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Tragic accident reminds hunters to keep guns unloaded until needed

BY Jim Harris

ON 02-20-2019


Feb. 20, 2019

Jim Harris

Managing Editor Arkansas Wildlife Magazine

LITTLE ROCK – It was big news for college football fans as well as hunters in south Louisiana and Mississippi when it was reported that former LSU offensive lineman Matt Branch survived being shot while hunting ducks in late December.

Branch, who played for LSU in 2009-11 before injuries ended his playing career, was inadvertently shot by his dog on a duck hunt with friends near the Eagle Lake oxbow northwest of Vicksburg, Miss. The group had hunted through midmorning and was planning to move a few hundred yards to another hunting spot, so Branch had put his loaded 12-gauge shotgun in the bed of a Polaris Ranger ATV. His Labrador retriever jumped into the back of the vehicle, stepped on the weapon and not only clicked the safety off but hit the trigger with a paw.

The gun was facing at about a 90-degree angle to the cab, Branch was standing on the passenger side of the vehicle, and the blast sent shrapnel as well as shot into Branch’s left thigh. Luckily, he was with other hunters who immediately tended to his wounds, summoned emergency medical services, and got him out to a nearby road where the medical personnel could tend to him. Still, it reportedly required dozens of units of blood and several surgeries to keep Branch alive, and doctors at a Jackson, Miss., medical center eventually had to amputate the injured leg. Branch was expected to make a full recovery, though, according to a GoFundMe page, he has required additional complex surgical procedures with more planned.

While this seems like a near-impossible event, accidents involving dogs triggering shotguns and injuring, if not killing, hunters have happened in Arkansas. Joe Huggins, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission hunter education coordinator, has found records over the years of three such accidents, including one in 1977 that resulted in a fatality. In successive years, 2000 and 2001, a dog-shoots-hunter accident occurred, but those hunters were fortunate to hunt another day.

“It’s just a situation of being safe in the field,” Huggins said. “These incidents are just proof that hunters need to know that when they aren’t actually hunting, or if they are moving from one location to another to hunt, they need to unload their guns before putting them away. There never should be a shell in the magazine, and certainly not the chamber, when a hunter isn’t hunting. All of these accidents were preventable.”

Luckily for everyone involved, no incidents in recent years have involved dogs discharging loaded shotguns and striking hunters in Arkansas.

But, in December 2001 in Lawrence County, two Arkansas hunters and their dog had been out hunting ducks, according to the filed incident report, and were moving the boat through water back to their trailer to head home. One hunter was pulling the boat and the other was pushing, while the dog was riding in the boat. The dog began moving around, stepped on a loaded shotgun and caused it to discharge. The shot penetrated the side of the boat and then struck the hunter pulling the boat. And just a year earlier in Little River County, two hunters were taking down a blind that was set up around their boat. Their dog was tied up at the rear of the boat. One hunter’s firearm was leaning against the gunbox of the boat between him and the dog, and the animal knocked over the firearm and stepped on it, releasing the safety and pulling the trigger. Again, a hunter was struck in the leg at close range. In both cases, the hunters survived.

In Pope County in 1977, a teenage rabbit hunter was driving a car with a loaded firearm in the backseat. A dog in the backseat caused the firearm to discharge, fatally striking the driver in the head.

The AGFC’s Huggins said, “When hunting with your four-legged hunting companion, remember they don’t know the difference between a stick and firearm. Firearm safety has to be the top priority. Unload your firearm anytime you are having to deal with your dog. Never leave it laying unattended when your dog is around. Know the location of your dog while out hunting. Many hunting dogs are household pets and it is important to know their location before taking a shot. While hunting, firearm safety should always come first in all situations.”

The Washington Post reported that at least 10 people around the nation were shot by dogs in hunting accidents between 2004-2015.

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