Hunters and nonhunters continued Friday to fume and to speculate over the shooting death of 18-year-old Megan Ripley.

“How does a guy mistake a person for a deer within the range of a muzzleloader at 4 p.m. in the afternoon?” asked Gordon Chamberlain, 68, of Otisfield.

Ripley died Thursday afternoon after being hit in the chest with a bullet from the gun of a man, who was apparently hunting deer with a muzzleloader or blackpowder gun, in the woods near the Ripley’s Christian Ridge home in Paris.

A muzzleloader is a single-shot weapon that must be reloaded after each shot.

Chamberlain, a Master Maine Guide and deer hunter of 35 years, said light and weather conditions were such Thursday that any target within the estimated 150-yard range of a muzzleloaded firearm should have been clearly identifiable.

“It’s starting to make me angry that people would call this type of thing a hunting accident,” Chamberlain said.

Mark Latti, the spokesman for the Maine Warden’s Service, said the state was calling the incident a hunting-related death and that it remains under investigation. Authorities have not released the shooter’s name nor have they confirmed the type of firearm used.

Chamberlain said the incident is likely to trigger a backlash from private landowners, many of whom will now post their property and further limit the land available to hunting in Maine. He said he worries that there may be a spin put on the incident to infer the victim was somehow to blame because it has been reported she wasn’t wearing the blaze-orange clothing meant to help alert hunters to people.

The incident has also kindled a debate about Maine’s law requiring hunters to be at least 300 feet from any building occupied by people before they shoot.

It remains unclear how far into the woods either the hunter or the victim were in Thursday’s shooting but people, especially nonhunters, will be outraged that Ripley was shot so close to her home, Chamberlain said.

Many believe advances in firearms technology and accuracy should prompt the Legislature to push that distance back considerably, Chamberlain said.

Messages left for state Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield, were not immediately returned Friday. Bryant is the chairman of the Senate’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. Any changes to hunting laws would go before his committee. Rep. Deb Simpson, D-Auburn, also did not return calls Friday. Simpson is the chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, which would also have to approve any changes to the state’s hunting laws.

The last time hunting laws were significantly revamped was 1991, when changes made hunters more clearly responsible for identifying their targets before firing, Latti, the DIFW spokesman said. “Basically, you need to know what you are shooting at,” Latti said.

Thursday’s incident was the second time since the law changed that a nonhunter was killed by a hunter, Latti said.

The incident also draws attention to Maine’s three-month deer-hunting season, which starts in September for bow hunters and ends in December with muzzleloaders.

Most nonhunters are unaware of how long the deer-hunting season actually is in Maine, Chamberlain said. Most also don’t keep track of which of the state’s 30 wildlife areas are open to hunting and which are closed throughout that season. Most simply believe deer-hunting season starts and ends in November, Chamberlain said.

He frequently encounters people doing outside activities, other than hunting, during hunting season, yet few have taken any precaution to protect themselves from being misidentified by a careless hunter, Chamberlain said.

“I put orange on my dog until the absolute end, and then into December further because there are still people out there hunting illegally,” he said. “I see people around here jogging and walking their dogs, and I stop as many as I can and tell them to get some orange on.” The reaction is often the same, Chamberlain said. “They all say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know it was still hunting season.’ “

Latti said the concerns of Chamberlain and others are legitimate, but overall hunting safety in Maine has improved vastly over the years.

In the 1940s and 1950s; Maine would regularly see hunting-related fatalities in the double digits, Latti said. Thursday’s shooting death was the second instance in 18 years where a nonhunter was killed by a hunter and the first hunting-related death since 2004.

“This is not to sugarcoat this tragedy by any means,” Latti said. “Because that’s what this is – a horrific tragedy, and I was just sickened by it – all of us here were.”

Still, hunting is vastly safer than many other outdoor activities in Maine, Latti said. “We get more fatalities from people fishing, people snowmobiling, people boating and often it’s people who are not directly involved in the activity,” he said.

That doesn’t in any way lessen the impact of this death, however, Latti said. “This fatality is one too many, but when you consider all the statistics, hunting remains a safe sport in Maine.”


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