It’s hard not to think of the families, you know. There is a job to do, and you do your best. Still, it can be heartbreaking.
It was a Saturday, fall, mid day. I was on call as the doctor in town, seeing walk-in patients in our clinic when my nurse knocked on the door. She looked sideways at the phone and said under her breath, “Sheriff’s office, line three” like she knew I would not be able to finish with the last six patients in the lobby.
Dispatch told me of a gunshot death in the Eastern County. It looks like a hunting accident. There were two deputies on the scene. She gave instructions twice as I wrote them down. No address, just a road off a road off another winding road.
It was a bit of a relief to get away from the rush of Saturday clinic. All those people searching for the instant cure to get better so they can go back to work or to school by Monday. It had snowed a bit, but the sun was out now, and it was beautiful. I thought about my own hunting recently. I’ve gone off by myself on a weekend day, sneaking through the brush and timber, excited, alone, purposeful. But I didn’t shoot anything — nor did I see anybody. The peaceful solitude was enough of a distraction to keep me from asking what I was looking for in my busy days. For the very nature of hunting is not restful.
I could remember times I watched a distant hillside, and the strength of the desire was so great that I would see a deer in the patterns of the bunch grass or brush. Those times I rarely really saw something. The deer most often show up when you aren’t expecting, when you are peaceful. I was working on that being peaceful thing.
The solitude and peace I would get today would be in my little pickup on the back roads of the county, looking for a road off a road. Almost every other year there was a hunting-related death in our county, either due to firearms or due to accident or sometimes a heart attack in the field. It sounded like this was an accidental gunshot wound… Still —
I found the road off a road and one of the deputy’s cars was at the turn off. A lane led uphill. It was snow-covered and I didn’t have four-wheel-drive, so I parked and walked. The sun was brilliant on the snow. It was still freezing but a breeze knocked snow out of the branches, and it floated down to join the snow on the ground. As I crested the hill, I saw the other deputy’s four-wheel-drive rig at the end of the lane. There was thinned timber here between sections of field on both sides. The timber was young trees, pretty far apart with little cover. I saw the deputies 100 yards into the timber wearing safety orange vests. As I approached, they stood and watched me. I picked my way over logs, crunching the few inches of snow. When I got to them, I saw the body slumped back against the log. His face was ashen pale with a quizzical expression. Dead. He wore an insulated hat, a vest, Levi’s, and boots. His rifle was in his hands across his chest. I saw the blood-soaked vest as I caught my breath.
“So, what’s the story?” I asked the older deputy, Earl.
“This is a bad one Doc.”
“So, did someone shoot him? It doesn’t look like he shot himself.”
Both deputies looked at me, slow to start the story. The Earl finally said, “Yeah, his son shot him Doc.”
I looked at them both. “Tell me the story.”
“We got the call about nine. The neighbor said a boy was there saying he’d been hunting, and someone was shot. Ambulance was dispatched and so were we. Alan got here first.” He nodded to the younger man. I drove up-and-down the road half a dozen times before I could find it. Hell, the ambulance never did find it. We radioed they didn’t need to come when we saw he was dead.”
I turned to the younger deputy. “What did you see?”
“Well first I went to the house where the call came from and picked up the kid who called it in.” He checked a notepad and gave me the name. “He showed me how to get here. We drove up to the top as far as I could. I had the four-wheel rig. We come over to where they both were, the dad, he was like this, we haven’t moved him, and a boy was sitting on the log there crying.” He checked his notepad again and gave me the names of the deceased and his son and their ages.
“Apparently the dad was going to take the son and his friend out hunting. The boy hadn’t hunted before and so they picked this spot ’cause it’s open. They know the owner. They got here early and spread out three across and were gonna walk east this away when a buck jumped and ran between ’em. The boy fired, missed the deer and hit his dad.”
I searched the faces of the deputies — they were just looking back at me. “Do you guys know this family?”
“No. They live in town. Good citizen folks from what I here.”
“Do you think the boy intended to shoot his father?”
Both the deputies were quiet. I looked at the younger. Alan swallowed hard. “No sir.” I turned to Earl. “Did you talk to him?”
“Yes, I took him back to the house. He was pretty shook up. I don’t think this is anything but an accident. I don’t know how he is going to live with this.”
Cause of death: gunshot wound to the chest
Manner of death: accident