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Hunters’ Motto: Always Safety First

The excuses all sound the same and are all just as lame: “I thought he was (fill in the blank) - an elk’s head, rump, white-tailed deer, black bear - and I fired.”

The hollow explanations come each fall after yet another hunter has shot yet another partner or someone else partially hidden by trees or brush.

“Buck fever,” the colloquialism for hunters who react unsafely after spotting game, knows no favorites. John Kohl, a Presbyterian minister and certified National Rifle Association expert marksman, and Dennis Miner, a stonemason from Bonners Ferry, Idaho, uttered predictable excuses along with their mea culpas last year after they had bagged fellow North Idahoans.

Kohl was lucky. A Kootenai County jury accepted his explanation - that he was sure he was shooting at an elk and not Shawn Jenkins, the father of two young children - and acquitted him of involuntary manslaughter. Miner remains in limbo. His trial for killing hunting partner Cody Taylor ended in a mistrial Friday, with 10 of 12 jurors voting in favor of conviction.

Whether or not they’re legally guilty, both men violated the first rule of hunting: Be sure of your target before you fire and make certain no one is nearby. Period.

In last week’s trial, Miner’s attorneys hinted that his victim had contributed to the shooting by straying from a forest path and by changing his red vest for a brown one. But humans should be able to wear anything they want into the woods - including antlers during hunting season - and come out alive.

This defense tactic reminds us of a 1990 Maine manslaughter trial in which townspeople criticized the victim - new to the area and the mother of infant twin daughters - for wearing white mittens into the woods behind her house. A hunter with an itchy finger thought the mittens were the white underside of a deer’s tail and fired twice.

He, too, was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.

Fortunately, hunters overwhelmingly are safety-conscious and carefully identify their targets. They take hunter-safety courses, ask permission to enter private property and wear bright orange clothing. That high-visibility clothing reduces the risk of being misidentified as game by up to seven times.

Kohl and Miner acted recklessly and, if nothing else, deserved the emotional trauma of facing a jury - with a possible 10-year prison sentence and a $10,000 penalty hanging in the balance.

Perhaps the well-publicized trials will act as a deterrent this fall and the hunting-death toll in Idaho since 1990 will remain at an even dozen.

But don’t count on it.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

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