Police search for shooter in deer-hunting accident
A Tisbury man is recovering after his back and arm were pierced with buckshot Saturday afternoon while hunting alone for deer in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest. The shooter did not respond to the wounded man's shouts and apparently fled the scene, police say.
State Police this week asked for the public's help to find the person responsible and urged whoever fired the shot to come forward. "The gentleman is okay, so now this person needs to come in and do the right thing," said State Police Sergeant Neal Maciel.
The incident occurred on the sixth day of the Vineyard's newly expanded 12-day deer shotgun hunting season. Deer hunters in Massachusetts are restricted to shotguns, which have a short range, and hunting accidents are relatively rare, according to state records.
The shooting occurred in an area of the State Forest off the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, in a section west of a paved parking area by the fire lane next to the entrance to the Bold Meadow subdivision.
Hunters typically fire deer slugs, one-ounce lead bullets. But, when hunting deer at close range in heavy cover, hunters may use buckshot, which are shells loaded with a set number of small balls, depending on the size of the load.
John Varkonda, State Forest supervisor, said it was the first time in his 19-year career that a shooting hunting accident occurred in the State Forest.
State Police received a call at approximately 2:45 pm Saturday, to respond to the Martha's Vineyard Hospital where Allan Albee, 66, had walked into the emergency room and said he had been shot.
Mr. Albee parked his van in a paved parking area off the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road on a main fire lane adjacent to the Bold Meadow subdivision and began to walk slowly in search of deer heading west through the forest, police said. Mr. Albee crossed one or two fire lanes, and though he could not describe the precise location with certainty, he was walking in thick brush when he heard a gun shot and was hit by buckshot pellets.
Sergeant Maciel said that Mr. Albee fell to the ground and yelled, "You shot me. You shot me."
Mr. Albee told police he heard someone moving through the brush and yelled again, but whoever it was ran away.
Hunters are required to wear a blaze orange vest and hat. Mr. Albee was wearing the required orange and said he did not see any other hunters or vehicles prior to or after the incident.
One pellet struck Mr. Albee in the back of his shoulder and another hit him in the right arm. Sergeant Maciel said that once Mr. Albee realized that no one was coming to his aid he walked back to his car along a nearby bicycle path and drove himself to the hospital.
Police do not believe the shooting was intentional and may be a case of a hunter firing at what he or she thought was a deer. Police said the incident is under investigation.
Police are interested in speaking with the owner of a silver grey Chevy pickup truck with Connecticut plates that was parked off the roadway.
Sergeant Maciel asked that anyone who may have seen any activity in the vicinity of the shooting that afternoon, such as a person or vehicle leaving the scene quickly, or any other information to offer, call 508-693-0545.
"Now is a good time for whoever did this to come forward," said Sergeant Maciel.
Benefit of the doubt
On Monday, Allan Albee was resting at home, anxious to get back to work and put the incident and any attendant publicity behind him. A carpenter by trade, he needed to give his right arm a few more days of rest.
Mr. Albee said that as the hunting season progresses the deer get moved around and seek heavy cover. He likes to hunt alone, and on Saturday he decided to walk slowly through the state forest with no expectations he would see an animal.
Mr. Albee is a tall, soft-spoken man, an excellent shot according to those who know him, and an experienced hunter. He said the person who shot him did not see him and may have thought about the possible repercussions and simply panicked.
He says he is not angry and is even willing to give the shooter the benefit of the doubt. "Either they were shooting at a sound, which was me, or maybe I pushed something to them and they took a shot and I got hit. I don't know," he said.
Mr. Albee said he heard something or someone running away. Whether it was a person or a deer, he could not say for certain, unwilling to immediately assume that someone would leave him, knowing he was injured.
After he was shot, Mr. Albee lay on the ground and assessed the damage. Realizing he was not hit in any vital areas, he stood up and walked out along the nearby bicycle path. Not one to cause a fuss, Mr. Albee created one nonetheless when he walked into the emergency room Saturday afternoon and said he had been shot. Doctors surgically removed one pellet from the back of his shoulder. A pellet also entered his arm near his triceps and exited near the top of his forearm, leaving an entry and an exit wound. It did not strike bone, vessels, or nerves, Mr. Albee said.
Mr. Albee has hunted in many states, including Massachusetts, Colorado, and Alaska. This was the first time he has been injured. "I was very lucky," said Mr. Albee. "I'll definitely be more careful."
Although hunting most often involves the use of firearms, statistically it is a relatively safe sport and getting safer as more states require license holders to pass a hunter education safety course.
From 1995 to 2004, there were a total of 40 hunting accidents across the entire state. In 2005, a hunter was fatally shot, the state's first hunting fatality since 1992.
Sue Langlois, Massachusetts state coordinator for hunter education programs, said there are approximately 70,000 licensed hunters in the state. Most hunting accidents involve the careless handling of a firearm or the failure to properly identify a target or catching another hunter in the line of fire while swinging on a target, such as a running deer or flying bird, she said.
Environmental Police Sergeant Patrick Grady, who is assisting State Police in their investigation, said that at this point, the shooting is being treated as an unfortunate accident, not as a criminal matter, and it is important that the responsible party come forward. He said that although the area where Mr. Albee was hunting is quite thick with brush, it is hard to understand how a tall man in hunter orange could be mistaken for a deer.
He said a hunter needs to be sure of his target and avoid "tunnel vision," where one's focus is only on a target like a running deer, to the exclusion of anyone else that might be in the line of fire.
According to state statistics for the past 10 years, 18 percent of hunting injuries were self-inflicted and 82 percent involved two-party hunters.
In North Carolina, a state where hunting is popular and officials provide an annual report on hunting accidents, the statistics on hunting-related accidents and fatalities provide some sobering examples of how accidents occur.
The most recent report for the 2004-2005 season listed 48 nonfatal accidents and six fatal accidents among a total of 420,424 licensed hunters in North Carolina. Of the six fatal accidents, three involved hunters who were not wearing safety belts and fell from tree stands. In one case, two men were hunting doves when the victim stood up from a sitting position in front of his partner's line of fire. Two individuals died of self-inflicted wounds while improperly handling loaded firearms.
As news of the shooting spread around the tight-knit Island hunting community, experienced Vineyard deer hunters were not surprised to hear that a hunter was injured with buckshot, but they were shocked at the thought that the shooter knew someone was injured and fled.
Double-OO buckshot, the type police think was used in the shooting, consists of nine pellets each about the size of a pea. Depending on the type of ammunition, the pellets would not retain sufficient velocity to penetrate skin beyond about 80 yards.
Buckshot has an approximately 15-inch spread at a distance of 20 yards to the target. The longer the shooting distance, the greater the spread and the more chance a pellet will be deflected or hit an unintended target.
By contrast a slug has a range of about 100 yards. A slug fired at a standing deer drops very quickly, more than 5 inches at 75 yards and more than 10 inches at 100 yards.
Walter Ashley of Oak Bluffs, an experienced hunter and state firearms and hunting safety instructor, said he long ago stopped using buckshot and thinks it has no use. He said the characteristics of buckshot make it inherently unsafe and that the pellets are more apt to wound than to kill a deer. "If you are close enough to kill a deer with buckshot than you are close enough to do it with a slug," said Mr. Ashley.