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Firearm safety rules there for a reason

One of the four primary rules of firearm safety calls on recreational shooters or hunters to be sure of one’s target and what lies beyond it. Unfortunately, on rare occasions a hunter fails to take that crucial step and the result is a tragedy that could have been prevented.

On a mid-September morning in Colorado’s high country, Ronald J. Morosko and Slade M. Pepke, both of Pennsylvania, were attempting to call a bull elk within shooting range during the state’s muzzleloader elk season. According to a report published in The Durango Herald, the bull elk in this part of the San Juan National Forest were actively rutting and responded to the duo’s calls.

But the two muzzleloader hunters were not alone in the woods that morning. Colorado’s muzzleloader and archery seasons overlap in that area and an archer from Houston, Texas was hunting nearby. Perhaps he was even doing some calling of his own.

At one point, Morosko, 67, moved forward to intercept what he believed to be a bull elk sneaking through the trees as Pepke continued calling. As he did so, the sound of a bull’s screaming replies grew ever closer. So too did the sound of crashing noises in the trees. Then, seeing what he thought to be a bull moving through the trees, Morosko raised his rifle and fired.

There is something special about that moment when one successfully harvests a wild game animal. The feelings one experiences are hard to explain to those who choose not to hunt, but they are a mix of satisfaction for having completed a challenging task and solemn gratitude for the life that is taken so food could be gathered in a traditional way. It is an experience that connects us with our heritage as hunter-gatherers.

But on this morning Morosko and Pepke did not have that experience to share. For when they went to retrieve their quarry, it was not a bull elk they found. Instead, they found the body of 31-year-old Gregory Gabrisch, the archery hunter from Houston.

According to an arrest affidavit written by Dolores County Sheriff Don Wilson, and quoted in the Herald, Morosko saw something white in the pines and took a shot at what he thought was an elk. Now he faces charges of criminally negligent homicide.

We may never know exactly how things played out that morning in the San Juans. Maybe the hunters were fooling each other with their calls, or perhaps there was a bull somewhere between them and they were pursuing the same animal. None of that really matters.

What does matter is that we learn from this and other accidents when they happen, though they are rare today, and that we take the opportunity to pass on what we know to the next generation of hunters.

The few seconds it takes to make sure of our target and what’s beyond it, to verify whether the white patch one is seeing belongs to a legal game animal, can not only prevent a legal blunder but also prevent a tragic accident. So too can following the remaining three primary rules of safe gun handling.

Treat every gun as if it were loaded.

Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.

Ducks Donuts

The Nevada Department of Wildlife is hosting its 3rd Annual Ducks Donuts event Saturday, Oct. 23 in conjunction with the youth Waterfowl hunt at the Overton Wildlife Management Area. The event gets underway at 4 a.m. and will include prize drawings and a post-hunt pancake breakfast. Reservations are required and can be made beginning Monday morning by calling 1-855-542-6369.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. Find him on Facebook at @dougwritesoutdoors. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com.

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