Saturday, March 19, 2011

Oh boy, this is bad: Hunt protester shot

Very bad news from Down Under today: A woman who was part of an organized protest of duck hunting was shot in the face, allegedly by a 14-year-old duck hunter.

Click here for the first story in the Melbourne Herald Sun on the topic, and here for a more recent story and video.

Apparently, there's an extended duck season in Australia this year, and yesterday was the first day of that extended season. There are organized duck-hunt protesters who actively interfere with hunts in Australia - something that used to happen here in America until just about every state made it illegal.

According to the Herald Sun: Witnesses claim they saw the 14-year-old boy taunting the victim, St Kilda woman Julia Symons, minutes before she was peppered with shotgun pellets at Lake Buloke in the state's northwest.

But police described the shooting as an accident after taking the teenage hunter and his uncle to nearby Donald police station for questioning and seizing the firearm involved.

The facts ultimately must be decided by the Australian judicial system, but some things are worth saying up front:

1. If the boy shot the woman in the face deliberately, he deserves the maximum punishment the judicial system can mete out.

2. If the boy accidentally pulled the trigger while waving a gun at her, then he's an idiot who deserves at the very least to have his right to hunt and use a gun revoked for a long time, if not for life, even if the justice system is lenient.

3. If it was genuinely a freak accident, it's a reminder that one shouldn't engage in hostile interactions while carrying a gun, because any subsequent accident will be viewed as deliberate.

I have no idea what hunter education is required in Australia, but good lord, even the instruction manuals that come with guns make it clear you don't point them at people, even if you think they're unloaded.

Obviously I don't know the whole story, but if the boy is charged and found guilty, I would have no qualms seeing him made into an example and a reminder that you just don't wave guns at people.

That gunshot did not just wound a woman, which is horrifying; it is a black eye to hunters and hunting worldwide. I have absolutely nothing to say in his defense.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Good grief. What a horror show.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Yep. This is why I avoid arguing when I'm hunting. Of course, the only people I've wanted to argue with have been other hunters, usually over some encroachment, but any form of escalation with anyone is just a bad idea.

Brian said...

Ugh, what a fiasco!

jryoung said...

I don't even know what to say. It seems like there was no shortage of stupidity in that scene. Paramount being the atrocious gun handling and the injured woman. But, also to hear that there are people out there trying to save shot ducks by stealing them from hunters as almost just as unbelievable. Seems there are much better ways to go about "helping" ducks.

Cynthia said...

Too bad this probably won't be a lesson to the protesters: During hunting season, try to stay out of the line of fire. Preferably at home, minding your own business. It's a terrible thing that anyone was shot, and if the boy did it on purpose he should face harsh punishment. But the injured woman put herself in unnecessary danger, it was her own choice to be there. Maybe she'll find a safer hobby than harassing people who are carrying guns.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Sadly, I suspect it will fuel a certain level of martyrdom for their side of the debate.

Todd said...

Thank God I live in Montana.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Hell, even California has laws against interfering with hunts and hunter harassment.

Just found another story on this incident in which one of the protesters was bragging about how many citations she got today for being out in the water during the hunt. That is just an insanely dangerous situation.

Bobby Nations said...


Color me skeptical that there was any taunting or overt bad acting on the hunters' part here. Whenever I see something like this line in a story, it trips the media bias flag for me.

When the Sunday Herald Sun arrived on the scene less than two minutes later

No witnesses are named in any of the stories involved, so there's no way to verify if the boy actually did taunt the women. Combine that with the fact that the police, who could track down witnesses, declared it to be an accident after questioning both the boy and his Father.

In the states, our professional protester class has a deserved reputation for manufacturing drama and outright lying to achieve their ends, and I don't think that they change tactics just because you place them Australia. Plus, the women was already breaking the law by protesting before the legal time to do so (10:00 AM), and I don't place much faith in the newspaper accounts. Especially if the witnesses that they quote were mainly from the protesters crowd. I just don't believe them.

Kevin McNeil said...

Holly, This is part of our world people belive very strongly on both sides that they are right, so sometimes the outcome is not very good. She was in the wrong for interupting a lawful hunt and should be charged as such. Just think if it is an accident how the young boy must feel. I know what the lady is going through as I was shot in the face 2 years by a client how did not listen and a result I was shot, very unsafe shooting pratices only take a second to happen but result in a lifetime of damage.

