A North Idaho man who accidentally shot and killed another hunter in Shoshone County last year will report to jail Friday to begin a six-month sentence.
James L. Egan, 64, of Dalton Gardens, mistook James R. Hinchliff, 57, of Deer Park, for an animal when he shot him in November near Thompson Pass Road.
The families involved in the tragedy that shattered a longtime tradition between three hunters hope their story will become a catalyst for a movement to mandate hunter orange in Idaho, which neither hunter was wearing when the shooting occurred Nov. 18 near Murray.
At least 40 states have some form of hunter orange requirement, according to the International Hunter Education Association.
But some say wearing hunter orange might not have saved Hinchliff, and while authorities wish all hunters wore the color, mandating through a state law is unlikely.
“I think almost everybody in law enforcement would like to see it changed, but this is a state that’s pretty deeply rooted in our freedoms and using the outdoors,” said Rod Plank of the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office.
But, he said, “Obviously the responsibly lies for this in the person who pulls the trigger.”
Judge Fred Gibler sentenced Egan to 180 days in the Shoshone County Jail Monday for a charge of using an out-of-season hunting rifle. He was given a suspended five-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter, lost his hunting privileges for life and must perform 200 hours of community service with the Fish and Game Department in the area of hunter education.
Hinchliff was the best friend of Egan’s brother-in-law, and the three had been hunting there for more than 30 years. Hinchliff had a bright orange hat with him that day but it was tucked in his waist band when he was shot, said John Gribbin, hunter education regional coordinator for the Department of Fish and Game.
Hinchliff’s family had urged Gibler not to sentence Egan to jail. They want Egan to become a spokesman for the need for hunters to wear bright orange, said James Hannon, Egan’s lawyer in Coeur d’Alene.
Anyone born after 1975 must complete a hunter safety course to obtain a hunter’s license, and those courses stress the importance of not just wearing hunter orange but “being aware of your target, what’s in front of it, and what lies behind it,” said Gribbin.
“There’s just no reason for those accidents, with or without hunter orange.”