Hunting season, the passive voice, and safety

Today I  came across the first of what will be – as is yearly true – several hunting season news stories of people killed and/or wounded by hunters who are breaking the law.

[Prayer service held for slain Ferrum student Jess Goode]

Three students were collecting specimens for a biology class along a Franklin County-owned trail about a mile west of campus … when Goode was fatally shot in the chest and another, a male, was shot in the hand, authorities said.

Kimberly Boudinot said … that her stepson Regis Boudinot, 20, a junior at the college, was shot in the hand. She said a bullet had struck Goode, and then entered Regis’ right arm before exiting through his hand.

Jason David Cloutier, 31, of Ferrum was charged with manslaughter, reckless handling of a firearm and trespassing, said Sgt. Karl Martin, district supervisor of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Goode and Boudinot were shot just 75 yards away from the paved cul-de-sac at the end of West Franklin Road…

The passive constructions in this article are worth noting:

“Goode was fatally shot in the chest and another, a male, was shot in the hand,”

“a bullet had struck Goode, and then entered Regis’ right arm before exiting through his hand,”

“Goode and Boudinot were shot”

instead of assigning responsibility for the action by using the active voice:

“Cloutier shot Goode through the chest: his bullet went through the woman and into Boudinot’s hand.”

George Orwell, in Politics and the English Language, neatly described how and why we use language to obscure what really happened. If anything, we’ve gotten worse since 1946.

This wasn’t a circumstance in which someone was magically shot by a hunting incident.

A hunter shot and killed a young woman doing her schoolwork, and wounded the guy standing behind her. The hunter was trespassing, and shooting a mere 75 yards from a paved road. Was he one of the drunk ones? We don’t know, the article doesn’t say. Whether he was or wasn’t, he ‘mistook’ a 23 year old woman – in a wooded area with the rest of her class doing a biology assignment – for a deer. Which is a pretty big mistake, and one which should never happen. Either that or he’s a homicidal entitlement-to-guns-kill-the-libruls-if-they-don’-stay-outta-mah-range freak. Either way, he belongs in jail, and I’m glad that’s where he went.

Not that jailing him after the fact makes anything better for Jess Goode’s family and friends.

Most hunters respect the rules, and handle themselves responsibly: the ones who don’t shoot people like us, and our dogs.

I put this story here because the dogs hunters shoot don’t usually make the news – and those of us who spend the whole season cycle hiking with our dogs are, at this time of year, in the woods with people who may be extremely dangerous to us and our companions.

I’ve had a lot of guys with guns tell me I should just stay inside during hunting season.


While I’m careful about where I go on what days, and never entirely trust that Sundays (no hunting day) are safe anywhere, and stay on trails, and wear orange, and put orange on my dog even though I only take him to conservation areas where hunting is not allowed on any day of the week or wildlife management areas on Sundays – I might still get shot, or he might.

I’ve had a bullet whizz by my head while walking on a no-hunting conservation area trail 100 feet from a busy road.

And:  I will never stay inside from September to December while the various bear, bird, and deer seasons pass, or withhold adequate exercise from my dog.

I’ll go out of my way to be careful for the 1/4 of the year that there’s a greater likelihood of people being drunk, stupid, or homicidally entitled in the woods, but I won’t turn the world over to them.

The woods belong to all of us – or none of us, depending on your point of view.

It is a hunter’s responsibility to not shoot people or domestic animals, to respect no hunting zones and other people’s property, to obey safety rules.

When they ignore these things, the least we can do is ascribe responsibility to them with our language.

Jail’s good, too.

* * *

Please be careful out there.


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