Hunting in the United States is an extremely safe sport, much safer than swimming, football, baseball, or soccer.   Accidents are rare. Accidents involving five-year-olds are rarer still. When they happen, though, they make national news. In Humble, Texas, a five-year-old accidentally shot himself while he accompanied his 11-year-old brother who was hunting dove . . .

I started hunting independently, about the same age, often accompanied by younger brothers.  I can relate, and feel an intense sympathy for the young man, his brother, and the family.

From abc13.com:

Neighbors filled in the gaps, telling us the boys often go dove hunting. This time, their parents were left at home. The older brother got into the water-but the younger boy went back to get the gun and accidentally shot himself. Neighbors then say the 11-year-old tried to save his brother, desperately getting the attention of neighbors for help.

I have a theory about what happened, because I have taught gun safety and hunter safety for many decades. Dove are attracted to ranch water reservoirs, called “tanks” in Texas, usually in the morning and evening. They are prime spots to hunt. Dove are normally shot on the wing, and it’s common for a shot bird to fall into the water. It’s very likely that the older boy put down the shotgun to retrieve a downed bird. That would explain why he was entering the water.

The shotgun appears to be a single barrel model. He probably had reloaded the gun, but we don’t know if he had closed the action.

Then, for some reason, the five-year-old decided that he needed to bring the shotgun to his older brother. Perhaps a wounded bird was getting away; perhaps he saw more birds approaching. Whatever the reason, it would have been easy for him to grab the barrel of the shotgun to drag it toward the other boy.

This is an action that gun safety instructors specifically warn against. It’s all too easy for a branch to slip off a safety or cock a hammer, a twig to find its way into the trigger guard, and then as the person drags it, the gun fires. If the action were left open, the five year old might have closed it. He would have seen his brother do this many times.

If you look closely, you can see the exposed hammer.  You can easily see how it could catch on a branch or root and become cocked or partly cocked, and then released, firing the gun. These type of guns are considered one of the safest because they only hold one shot, and it’s easy to determine if they’re loaded or not. No gun is meant to be dragged toward you by the barrel, but a five-year-old likely doesn’t realize that, and so a hunting tragedy occurs.

Those events may sound unlikely, and they are. It only takes once to create the extremely rare circumstances that lead to the kind of accident that the story recounts. The five-year-old is in the hospital in critical but stable condition. My prayers are with the family in Humble, Texas.

Two actions could have prevented this accident. First, the gun could have been unloaded before the 11-year-old put it down. Second, the five-year-old could have been taught not to handle guns on his own.

I will use this incident to teach new hunters how to prevent future accidents.

©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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47 Responses to Texas Dove Hunting Disaster

  1. The news article is so incoherently written it’s nearly impossible to tell what happened, or if the 5-year-old boy survived.

    • Didn’t read the article, but if it didn’t say the child died, then the child is most likely alive. The specific phrase, “gun killed boy” would have been used.

      • the linked original story had this as the last line
        The boy is in critical but stable condition at Memorial Hermann Hospital.

    • Let me help you, per the article “The five-year-old is in the hospital in critical but stable condition. My prayers are with the family in Humble, Texas”.

      • Yes, and apparently the older boy drove an “emergency vehicle” to get help. I do hope the injured boy is alive and on his way to being well, but with a hacked-together and self-contradictory article like this, how can you tell what’s accurate and what’s apparently mad-libbed into it?

  2. the local news that evening erroneously reported that the older brother shot the younger. i think the in laws were watching abc, not sure. i dont watch newsertainment tv.

  3. The article’s from last Friday, which is a very early report and highly susceptible to inaccuracies and inconsistencies.

    Other reports since then indicate that the father was at work at the time, while the mother had gone to the store.

    The idea that the 11 year just hops into a car with his 5 year brother in the back and drives to a neighbor’s house for help is pretty bizarre, too.

    I’ve never heard of anybody going dove hunting, or any kind of hunting, in Humble, either. I’ll wait until the final forensic report comes out, but I’m expecting the true story to be much different from all of this.

    • I learned how to drive on ranch roads when I was 11. My 9 year old brother learned at the same time, and I was jealous because I hadn’t been taught when I was 9.

      • According to the linked story, the older boy apparently drove an emergency vehicle of some kind to the neighbor’s place. Which makes no sense.