Phillip said...

From the article, I couldn't make out fault on anyone's side for the shooting. Based on the fact that she had only seven pellet wounds, it doesn't sound like any kind of face-to-face confrontation, and to be honest, except for the hearsay about the boy taunting the protester and the fact that the cops took him in, I can't even find where it suggests that the boy was the shooter (I didn't watch the video).

Too many facts missing to make an educated judgement here on my part.

What I will say is it's a damned huge statement for the restraint of hunters that this isn't a regular thing. In the face of some of the taunts and actions of hunting protesters, if hunters were the bloodthirsty barbarians we're made out to be, there'd be a lot more of these shootings... and the antis would be toting a lot more than seven pellets in the face.

Richard Mellott said...

Hi Holly,
I still can't believe that the boy shot her on purpose, and since the police deemed it an accident, that confirms my opinion for now. I'll wait for further updates. Scofflaws in front of guns are a bunch of foolishness, if you ask me, better to protest at DFG meetings, or the street, rather than get into a confrontation. Picking up cripples, instead of letting the hunters get them seems a little dense as well.
However, like you, if he did shoot her deliberately, or was negligent, then it isn't good for hunters.
As for hunter safety, I got shot myself last year, during my first chukar season, by a hunter who didn't check his field of view. I was 50 yards away from a guy shooting at the bird, who swung into the line, instead of holding, and I felt it before I realized they were zinging all around me. It wasn't strong enough to penetrate my jeans, but did leave a nice little round bruise as a souvenir. I made a point of telling the guy, and everyone else at the time, and back in camp, I got in his face, and dropped my drawers for proof. He was truly sorry, and I said I wouldn't "kill him this time." I was really pissed, because I had the same shot, and didn't take it because of him.
It happens to the people who are careless, or rushed in their shooting, and it happens enough that there are training courses required for it, and some people need a refresher course. Our next hunt, with over 10 hunters and 5 dogs, we had a safety meeting before we went out, and even though it wasn't required, everyone had some bright orange or red on. Better safe than sorry!

Anonymous said...

Maybe next time this woman will the leave the hunters alone.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Bobby: If I had protesters in my face like that while I was trying to hunt, it would be hard for ME to refrain from yelling at them. For a 14-year-old boy who has had little time to learn impulse control, I imagine the temptation to taunt would be irresistible. That just doesn't strike me as implausible.

And I agree that professional protesters manufacture drama, and at the very least create conditions ripe for drama.

But the woman was shot in the face, and there's nothing in the story to suggest she wasn't shot by a hunter, because the police say it appears to have been an accident. They didn't say there was doubt whether the boy did it.

The reality is that as hunters who are in possession of lethal weapons, we have the responsibility to exercise the greatest possible safety when humans are anywhere in the vicinity of the direction our muzzles are pointed.

As Richard says below, he has been shot accidentally by a fellow hunter. I have been shot accidentally by a fellow hunter, but I was a pretty safe distance away, so it merely stung - no bruising. But when the person in your vicinity is an anti-hunter, you have to be damn sure you are safe because a fellow hunter will chew you out; an anti-hunter will maximize the potential for martyrdom.

Kevin: If it was an accident, I do feel sorry for him, as I do for all people who accidentally shoot someone - particularly when the person they shoot dies. But I believe very strongly that incidents like these should serve as strong reminders that we have to be careful with firearms. We need to be reminded by potential tragedy, and we need to be reminded by potential penalty.

(I am, btw, very glad that you didn't get killed two years ago by the client who wasn't listening.)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Phillip: I'm waiting to hear more. All this woman has said so far is that she was shot, and now there's new news today of her saying she's lucky not to have lost an eye. She hasn't said, "That little f***er laughed as he shot me." She hasn't said, "I was in plain sight." And of course we've heard nothing from the boy and his uncle.

If we want to play guessing games, we can determine that she was probably shot at less than 50 yards (based on penetration), and the shooter was shooting at something pretty low to the water. Could've been a duck going down, but not mortally wounded. Could've been a duck lifting off the water. Could be that a duck was going down into cattails and he tried to shoot it before it did, and Ms. Symons was in the cattails. Could be that Ms. Symons was doing what the rescuers do - trying to catch an injured duck, instead making the duck get up, and somehow getting herself in the line of fire.

