Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Poachers, Ghillie Suits and Hunting Safety

Modern warfare owes something to poachers. Take the "ghillie" suit favored by sharpshooters the world over, for example.

In order to reduce poaching on their lands, Scottish landowners would hire local wardens (who were often retired poachers) to chase away folks that were coming on to estate land for a day's mooch with gun, snare or dog. These wardens came to be known as "ghillies" -- a Gaelic term for servant or hand.

One of the techniques the ghillies used to catch poachers was to make a suit of clothes consisting of frayed, dangling rags, stained green, brown, and grey, which helped break up the human outline and let the ghillie remain unseen while hiding in the bushes. These suits became known as "Ghillie Suits."

The Ghillie Suit was used with great success in World War I when Scottish soldiers, walking Point, would scout far ahead in order to report enemy troop movements.

After World War I, the Ghillie Suit became standard wear for snipers and forest scouts, and in recent years it has crossed the Atlantic and been "reborn" as camouflage for hunters, especially Turkey hunters which need to remain heavily disguised to get close to their wary targets.

One of the reasons turkey hunters are advised to never stalk a turkey, and to sit on the ground with a tree at their back, is to reduce the chance that one turkey hunter will "call in" another turkey hunter and accidentally shoot him. Despite the admonition to "always assume that anything that sounds like a turkey is another turkey hunter," foolish hunters will occasionally stalk another turkey hunter and at times turkey hunters are shot in the back -- sometimes in their Ghillie Suits.

Though on average only one or two turkey hunting accidents a year are fatal, there are so few turkey hunters as compared to deer and other bird hunters, that turkey hunting ranks as the most dangerous kind of hunting in America.

Which is not saying too much -- hunting in the U.S. is a surprisingly safe pastime, in no small part because of mandatory hunter safety courses. In almost ever case where an accidental shooting takes place while hunting, the shooter has not taken a hunter safety course. In the state of Florida (to pick one state as an example), hunting accidents have decreased 75 percent (and fatalities 92 percent), since the State implemented a mandatory Hunter Safety course requirement in 1991.

Today, hunting ranks as one of the safest sports in America -- safer than tennis, swimming, or golf, and far safer than baseball, to say nothing of apple pie and Chevrolet.


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