Hunting Mistakes

It’s nothing short of incredible.   Last Saturday morning during the Minnesota Deer Hunting Opener, a hunter near Austin shot a llama by mistake.   Even though the exact details of the story are pretty sketchy at this time, it’s amazing to me how someone carrying a gun can be so irresponsible as to shoot an animal and believe it to be a deer.

I suppose in low light it can be somewhat hard to discern between a llama and a deer, but take a look at this picture.   Do you see many similarities?   I suppose the critter is on all fours…I suppose it is vaguely the same size as a deer, but it still doesn’t excuse the fact that a responsible sportsman always needs to positively identify their target before pulling the trigger.

The DNR measures such occurrences and categorizes such an incident as under the title “mistaken for game.”   If a hunter gets shot he can be “mistaken for game.”   If a horse gets shot it can be “mistaken for game.”   Virtually under any circumstance when a hunter messes up the reasoning can be “mistaken for game.”

But psychologists look at such hunting mistakes a little bit differently.   They term it is “premature closure.”   A hunter is said to have “premature closure” when the brain becomes so intently focused on a particular object that eventually the mind thinks it actually sees what it wants to see.   Unfortunately, during deer season that flash of a hunter’s white handkerchief blowing his nose might be all it takes for another hunter to convince himself that the target is a quick flash of a deer’s white tail.

Until the concept of “premature closure” was developed as a plausible explanation for hunting accidents it often perplexed safety experts why such incidents happen.   The fact of the matter is hunting accidents happen to people of all intelligence levels.   Doctors and lawyers have been affected, just as easily as plumbers and garbage haulers.   Some have even speculated that individuals who have higher functioning minds can be especially prone to the mind playing tricks on them.

One of the worst sports for hunters “mistaken for game” is turkey hunting.   Think about it, the turkey hunter sits on the ground nearly fully camouflaged, yet in order to call game into range he is making provocative sounds that can attract both turkeys and gun toting hunters.   That is why turkey hunting on-foot in a stalking mode should be discouraged, if not outlawed all together.

Several years ago I was turkey hunting when a young hunter stalked me from behind.   I knew the adolescent was hunting in the area only because I had heard reports the day before of him shooting the stationary decoys used by some other hunters.   I knew this young hunter had a propensity to make mistakes…and I was not planning to be his next one.   Fortunately, a buddy whom I was hunting with intervened and stopped what could have been a serious situation.   This is one of the reasons why I never hunt turkeys without a decoy.   If there is someone in the woods who will use such poor judgment as to pull the trigger on a foam decoy…he might surely pull the trigger on some sounds coming from the base of a tree.

As hunters, we need to be responsible for our own safety as well as the safe handling of our guns.   Don’t put yourself into situations where you could get hurt because someone else believed you were the game animal they seek.   Be wary not only of approaching game…but keep close tabs on hunters who may approach and not realize you are in the area.

As for the Austin hunter who got caught trespassing on property where he did not have permission, and eventually tracked and shot a llama thinking it was a deer…I hope the judge harshly comes down upon his indiscretion.   Even so, I especially hope his friends and acquaintances are relentless in their chiding and joking about the incident.   Here’s a hunter who should walk away realizing he made a big mistake and pay a heavy price through embarrassment over the incident.   And for the rest of us, we can learn from his mistake…and be extra cautious to ensure that such an epic event of embarrassing proportions could never repeat itself in our lives.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.