In short, there are LOTS of scenarios in which it really could've been a horrible accident, and the fact that she hasn't said a word to the press indicating otherwise is significant.

There's a good reason I gave three if-then scenarios in response to this situation, because the reality is 1) we don't know what happened, and 2) we do know that it is far more likely to damage the hunting community than it is to damage the anti-hunting community, despite the fact that it appears Ms. Symons was breaking the law.

It's really simple: When non-hunters hear about hunters shooting anti-hunters, the gut reaction is going to be bad every time, period. This is why we cannot let this happen. This is also why we can't sit around making excuses for it, despite the fact that our knowledge of guns and hunting make it easy for us to envision scenarios in which it could've happened without much carelessness.

Richard: Ditto for you - I'm glad you ended up with nothing more than a bruise.

Anonymous: Sadly, in today's story, she has said she's now more anti-duck hunting than ever. I'd be stunned if she wasn't out in the water again in short order.

SimplyOutdoors said...

I can't believe that Australia allows these protesters to protest like this in the first place; it's just a recipe for an incident like this.

And...if you're a protester, and you're going to venture into the hunter's domain, and openly protest his legal activities, then you know you're taking a chance that you could put yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I'm glad we have our hunter and angler harassment laws here. Good Lord!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Another bit of information: New story says a friend of the woman who got shot says he was aiming for a duck.

And amen, Simply. The new story quotes the head of a hunting group saying they've been dealing with these protests for 20 years. Thank God we nipped this in the bud back in the '90s here. That's not to say an anti-hunter couldn't do this, but any of the legions of us with cell phones could have law enforcement on the spot pretty quickly.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Meant to say, "Not that an anti-hunter couldn't do this here."

Bobby Nations said...


I don't disagree with what you are saying for the most part. I am however very skeptical on the reports of taunting just prior to the shooting for the reasons given above. Let's be frank, it's the charges of taunting that place this incident into such an unfavorable light for both hunters and non-hunters alike. And on that point, I simply don't believe the media reports, and apparently the police didn't either.

Rewrite the articles with the charges of taunting removed and you'll get a very different response from the uninterested observer. Something along the lines of "what the bleep was she doing downrange at a shooting event?" Even with those charges in the stories, the comments section is of the "what the bleep" variety for the most part.

It smells of yellow jounalism to me.

I imagine the temptation to taunt would be irresistible

You may imagine all you want, but such musings aren't very helpful. The police and now the women's friends all seem to be singing from the same hymnal here: it was an accident. To me that implies that the charges of taunting don't hold up to scrutiny.

When non-hunters hear about hunters shooting anti-hunters, the gut reaction is going to be bad every time, period.

I agree 100%. It's an unfortunate fact of life that perception often counts more than truth.

This is why we cannot let this happen.

We don't live in a perfect world, so accidents will be a part of life. This is especially true when folks do their best to trigger such an accident as these protesters appear to be doing.

BTW, most hunters have probably been shot or had at least a close miss if they've spent much time afield. My most recent was back in January while deer hunting. Some duck hunters opened up across a lake while I was hunting on the far shore in a ground blind. Unlike the protester, I did the prudent thing and relocated post haste. After all, they couldn't see me! It cost me a 4 point that spooked as I moved away, but thems the breaks. On the bright side, I know where he lives now, and he'll be a 6 point next year ;-)

As the Weekly Times article says, few people understand the safety zone of a shotgun. Heck I would expand that to say that few people really have a good handle on how far any bullets will actually travel. Even a lowly air rifle has a maximum range measured in football fields (plural), and it only gets more interesting from there. And archery isn't immune from this either. At a 3D shoot last month, while searching for a missing arrow behind my target, I found another arrow stuck deep into a tree at chest height. The tree was more than 100 yards behind that lane's intended target. Stuff goes a long way!

Sorry for being so long-winded ... I really don't mean to be confrontational and hope that I am not coming across that way.

Bobby Nations said...


I can't believe that Australia allows these protesters to protest like this in the first place; it's just a recipe for an incident like this.

