Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dodging Bullets

An emergency phone operator received a call one afternoon from a hunter who was very distraught.

“My hunting partner just passed out and keeled over,” the hunter said in a panic.

The emergency phone operator told him to calm down and check for vital signs.

“He’s not breathing,” the hunter observed. “I think he might be dead.”

“First of all, let’s make sure he’s dead,” the emergency operator said.

There was a short pause, followed by a gunshot.

“Okay, now what?” the hunter asked when he got back on the phone.

While the above joke may be amusing, there’s nothing amusing during hunting season to those of us who live in rural areas and wonder if the next errant bullet is headed our way.

Recently, 12-year-old Lindsey Duffield of Browns Valley, Minn., was riding a white mare named Princess along the driveway of her grandfather’s farm on the edge of town. A shot rang out. A short time later, Lindsey’s leg became moist and cold, soaked with blood. Princess had taken a 12-gauge slug in her shoulder and later died. The hunter had been sitting 200 yards away. He said he thought it was a deer.

Similar incidents happen every year during hunting season. In Minnesota, a 14-year-old girl was killed when a bullet penetrated her house as she was sitting in her bedroom, practicing the violin. A hunter in Wisconsin shot another hunter perched high in a tree stand. In Pennsylvania, a woman was gunned down while sitting on the deck of her cabin, drinking a cup of coffee. When I was a teen-ager, a friend of mine was shot in the back of his head and killed by another hunter in his own party.

I now live in northern Arkansas where some of the “sportsmen” are just as irresponsible. A couple of years ago, a Little Rock man shot a llama in a fenced pasture in the next county, claiming he thought it was a deer. If you can’t tell the difference between a llama and a deer, please stay in the city where you belong.

A few years earlier, some "sportsmen" were driving down my road and shot a neighbor’s dog that was sitting in its own driveway as they passed by.

When I first moved into my present home several years ago, I spotted three hunters approaching my place in my backyard at sunrise. Even though they were less than 40 yards from my back door, they continued walking toward me, each carrying a high-powered rifle. I went outside and told them they couldn’t hunt on my property. They became very indignant and told me the previous owner had allowed them to hunt there. After I told them I didn’t care what arrangement they had with the previous owner, they walked out onto the main road. One of them looked menacingly at me and fired a round into the air before leaving the area. I guess it was his way of saying he was displeased I wouldn’t allow him to wander on my property and fill the air with stray bullets.

The following year, another sportsman (or perhaps the same one) shot up my mailbox. He hit it twice. Apparently, he wanted to make sure it wasn’t really a deer after all.

Later that year, another sportsman (or perhaps the same one) discarded the remains of a deer carcass in the middle of the road at the end of my driveway.

In November of 2004, Chai Soua Vang, 36, a Hmong (Laotian) immigrant from St. Paul, Minn., was sitting in a tree stand on the private property of Bob Crotteau in northern Wisconsin waiting for a deer to wander by.

Eventually, Crotteau and his deer hunting companions arrived at the scene on ATVs. Crotteau verbally admonished Vang for trespassing and demanded that he leave. The previous year, Crotteau had been forced to confront Hmong hunters several times on his posted property and was clearly upset he had to do it again.

Vang, who had been charged with criminal trespass over a similar incident in 2002 on another property in the same vicinity, was apparently upset as well. He opened fire on the hunters, most of whom were unarmed at the time, with his SKS assault rifle.

When it was all over, six hunters were dead and two lay wounded.

Later that day, Vang was arrested without incident by a game warden. When first questioned by local authorities, Vang claimed that one of the two survivors, Terry Willers, did the killings (including murdering his own daughter).

However, investigators quickly ruled that scenario out after examining the scene. Vang then recanted his story and insisted he was fired upon first.

During the trial in September of 2005, the two survivors, Terry Willer and Lauren Hesenbeck, described how Crotteau had verbally confronted Vang about trespassing. When Vang started walking away, he removed the scope from his rifle, turned around and opened fire on the hunters. As some of them scattered, Vang reversed his orange jacket to camouflage, chased them down and shot them in the back.

Vang's courtroom account of the incident was virtually the same, except he testified that Crotteau shouted racial slurs at him, thereby disrespecting him and deserving to die. He also claimed that someone fired a shot at him first. Both Willer and Hesenbeck denied under oath that anyone had fired a shot at Vang.

According to his own testimony, Vang had reloaded three times and fired more than 20 rounds.

Robert Crotteau, 41, construction business owner -- dead (shot once in the back)
Joey Crotteau, 20, construction worker (Robert Crotteau's son) – dead (shot four times in the back)
Denny Drew, 55, car salesman – dead (shot once in the chest)
Allan Laski, 43, lumber yard manager – dead (shot three times in the back)
Marl Roltd, 28, auto mechanic – dead (shot once in the head)
Jessica Willers, 27, nurse (Terry Willer's daughter) – dead (shot twice in the back)
Terry Willer, 47, construction worker – wounded (shot in the neck)
Lauren Hesenbeck, 48, car dealership manager – wounded (shot in the shoulder)

It took the jury only three hours to return six first-degree murder verdicts. Vang was sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole, the maximum penalty available in Wisconsin.

Vang had lived in the United States for more than 20 years, had been hunting since 1992 and had previously been chased off of private property for trespassing. He knew the rules but chose to ignore them.

I have eight acres in Arkansas and previously owned six acres in Arizona. In both places, I've been forced to chase armed intruders (hunters) off my property, even though the property was posted and I lived there.

Inconsiderate hunters put rural property owners in an awkward, dangerous position when they trespass without permission. Irresponsible behavior by idiots toting dangerous weapons with the capacity to launch a bullet a great distance with deadly results is a nightmare for those of us who enjoy living far from the maddening crowd.

Chai Soua Vang will rot and die in prison, probably still demanding to be respected.

But respect is not something you're entitled to – it's something you earn.

Quote for the Day -- "After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter came along and shot him. The moral -- When you're full of bull, keep your mouth shut." Will Rogers

Bret Burquest is the author of 7 books, including THE REALITY OF THE ILLUSION OF REALITY and ORB OF WOUNDED SOULS (available on Amazon). He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and the ghost of Terry Hawkins.

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