Vt. hunter shot after being mistaken for bear joins senator on bill mandating orange clothes

By Lisa Rathke, AP
Friday, January 8, 2010

Vermont bill could require hunters to wear orange

GRANBY, Vt. — Lifelong hunter Calvin Noble opted not to wear an orange hat or vest that day in late 2008. Hunting with his son, he was shot by another hunter while sitting on a tree stump and using a moose call.

Noble lost his right leg, his bladder and ultimately his job and incurred more than $1.5 million in medical bills.

Now he supports a bill that could require hunters in Vermont to wear fluorescent orange, known as blaze orange, like those in 40 other states already do.

“If anything can stop what’s been going on in this state in the last few years, I think it’s a hell of a good idea,” Noble said, sitting in a wheelchair, fighting back tears. “Not only lives but to have people lose a leg or an arm or something like I have, it’s time for it.”

The man who shot Noble, John Boppel, of Ashland, Pa., said he thought he was shooting at a bear under a tree. He was convicted of aggravated assault and was sentenced to more than four months in jail and ordered to pay $60,000 in restitution.

State Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, a state’s attorney, prosecuted Boppel. He proposed the bill in response to Noble’s Oct. 22, 2008, shooting and two others in northern Vermont, including one in which a father killed his son while hunting.

“I know they’re preventable tragedies,” said Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans.

The ultimate responsibility to identify the right target falls on the person who pulls the trigger, he said. Still, hunters can do their part to stay safe, he said.

But Noble and Illuzzi, who represents vast parts of Vermont’s remote northern hunting country, say they know some hunters will be against a mandate to wear orange. Steve McLeod, executive director of the Vermont Traditions Coalition, a group of land-use organizations around the state, says the issue is divisive among hunters.

Regulations about when and how much orange is required vary from state to state. Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont recommend the clothing but don’t require it.

Colorado has seen a dramatic drop in hunter deaths since it mandated blaze orange and hunter education classes in the 1970s. Fatalities declined from an average of nine a year in the 1960s to one to two a year in the first four years of the 2000s, and the state did not have a hunter fatality last year, said Randy Hampton, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

In Vermont, four or five of the nine deaths in the last decade might have been prevented if the victims had been wearing orange, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department said.

Across the country, hunting-related injuries and deaths have fallen dramatically over the last 30 to 40 years due to hunter education, blaze orange requirements and various state laws preventing shooting from vehicles and across public roads, said Wayne East, executive director of the International Hunter Education Association.

Based on the information reported to the association, there were 50 fatalities and 416 injuries nationally, not including self-inflicted injuries, in 2007 and 2008, but the association did not have comparable data from the 1960s or ’70s.

Brian Ames, chairman of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board, which is expected to hold public hearings on the proposal in Vermont and decide whether or not to implement it, said some hunters don’t want to be told what to do.

“Hunters might see it as more of a personal-liberty issue,” he said.

Ames said he’s always worn an orange vest while hunting and it’s never hindered him. But other hunters think orange could be spotted by the animals they’re pursuing.

That’s not true for deer, which can’t tell red or orange from green and brown, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. And wearing blaze orange, which is visible to other hunters, is seven times safer than not wearing it, the department said.

Clint Gray, president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, who knows Noble, says attitudes are changing but he’s not sure the Vermont bill will pass this year.

“If you would have asked 10 years ago, some people would have said absolutely not,” Gray said. “Now those same people are saying it may be time.”

Noble, who used to work as a supervisor for a company that makes weighing equipment, still has the bullet lodged in the left hip, which he expects to have replaced this winter. He says he always thought wearing orange was a good idea but thought it should be up to the hunter to decide. He says he probably had worn orange the day before his shooting and possibly would have worn it later that day but just didn’t that morning.

The community and fellow hunters have rallied around him, giving him an all-terrain vehicle with modified hand controls and holding pot luck dinners and an auction to raise money.

The accident has hit close to home in Granby, a remote town of 85 residents, and in surrounding communities.

“A lot of people that never would have thought about wearing orange have started to wear at least a hat,” Noble said. “And they think about it every time they go out. … It’s just made them realize how fast your life can be changed.”

On the Net:

International Hunter Education Association: www.ihea.com/

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