WI: Turkey hunter charged in shooting of 5-year-old boy

Jackson, Wis. – A Washington County man has been charged with shooting a 5-year old boy he mistook for a turkey.

Philip J. Brunner, 28, of Jackson, has been charged with misdemeanor endangering safety with the use of a dangerous weapon. The maximum penalty is up to nine months in jail and a possible fine of up to $10,000. Brunner is scheduled to appear before Washington County Circuit Court Judge James K. Muehlbauer on June 6.

The incident took place April 17 in the Jackson Marsh Wildlife Area at approximately 10:30 a.m.

On that day, the victim's father and his 6-year old brother went hunting early in the morning. When they arrived home, the 5-year-old asked why he did not get to go along. The father decided to go back to Jackson Marsh with the younger boy. It was the first time either boy had accompanied their father on a hunt.

The younger boy and his father arrived at the marsh at about 9 a.m. The father saw one other car in the parking area. They walked into the marsh and sat down on folding chairs. The father and son were wearing camouflage clothing, and the father had a backpack.

Brunner had been hunting in the marsh since 5:30 a.m. He said he'd walked into the marsh approximately one mile to a wooded area, and he was using a turkey call while walking.

The father of the victim started calling with a box call. The son wanted to try calling, but his dad said the efforts didn't sound much like a turkey. After about an hour, the father and the boy decided to leave. They stood up and the father started to put the backpack on his shoulder.

At that time the father heard a gunshot and felt pellets hitting his left arm. His son started crying and the father saw that he was bleeding.

Brunner told a Washington County Sheriff's Department deputy that he thought he saw what appeared to be a turkey about 40 yards away with its feathers spread out, and it had a white head and a beard, when he shot. When Brunner heard yelling, he ran in that direction and saw the father and his bleeding son.

Brunner immediately used the father's cell phone to call 911. All three walked out together to meet up with paramedics and law enforcement.

The boy was transported to St. Joseph's Hospital in Washington County for initial treatment. He later was transferred to Children's Hospital in Milwaukee and was released April 19. A sheriff's department lieutenant reported that he observed in excess of 20 pellet wounds on the boy's face, head, right arm, right chest, and right thigh. He also observed numerous round welts on the boy from pellets that struck but did not penetrate the skin.

In an interview with Wisconsin Outdoor News, the victim's mother described the injuries.

"He does still have pellets in him," she said. "He has 14 from the shoulders up. One in the leg and thigh and one in the hand and one in the arm and one in the muscle below the heart."

She said doctors do not plan to remove the pellets in the boy's head because of the risk of infection. Doctors told her some become infected on their own and work their way out of the body. One pellet penetrated the boy's skull, and it lodged in the fluid surrounding the brain.

"He is doing OK," the boy's mother said. "On his cheek he has little burn marks from pellets that hit and fell off. His 6-year-old brother was really traumatized because he saw the hospital stuff."

At this time, neither of the boys has indicated that they want to go hunting again.

"They both say to me, ‘No more turkey hunting,'" their mother said. "I told the D.A. I was raised without hunting, without guns in my house, but my husband enjoys that sport. I told my husband I prefer they do not go hunting again until they are mature enough that they know the consequences of going out in the woods. Right now they are not scared to go in the woods, but they do not want to go hunting."

The mother said she does not want Brunner to go to jail.

"I told the D.A. it was an accident, but a very foolish accident," the mother said. "We don't want him to be a felon. We want his hunting license taken away and some community service for the DNR and a hunter safety class."

Brunner would have been required to take a hunter safety class already, because state law requires that of any hunter who was born after January 1973.

The incident was reported on several Milwaukee-area television newscasts, and it was apparent that some reporters had limited knowledge of hunting. One reporter said, "The weapon used was apparently capable of shooting multiple pellets."

Some reporters questioned if it was appropriate for a young child to be in the woods hunting with a parent.

DNR Conservation Warden Bob Lee answered those questions, and he said it was not only legal and appropriate, but it was a good and healthy opportunity for the child to bond with the parent in an outdoor setting. Lee told the viewers he often sees young children hunting with their dad or mom, and accidents are rare.

The mother said she was disappointed with inaccurate comments made on the internet that indicated her son was running around in the woods.

"He was sitting down next to his dad," she said. "He was not playing or doing anything wrong."

This was only the 56th spring turkey hunting shooting accident reported since the first season in 1983. That amounts to two accidents per 100,000 permits issued. Fall turkey hunting has had 29 shooting accidents since 1988 for a rate of 2.6 accidents per 100,000 permits. Four of the 84 previous accidents resulted in fatalities.

"We enjoy the outdoors with our children to create memories that can last a lifetime, whether it is playing in the park or enjoying hunting traditions," the mother said. "Safety is the greatest concern when hunting, and one of the basic rules of hunting is know your target and beyond."

Categories: News Archive, Turkey

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