They don't apparently. Or, at least, they regulate when you can and can't protest. The victim was breaking the law when she was shot.

Bobby Nations said...


That's not to say an anti-hunter couldn't do this, but any of the legions of us with cell phones could have law enforcement on the spot pretty quickly.

Amen to that. And, I can't help but be thankful that our law enforcement appears to be more willing to enforce this sort of behavior. From the quotes in the article, the protesters have apparently been violating this law with impunity for a very long time. A law unenforced is worse than no law at all. There but for the grace of US game wardens go us.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Many fair points, Bobby, though I don't think anyone has disputed the taunts, unless I missed that in one of the stories.

I don't think the issue would disappear without the taunts: A hunter shot a duck hunting protester, and that's still big news. But yes, that would cast it in a different light.

I think we're all agreed on our relief about how hunt disrupters have been handled in America. If people tried to do this while I hunted here, I'd be damned if I'd back down. But it would be irritating as shit to have to pass on shots because some dumbass in a fluorescent vest is in the way.

Funny thing is that ducks were flying at all with the protesters there. Just goes to show you that ducks are attracted to movement when they don't sense threat. Those protesters were probably helping to bring in ducks.

Bobby Nations said...

Funny thing is that ducks were flying at all with the protesters there.

Excellent point, and one that I completely missed during the back and forth. Anyone else want to hop on the nearest Qantas jet and go! And, I don't even duck hunt.


bo Curtis said...

Holly, I for one had a great week end of duck hunting here in the state of Victoria. (This weekend was only Victoria, not the whole of Australia) This is taken from an email today from Field & Game Australia: "Over the entire duck season opening weekend, a total of 108 infringement notices were issued across Victoria:
· 75 protesters were fined for entering wetlands during a prohibited period
· 14 hunters were fined for using or possessing toxic shot
· 10 hunters were fined for not retaining the wing of the duck
· 3 hunters were fined for hunting from a boat with the motor running
· 2 hunters were fined for littering
· 2 hunters were fined for failing to destroy game on recovery
· 1 hunter was fined for failing to carry the correct safety equipment on their boat (a fire extinguisher).
Three hunters will be charged on summons for shooting too early. Two hunters will be charged on summons for unsecured firearms and three will be charged on summons for hunting without a Game License." Also, the protesters are relatively few in numbers, are selective as to where they go (easy access for media is important) and are a waning political force. But it is a never ending fight to retain what we do have; death by a thousand cuts!Sunday lunch at camp, teal in plum sauce on the BBQ, Cheers!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Bo, I am really happy to have you comment here - thanks for weighing in!

I'm glad to hear so many protesters were fined, but I wish for Australian hunters' sake that your police would remove them from the field rather than cite them repeatedly. (I'm basing this on one story quoting a protester talking about how many infringements she got - as if it's a soccer match or something.)

It's a horrible situation to face: On the one hand, I refuse to be like those PETA idiots who cheer when an opponent suffers from a gunshot wound. On the other hand, it's ridiculous that you have to put up with having protesters out there in the water in the first place.

Good luck in your fight, and good luck in dealing with the backlash from this accident.

And by the way, the protesters I saw in the photos seemed a bit too thick around the middle to be vegans or vegetarians. Do you actually have meat-eaters protesting your duck hunting?

Enjoy that teal - one of my favorite ducks to eat!

Jennifer Montero said...

Holly - What a horrible story.

England is a small place with lots of people sharing the green spaces. During hunting season, I have been shouted at by angry people against pheasant shooting in principle.

On shoot days, if walkers are using paths near where we're shooting, we stop the drive and offer them a chance to pass. We don;t resume til they're clear.

If I'm rough shooting on my own and I get any confrontation, I unload my shotgun, break it over my arm to ensure it's in no way threatening. No matter what is said, I simply reply that I'm engaged in a legal activity and I'm sorry if they disagree with it. I would never wave a gun at them, no matter how angry or abusive they became. It's an inappropriate use of force.

One irresponsible incident like that affects everyone's sport, and reputation. If he's not old enough to be tried as an adult, where was the adult that should have been surpervising his use of a firearm?

NorCal Cazadora said...

Jennifer, I think it's clear from subsequent reports that he was shooting at a duck - one of the protesters said that - so this isn't the worst situation I imagined. Thankfully!

