February 1, 2009 in Outdoors

‘Hiker orange’ clothing bill makes this outdoorsman see red

By Scott Sandsberry Yakima Herald-Republic
 

A bill in the Washington Legislature makes me gag, and I didn’t even know Pam Almli.

Had I known or been related to the Snohomish County woman — who was shot and killed while hiking in August by 14-year-old hunter who mistook her for a bear – this proposed legislation would make my blood boil.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, was brought forth with admirable intentions. It’s supported by the Hunters Heritage Council. I tend to agree more often than not with its policies.

But I abhor this bill.

It would require anyone “recreating on public land where hunting is allowed” to wear “hiker orange clothing” – the same 400 square inches of fluorescent orange above the waist and all-sides visible required of hunters – during any big-game hunting season, which pretty much means August through mid-March, depending on the area.

To me, legislation like this says two things, both of which I vehemently disagree with:

•Hunters are a bunch of dangerously unhinged, irresponsible, high-powered-weapon-carrying loose cannons whose existence makes it unsafe to recreate outdoors.

•Anyone who gets shot by a hunter without wearing the requisite orange was negligent and, therefore, at least partly to blame if mistaken as a game animal.

The result of this legislation is predictable. Some lawyer will be standing in a courtroom, arguing that the victim wasn’t wearing the full 400-inch “hiker orange” coverage, and therefore the nimrod who pulled the trigger couldn’t have been expected to know he wasn’t shooting at an elk.

Was Almli at fault in her death for only wearing a bright blue poncho? If this law were in place, well, yes.

That makes me sick.

Tom Perry, president of the Hunters Heritage Council, said he knows trial lawyers could end up using any resulting legislation from Blake’s House Bill 1116 to get a hunter client a lighter sentence in the event of an accidental shooting, but he believes the safety issue outweighs it.

“It’s going to reduce the incidence of accidents,” Perry said. “I understand the outrage of hikers and other recreationists, but it’s no more outrageous than life preservers in boats and seat belts in cars.”

I disagree.

I’m a believer in people wearing brightly colored clothing when out in the boonies – whether it’s orange or chartreuse doesn’t matter, as long as it isn’t animal-brown or black. It makes sense. Encourage that widely and loudly.

But legislate it? No.

It would be an enforcement nightmare – an enforcement impossibility, actually – and those officers have better things to do than ticket a family of forest picnickers because 5-year-old Timmy isn’t wearing his full complement of hunter orange.

For the record, I am all for hunting. It’s a great management tool, it can be a tremendous family experience and some of the most responsible conservationists I know are hunters.

Also for the record, I am for throwing the book at any hunter careless enough to pull the trigger and injure or kill another person.

A modern hunting rifle is a lethal instrument. Anyone pulling the trigger on that powerful a weapon had better be absolutely certain what is in the sights.

That brings to mind another Blake-sponsored bill, HB 1114, which would require all hunters younger than 14 to be accompanied by a licensed adult hunter.

Again, I’m convinced Blake’s heart is in the right place. It’s just not the right bill.

Preferable is a state Senate bill introduced Monday by Jeanne Kohl-Wells. It would put the minimum age for an unaccompanied hunter at 16 – the age the state wildlife department has supported for years, only to see its wishes fall on deaf ears in the Legislature.

Frankly, any age requirement is problematic; I’ve known 12-year-old hunters I’d trust with a rifle more than some idiotic 40-year-olds I’ve also known.

But if we don’t put an unsupervised 14-year-old in an automobile, should we trust one with an instrument designed to kill?

In the end, the age at which someone should be allowed to hunt without supervision is whatever age he or she is mature enough to navigate his or her way through the legal system – without Mommy and Daddy’s help – should the target end up being a person, not a game animal.


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