The death of Christopher Durham, who was killed Sunday while hunting deer with seven other people in Mahaska County, accentuates the potential danger of party hunting, the principal method to be employed when 70,000 hunters go forth Saturday for opening day of Iowa’s first shotgun season, the Department of Natural Resources said.
Durham, 41, of Harvey, was pronounced dead at the scene after having been struck in the chest by a shot fired at a running deer by Brett Wayne Fee, 20, of Dallas, a member of the same hunting party, the DNR said Thursday.
Because of the topography and dense cover, Fee could not see Durham, who was wearing blaze orange clothing, when the shot was fired, the DNR said.
The Marion County hunter’s death highlights the need for adherence to safe hunting practices, said Megan Wisecup, coordinator of the DNR’s Recreation Safety Program. She said the top cause of deer hunting incidents is hunters shooting at running deer.
“Do not shoot at a running deer,” she said.
When hunters shoot at a moving target, their focus is entirely on the target, which means they are not aware of the background, which could very well include one of the friends or relatives with whom they are hunting, Wisecup said.
Party hunting — which generally entails drivers who move through cover dislodging deer and posters who stand along likely exit routes to shoot the dislodged deer — can be done safely as long as all members of the party know the whereabouts of all others at all times, Wisecup said.
Party hunters should meet before each drive to formulate the plan, and every member of the party should stick to the plan, she said.
While deer hunters are required to wear a blaze orange upper garment, Wisecup recommends that hunters also wear a blaze orange hat.
“The more blaze orange the better,” she said.
Because deer see only in black and white, the bright clothing will not affect hunter success, she said.
Durham’s death was the state’s first hunting fatality since 2008 and its 11th since the turn of the century — a vast improvement over the carnage of the mid-1960s when inexperienced deer hunters were killing each other at a rate of nearly 20 per year.A more experienced contingent of hunters and the education of a generation of hunters through mandated safety classes have contributed to the dramatic improvement.