        Like I said, with the way this story is written, there’s no telling what actually happened.

    • The pictures in the video show that the event occurred in a rural area at a water reservoir or “tank”. I did not see any houses near it. It looked like good dove habitat, with the water as a concentrator.

  4. In my opinion an 11 year-old should not be hunting by him/herself with anything beyond a BB gun. And he/she should definitely not be hunting with younger siblings in tow.

        • You think a law would prevent it? Your right! No sorry no your not. I got excited thinking all the people I could save with freaking car seats!
          Go bang your head on the wall. Hard!

  5. “Two actions could have prevented this accident”

    A third action would not have allowed an 11yr old to hunt without and adult, especially with a 5yr old tagging along.

  6. “First, the gun could have been unloaded before the 11-year-old put it down. Second, the five-year-old could have been taught not to handle guns on his own.”

    Third, the guns could have been kept locked and out of reach of the 11-yr-old for at least five more years.

    I’m all in favor of adults teaching kids how to shoot and how to hunt. I’m all in favor of adults taking kids hunting. I’m not in favor of 11-yr-olds going anywhere unsupervised with a firearm. Dean correctly points out that such tragedies are rare, but they’re still tragedies that can be avoided with parental supervision.

      • Yup, as shown by presiding comments. Bet these folks would scream and raise h3ll if someone implied they wheren’t raising their brats right.

      • Should the 12-yr-old have been left defenseless?
        No. She’s either old enough to handle firearms, or she’s young enough to require a babysitter.

        Parents’ call. I’m not advocating government regulation.

    • There is always a solution to rare tragedies that involves a loss of freedom. To push the absurd, we could just keep children locked in padded cells until they are 18.

      We should not make policy on the basis of rare events. It is a tragic situation, but it should not be grounds for legislation. The government should not replace parents.

      Yes, we will have tragedies. But we have more and worse tragedies when we replace parents and responsibility with government regulations.

      You can see the results in Chicago.

      There is no utopia, and everyone dies.

      • we could just keep children locked in padded cells until they are 18

        That makes more sense to me than waiting until they’re 18 to lock them up.

      • Or we should just let toddlers all play with uzis unattended! My strawman scenario is as absurd as yours.

        No, we should not lock kids in padded rooms but nor should parents abdicate responsibility over safety to a child because freedom. This may be a rare event but it’s probably rare because most people would be smart enough not to put their children in that position.

        I hear lots of people here talk about how they know their child, and how they’ve trained them and blah blah. Wanna bet these parents thought the same thing? Who says they DIDN’T teach the 5 year old about safety? Kids are not just short adults.

        • I think you are missing the point. The debate is not about allowing the 5 year access to guns; the debate is about the 11 year old’s access to guns.

          You will note that even those above that say “it’s cool about the 11 year old” also generally say, “but should not have had the 5 year old with him.” In other words, there is a belief reiterated that there is a difference between an 11 year old, a five year, and 11 year old being responsible for himself with a firearm and an 11 year old being responsible for both himself and a 5 year old with a firearm.

          The objection I, and some others, have are the blanket statements like “no 11 year old should have any access to firearms.” That is a problem. It takes the individual out of the equation.

          I agree with Dean’s comment with the caveat that the parents have to

          (a) be brutally honest and objective with themselves about their children’s maturity, and

          (b) be willing to accept responsibility for the decisions they make, either way, in raising their children.

          This kind of story reminds me of a few years ago, a boy of about 15 died while surfing of Hatteras in some storm swell. He was a very experienced surfer, not some noob. On the Internet were cries for his parents to be arrested for neglect because he “never should have been out there.”

          Dean’s padded room is the logical conclusion of that thinking, so it’s not quite the straw man as you make it out to be. Yes, it’s a ridiculous extrapolation…but where is the line between “reasonable” and “ridiculous?”

          Oh, wait. Seems like we’ve been here before…”gunsense,” “reasonable controls,” “common sense,” all come to mind.

          Statist thinking is statist thinking no matter the context. If you think it is any less a problem in Parent’s Rights than Gun Rights, I could point you to some very, very enlightening stories.

