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ODFW to take look at making blaze orange mandatory

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is directing the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to look into the pros and cons of mandatory hunter orange. Observer illustration
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is directing the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to look into the pros and cons of mandatory hunter orange. Observer illustration
The color orange has Oregon hunters seeing black and white.

At issue is the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s plan to take a serious look at making blaze orange mandatory for hunters to prevent accidental shootings. The commission is directing the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to look into the pros and cons of mandatory hunter orange and present its findings at its June 4 meeting. The ODFW will also be collecting input from the public about the issue at the annual big game tag meetings conducted in each of its districts.

Sparks may fly at some of the sessions.

“There is a lot of passion associated with (the hunter orange issue),’’ said Richard Hargrave, information and education division deputy administrator for the ODFW.

Many hunters see this as a black and white issue — they either support or object to mandatory blaze orange.

Walt Blackman of La Grande, a former hunter safety instructor, is in the pro mandatory orange camp.

“I taught hunter safety classes for 20 years and we always preached about wearing hunter orange,’’ Blackman said. “I totally agree that it should be worn.’’

La Grande outdoorsman Phil Gillette opposes mandatory hunter orange, arguing that the issue is becoming a political  football.

“I don’t want the government making it mandatory to appease a certain group,’’ said Gillette, the owner of Phil’s Outdoor and More

He questions the value of blaze orange, noting that he had a friend whose father years ago was fatally shot in an Eastern Oregon hunting accident involving a shotgun while wearing blaze orange.

Gillette said getting people to follow fundamental safety rules, including properly viewing what they are shooting, is what would really reduce hunting accidents.

“It all comes down to education and making sure people identify their targets,’’ Gillette said.

Count Ron Lesley of La Grande, a member of the local chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association, in the camp of those supporting mandatory hunter orange. He appreciates the importance of hunter orange in part because of a tour of duty in Vietnam in the 1960s. Lesley, who was in the Air Force, remembers how hard it was to identify people wearing camouflage clothing in war zones.

“I just want to be safe,’’ Lesley said of his support of mandatory orange.

Lesley was speaking as an individual, not as a representative of the OHA, which does not endorse mandatory hunter orange. State OHA leaders maintain that hunter orange should be a matter of personal choice.

“The Oregon Hunters Association supports voluntary use of hunter orange clothing when appropriate in the field,’’ said OHA President Fred Craig in a press release. “OHA has always recommend and promoted the voluntarily use of hunter orange where it is not detrimental to hunting success. ... OHA and the majority of its membership do not support mandatory hunter orange.’’

A recent poll of 1,000 of OHA’s 10,000 members in Oregon revealed that two-thirds oppose a blaze orange requirement for wildlife and upland bird hunts.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is considering making hunter orange mandatory following the accidental shooting death of Matthew Gretzon, a 15-year-old killed while hunting elk in Yamhill County.

Gretzon was wearing camouflage and no orange when he was mistaken by his uncle for elk in brush and shot. The tragedy encouraged the members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission to reconsider mandatory hunter orange.

“That accident brought the topic up again (for the commission),’’ Hargrave said.

Gretzon was the 26th hunter killed in an Oregon hunting accident since 1992. Nineteen of those have been vision-related accidents in which the victim was not wearing orange, a color deer and elk cannot see.

Should Oregon mandate hunter orange it would become at least the 41st state to do so. Two-year-old information from the International Hunter Education Association’s website indicates that Oregon is one of 10 states with no mandatory orange laws. The others are Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York and Vermont.

Statistics that could convince the Fish and Wildlife Commission to get Oregon off this list include some from a survey of New York hunters between 1992 and 2001. They indicate that 120,000 hunters did not wear blaze orange during this span. Of those 18 were shot and killed while mistaken for animals, according to a story in the Dec. 17 edition of the Medford Mail Tribune.

New York’s remaining 580,000 hunters wore blaze orange. Of those, 18 were shot and killed while mistaken for animals.

Should the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission decide to go ahead and adopt mandatory blaze orange rules at its June 4 meeting, the rules would be set at its Oct. 1 meeting. Any mandatory orange rules the commission adopts would not take effect until 2011, Hargrave said.

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