition of deer hunting on Martha’s Vineyard, including a large multi-generational group of family and friends that began more than 50 years ago with Dr. Asiaf’s father, uncles, and cousins and the BenDavid family of Oak Bluffs, may well end.
“It’s been a long-standing family tradition,” Dr. Asiaf said in a telephone conversation from his Cape Cod home. “But I think I’m probably done deer hunting. I’m a little nervous now.”
Dr. Asiaf was hunting in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest, in the quadrant near the intersection of West Tisbury Road and Airport Road, when the accident occurred just before noon.
Dr. Asiaf was participating in a drive, a common and effective method of hunting in the state forest that employs drivers, who walk through the thick brush to push deer out of their hiding places, and standers, who are positioned along the fire lanes to shoot at the fleeing deer.
In a letter to the editor published in today’s issue of The Times (see Page 6), Dr. Asiaf said a hunter, or hunters, infiltrated the edge of his group’s drive, likely trying to pick off a deer. One of the interlopers, he said, was responsible for the accident that almost claimed his life.
Customarily, the more elderly members of a drive are given the less strenuous job of stander. Dr. Asiaf, a lifelong hunter, said he likes walking and opted to help push deer.
“We came through, and I saw an orange vest,” he said. He assumed the other hunter was a member of his group and used a portable radio to alert the other drivers that they were nearing the line of standers and should not shoot should they see a deer.
“Well he wasn’t, the standers were a hundred yards ahead,” he said. “It was one of these guys. When they saw us hunting, they just walked into the middle. Now, he saw me because he moved to my right. And the next thing I knew I was on the ground.”
Dr. Asiaf called his son on a radio and said he had been hit. His friend put him in a nearby car and rushed him to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
Not a slug, but buckshot
Hunters typically fire deer slugs, one-ounce lead bullets. But, when hunting deer at close range in heavy cover, hunters may use buckshot, which describes shells loaded with a set number of small steel balls, depending on the size of the load. Only one steel ball struck Dr. Asiaf in the neck, but it was enough to almost kill him.
When he arrived at the hospital, his neck began to swell, and he began having trouble breathing. Dr. Tim Tsai, emergency room director, took immediate measures to provide an airway. “He did a nice job with me,” Dr. Asiaf said. “He saved my life.”
Dr. Asiaf was transferred by helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The steel ball lodged in a vertebra, where it remains. “It could have hit anything – my carotid artery – God was just watching over me,” he said.
Dr. Asiaf said he has been a lifelong deer and bird hunter and has always looked forward to the Vineyard trip. “Usually there are about 20 of us, people we see occasionally during the year, but we all get together at that time,” he said with a hint of rasp to his voice. “It is just the camaraderie and forgetting everything in life for a few days. If we get deer fine, if we don’t, we don’t care. It is just to get together and enjoy each other’s company.”
According to other hunters in his party, the shooting accident occurred when a buck ran across the line of hunters. Multiple shots were fired at the deer.
Environmental and State Police responded to the scene and began an investigation. No hunters outside of the group were ever identified, and police described the incident as a hunting accident.