          For starters, go take a look at http://www.parentalrights.org/

  7. This is tragic, and I’m sure the anti-gunners will dance in the poor child’s blood, as is their habit.

    Somehow my generation survived being left alone with guns at that age. I was turned loose with guns at that age – my mom would drop me off at the county range with my evil semi-auto .22LR and a brick of 500 rounds while she went shopping. Or we’d go hunting small game with said .22.

    The tragedy could have been avoided if whoever trained the 11 year old harped on the rule to unload your gun any time it isn’t in your hands in the field. In the west, we pound into kids’ heads that when you cross a fence, stream, or other barrier (and you often have to cross a lot of fences while hunting upland game out here), you unload the gun completely, then lay it down, cross the fence, then once you’ve re-gained the gun again, you can re-load.

    • “Dropped you off with a brick of 500 rounds” Wow, now days you’d be lucky to get dropped of with 50 rounds! And then you would would probably have to account for ever round.

  8. I’m just glad the 5yo is alive. From the start of this blog entry I was sure he was not.

    I’m getting ready to start my girls with bows, they’ll be three next month. Guns can wait until their attention span develops a bit more. We can shoot 2 arrows in the back yard, but shooting .22lr means an hour in drive time.

  9. Great article, but here’s the version that will be on CNN : WHO GIVES A GUN TO A 5 AND 11 YEAR OLD KID? BAN THESE GUNS!

  10. A little OT, but when songwriter Steve Fromholz was killed a while back when he dropped a rifle out of its case, I wondered exactly how his accident happened too. I wanted to warn everyone in my family about it.

  11. Seems like the 5 yo. wasn’t taught proper gun safety…
    Only parents can properly gauge the maturity of their children, but still. Hammer the safety rules as well as you can. Ask your kids to recite them randomly (without preparation) and make sure they actually get to shoot enough to apply the rules. They shouldn’t need to think to tell if an action is unsafe, they should simply feel that they are doing it wrong.

  12. When my children were young, they were’nt even allowed to look at my firearms in the case. (Yeah i know save it) it was along time ago. Glass door and all were the norm then. It was not in a place that would tempt them. When they asked to look at firearms I always said yes, man I wish I a picture of those two boys with their hands clasped behind their backs leaning in to get a better look! Point is it is never to soon to teach firearm safety/ responsibility. My boys started hunting on their own with my hound dog when they were 11 and 9. Thank the Lord never an accident/incident. Let the hatin begin!

    • I had to wait until he was 14 to take my stepson shooting because that’s what the law here requires. I wish that I could have started him sooner. He was (and still is) a damn responsible kid who just started college.

  13. Was there some reason why safety rule number 1 for 11 years olds hunting dove with their 5 year old brothers isn’t “Bring an adult.”?

    If we are going to be responsible gun owners, should we start with holding ourselves to a higher safety standard? We are the example that people look at when they place blame.

    • When I was a kid, I knew a bunch of country boys who were hunting without an adult, shooting birds and squirrels with their 20 gauges and .22 rifles, at the age of ten. None of them shot themselves or anyone else.

      So let the 11 y.o. hunt alone if his parents think he’s ready. But gun or no gun, a 5 y.o. is a disaster waiting to happen. Frankly, he was more likely to drown than he was to get shot.

  14. My father ranged all over his stretch of semi-rural Massachusetts with his .22 rifle and .410 shotgun. This was about as remarkable as a pick-up ballgame in those days (ca. 1950). I’m not sure when he started hunting with them solo, but he used said .410 single shot shotgun to defend his home one evening when some teenagers broke in when he was of the ripe old age of 11.

    He was well-practiced with that shotgun and was confident that if he turned the lead attacker’s head into red mist, that would give him the time to reload in the time that the other attackers took to figure out what the ringing in their ears was and why there was blood and greyish-white goop on their faces. (He had them in an ambush coming down the stairs and was almost at point blank range.) In the event, the attackers decided that discretion was the better part of valor and the cops came and took them away.

    So I’m with the folks who say that 11 year olds can hunt solo. You need the right 11 year old, but it’s doable. And accidents will happen, as they do with baseball and football and karate. I have a rambunctious 5 year old boy in my house right now whom I love dearly, but let’s not erect a plastic bubble for our children because 5 year olds are rambunctious and that can lead to accidents.

  15. “much safer than swimming, football, baseball, or soccer.”

    Got a link to the stats that I could use as a reference?

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