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Firearms safety stressed as deer hunt underway in Placer County

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - With the start of the deer-hunting season in Placer County, state Fish and Game Department officials are saying there are plenty of deer in the woods – but for hunters to be safe and watch out for fire. “Although we had a dry year, we have not seen indications of major population declines or increases in any of our zones,” Deer Program Coordinator Craig Stowers said. “This year’s forecast looks normal in terms of deer numbers but I want to caution hunters to carefully watch their zones for fires, which can interrupt their hunting plans.” Detailed fire information is located on several websites including those maintained by Cal Fire, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. In 2011, 149,600 hunters bought 175,276 tags across the state. At $30 a tag, it’s a revenue source of more than $4.5 million for the state. With the state’s deer population estimated at 489,000, Stowers said there are plenty of opportunities for hunters using bows as well as firearms. Does and fawns are off-limits. Placer County is part of a deer-hunting zone that also covers parts of Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Nevada, Plumas, Sierra, Sutter and Yuba counties. The state is divided into 12 zones. Placer County shares 13,268 tags for deer kills using firearms with two other zones. A total of 94,708 tags are also available statewide for a bow-and-arrow hunt, which started earlier this summer. The general deer hunt opens in mid-September through early October. Part of the hunt is in the Tahoe National Forest. State law requires hunters on private property to possess written permission. Experienced deer hunter Don Guiles, who teaches a safety course in Meadow Vista, said that hunters aren’t typically going to return from the woods with a trophy. In fact, just 16.5 percent of tags issued are returned to be counted as kills. Guiles said the hunt usually involves trekking and tracking at elevations of 5,000 feet or above in the Sierra. Unlike the lower-elevation deer that may be nibbling on roses and avoiding cars, their wilder cousins are smarter, bigger and more elusive, he said. “I enjoy exploring – being out in the mountains,” Guiles said. “I just feel like a kid walking around.” If Guiles returns from the mountains with a deer, it’s a bonus that will last for months to come. “I enjoy the meat,” he said. “I grew up eating venison.” State Fish and Game statistics show a deer kill of 233 during 2009’s hunting season in Placer County, the last year figures are available for. Of that total, 37 were killed by archers, one deer was killed with a crossbow, two were killed by hunters using pistols, and one was killed with a shotgun, Fish and Game reported. Placer County’s deer-kill count for the previous five years was 2008 (186), 2007 (211), 2006 (171), 2005 (113) and 2004 (261). Placer County’s highest deer harvest was 1,168 in 1964. While the hunt is on, there are non-hunters questioning the need. That group includes Loomis resident Marilyn Jasper. A former hunter, Jasper said she gave it up after hearing the prolonged cries of a dying rabbit that had retreated to a bramble thicket. The rabbit had been shot by a brother on a hunting trip and they searched without any luck as the cries continued. “We did everything to put it out of its misery,” Jasper said. “For 10 minutes, to hear that. That was the end of my hunting.” For foothills residents who want a garden, Jasper said high deer fencing and repellant are two available options. Limiting populations by feeding the deer contraceptives is also a possibility, Jasper said. Jasper, president of the Sierra Foothills Humane Society, said that she’s seeing a buck and two fawns visiting her property in recent days. “If they want to eat my roses, that’s my price of admission to view those magnificent animals,” she said. State stresses hunt safety, training With hunters required to take a safety training course and safe-hunting practices stressed in the classes, the sport is one of the safest of outdoor activities in California, according to a Fish and Game statement that cites U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service statistics. Hunter-training instructor Don Guiles of Meadow Vista said hunters are required to take 10 hours of instruction to be certified to hunt. Much of the training revolves around firearms safety and while the legal hunting age is 12, younger children could also benefit from the course. “Hunters are getting smarter,” Guiles said. “There are still some yahoos out there but the hunter-safety course is teaching them to do it the right way.” The online Hunter Incident Clearinghouse website lists 10 injury incidents in 2010 in California that resulted in two deaths and eight injuries. The site uses Fish and Wildlife Service statistics. None of the 10 injuries and deaths listed involved deer hunting. Two deaths involved rifles and eight – including the two fatal incidents – were the result of shotgun wounds. Reasons for the injuries and deaths included discharging a firearm inside a vehicle, careless handling of a firearm and victims moving into the line of fire. There were eight hunting fatalities recorded in California in 2009 and two in 2008. The last fatal shooting involving a Placer County hunter occurred in southern Glenn County in November 2009. A 44-year-old Lincoln man was accidentally shot and killed by his brother with a .12 gauge shotgun, Glenn County Sheriff’s Office reported at the time. The brother had slipped and fallen, causing the gun to discharge. Hunter training: Course offered State-certified hunter training is being offered Oct. 3 (5:30-9 p.m.), Oct. 4 (6-9 p.m.) and Oct. 5 (5:30-10 p.m.) at the Meadow Vista Rod & Gun Club, 2555 Combie Road in Meadow Vista. For more information about the free class and to reserve a space, call (530) 878-8559. Hunting season: By the numbers 233 – Total deer kill in Placer County in 2009 132 – Deer kill in Placer County in 2009 on private land 238 – Total deer kill in Nevada County in 2009 468 – Total deer kill in El Dorado County in 2009 15,272 – Total deer kill in California in 2009 Source: California Department of Fish and Game