A russet-colored colt lay motionless on the ground, covered in frost.
The owner called the Wadena County Sheriff’s Department, and a deputy found the dead horse on the stable floor. There was a bullet hole lodged in its abdomen.
The first thing the deputy did was check for nearby hunters in the area. Investigators think maybe someone saw the little brown horse and mistook it for a deer. (We’re currently in the heart of deer season.)
Hunting accidents are fairly rare, considering the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sells over 800,000 licenses a year. Back in the ’60s, hunters reported 100-plus mistakes nearly every season, according to the DNR’s hunting data. The year 1965 was particularly bloody, with 139 hunters or bystanders injured, and 20 deaths.
Both accidents and fatalities are on the decline, hovering in the single digits since the late ’70s even as the number of licenses has roughly doubled. That’s partly because of laws passed in the ’80s and ’90s requiring hunters to wear bright colors above the waist and obtain a firearms safety certificate.
It’s also because fewer people are going after waterfowl and small game, according to the Duluth News Tribune. We still have a record high of deer hunters out and about, but overall, bucks make bigger, safer targets than fast-moving flocks of ducks.
There’s still the occasional mishap, as MinnPost pointed out. In 2014, two hunters saw a silhouette they thought looked like a deer, only to realize they’d fatally shot a human being. In 2016, a 15-year-old girl got hit in the hand and knee after a dog stepped on a shotgun. Three men in three separate counties died of accidental gunshot wounds last year alone.
There isn't much data available on how many animals get caught in the crossfire—particularly the larger, four-legged ones. It isn’t unheard of for horses to get hit accidentally. Earlier this year, a Montana rodeo queen’s prized quarter horse, Diva, got shot through the shoulder and had to be euthanized. Owner Kristina Gregersen described the animal as “her best friend,” and the scene as a “gruesome, horrific mess.” Investigators are looking into her case, too.
If you’ve got more information about this most recent incident in Wadena, call the sheriff’s office at 218-631-7600.