I've been doing a lot of reading lately about hunter-gatherers, and I keep thinking how funny they'd think it is that fellow humans get angry with us for hunting. The gods must be crazy indeed!

Ingrid said...

The one thing that's being overlooked is the political mayhem involved in this extended season. There are suggestions that citizen petitions were overlooked in the interest of appeasing politics. This season takes place during breeding season, increasing greatly the potential for orphaned ducklings and so forth. As an animal rescuer, I abide by the law. But I would be beside myself if the duck season on the West Coast was extended to include nesting birds. I will just voice my understanding for the powerful emotions involved here, even if I'm the sole voice for that POV.

In this particular case, animal welfare proponents seem to have very little voice in a situation that calls for more scrutiny and study. The drought there has produced abysmal breeding seasons and now that flooded areas are allowing for breeding, the season's been extended to infringe on those times when at least here, in the States, waterfowl hunters stop hunting.

It's bad enough (from my perspective) that ducks can be killed after they've mated for the season, they lose their mates before breeding. And in the interest of full disclosure, as Holly knows, I have a very tough time with waterfowl hunting because of the large cripple and loss rates, which are unacceptable to me as a wildlife rehabber. I've, unfortunately, been witness to the injuries and suffering of some of those birds. But in response to the comments about the stupidity of protestors out there, I believe this situation brings out emotion because of its ethical complexity.

Yes, the shooting was legal. But was that policy was carried out, as I understand it, without the full interest of citizens, petitions and other groups in mind. Throughout history, those types of policies have almost always produced situations where some feel they must put themselves in the path of danger to have a voice for their belief in justice, where no voice has been heard.

Not saying anything is right or wrong. But I'm sure I'm the only one in this discussion who can empathize with the protestors and why they might put themselves in what the rest of you would see as a wrong, precarious and unlawful position.

NorCal Cazadora said...

If this hunting season is happening during breeding season, I too would have concerns about it. But that was what one of the protesters said, and it doesn't make sense. Think about it, Ingrid. Australia is the opposite of us, so they're in out equivalent of September right now. Ducks don't breed in September - ducklings need to be self-sufficient by this time of year to prepare for migrations. Maybe Australia's different for some reason, but that statement really raised a red flag for me.

One of the protesters also said that the ducks haven't been able to breed in 10 years, which we know can't be true because precious few ducks live to age 10, with or without human predation.

I also understand and respect the passion that causes the protesters to do this. I am equally passionate about the importance of hunting both in terms of obtaining food that improves my health and creating conditions in which game species and many of their counterparts can thrive.

But if the protesters really wanted to save ducks without creating such a highly dangerous situation, they would go in with a bunch of well-trained Labs after the hunt was over to pick up cripples. (This is, in fact, what many hunters do on the refuges - in fact, it's hard to keep dogs from retrieving cripples on your walk back to your car.)

But let's be honest here: The protesters don't just want to rescue ducks; they want to rescue ducks while creating a scene that benefits their cause. I get that - I understand effective PR, and if I believed such activity was in the best interest of my cause, I would engage in that kind of activity too. But it is a calculated decision on their part, not just evidence of passion run amok.

Peebs said...

So googled Australia duck hunting and Australia duck breeding and looks like their regs are pretty tough. The only breeding I picked up at glance was their woodduck and it breeds Sept. to Nov. figure most ducks probably in the same general period wich puts most new birds at four months which is older than most newbies in Canada.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Nicely done, Peebs!

Bo Curtis said...

The ducks here in Australia, and I put myself at risk of being told wrong by someone of more learning on the subject, are NOT seasonal migrating birds like the North American birds. Here they follow the the weather/rain/water. Dries up in the south, they'll head up to the Queensland floods. We've had rains and floods here in Victoria, drought over, birds have been breeding several"hatches"in the mean time. Note that the Victorian season has has not been extended, it was only returned to what we had pre-drought. During the drought the season had been shortened, take reduced and some times the no season at all in recognition of the bird numbers. As an ex-Californian, I remember lining up at the game reserves in the central valley waiting for entry, so I appreciate being able to free camp and hunt on public lands here. But I do get tired of these same arguments year after year.