During the predawn hours of May 15, Shirley Grenoble hiked into the woods near Raystown Lake, in Huntingdon County, on a late spring turkey hunt. Despite the anticipation and thrill of the hunt, she forced herself to take each step quietly, carefully, so she didn’t startle her quarry.
A few hours later, Grenoble was again forcing herself to take one step after another—except this time it was for survival. Her face, neck, head, back, legs and arms were filled with small lead BBs. She blindly and unsuccessfully used one camouflage hunting glove to wipe her face, and especially her eyelids that had been pasted shut by streams of warm, sticky blood.
"I just kept walking, forcing myself to take one step after another, knowing that if I didn’t, I’d probably faint," said Grenoble as she recalled with vivid detail her ordeal from 20 years ago.
She had been the victim of a hunting accident—one that could have been avoided if two 40-year-old brothers had taken a few extra moments to properly identify their target.
"They heard turkey calls and decided to sneak towards the noise to see what was going on. That was mistake No. 1," Grenoble said. "Then they saw something moving, a flash of color, whatever. They put these clues together and it verified at that moment in their mind that they were looking at a gobbler."
Series of unfortunate events
Grenoble, a lifelong nature enthusiast, avid hunter and outdoor writer from Altoona, was no stranger to the concept of hunting accidents. Less than three weeks before her fateful hunt near Raystown Lake, Grenoble was hunting with her son, Mark, and his wife in Missouri.
"We were coming down out of the woods as quietly as we could and walked into an open green field. Someone shot, and Mark fell right at my feet," Grenoble said. "They (the landowner and a friend) heard turkey calls on top of the hill, heard something coming down towards them and couldn’t see very well from a thick, brushy gully. They saw movement and wound up shooting my son in the face.
"Mark was taken by helicopter to the hospital and BBs were removed. The doctor said that four BBs were lodged in lethal places—one missed a vital spot by the width of a thumbnail."
Grenoble returned to Pennsylvania after she knew her son was safely on the road to recovery. Spring gobbler season was winding down, and so she headed out one more time before the end of the 1989 spring season.
Following a gas pipeline through the woods above Raystown Lake, Grenoble stopped every so often to do some calling, but never got a response.
Around 9 a.m., she decided to change location again and bent down several times to pick up her belongings, including a waist pack, small pillow and her shotgun. Just then, a shot rang out and Grenoble was hit in the face by hundreds of small BBs.
"It knocked me down, just like in the movies. I knew immediately what had happened and curled up into a ball on the ground," Grenoble remembered. "There were two brothers, each with 12-gauge semi-automatics, and they fired six shots at me—at least three hit me.
"I looked up and saw the two men standing on the gas line. They were in shock. Blood was running down my face, out my mouth and nose, across my chest."
Safer than you’d think
Despite the gruesome circumstances of Grenoble’s ordeal, hunting in Pennsylvania is relatively safe from a statistical standpoint.
In 1980, there were more than 200 reported hunting-related shooting accidents in the state, but the numbers have been consistently declining since then.
Last year, just 35 incidents were reported, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Hunting-Related Shooting Incident report for 2008. Of the 35 incidents, 40 percent were self-inflicted injuries. According to the study, most of the incidents occurred on a clear day in a wooded setting during daylight hours.
Out of the 35 incidents reported, three (8.6 percent) were fatalities—all of which happened during the 2008 deer season.
The closest fatality last fall occurred in Snyder County along Old Colony Road, near the Middlecreek Antique Machinery Association grounds, when Kreamer resident Blain Spickler was accidentally shot in the abdomen when an unidentified man was attempting to unload his .243-caliber Winchester rifle.
According to the game commission, a total of 926,892 hunting licenses were sold in 2008. This means that approximately one-400,000th of one percent of all hunters who bought licences in 2008 were victims of a hunting-related shooting accident.
In fact, during 2008 there were 8,369,575 licensed drivers on Pennsylvania’s roads and 128,342 reported motor vehicle accidents. This means that motorists were 406 times more likely to be in an automobile accident last year than licensed hunters were to be in a shooting-related hunting incident.
Safety still top priority
"There are just a handful of accidents out of the thousands upon thousands of people who hunt. However, it is very easy to be misled into taking a bad shot," said Grenoble, who has used her experiences to speak publicly during the past two decades about hunting safety, including at mandatory game commission-sanctioned Hunter-Trapper Education classes.
"We spend 95 percent of our time teaching new hunters how not to become the victim, but we seldom warn them about not becoming the shooter," Grenoble said.
"But you can be the shooter. You can be deluded. Hunters think they’d never cause an accident like that, but when you are in the woods and you hear something, then see something and start putting those clues together, on top of the adrenaline, it can be easy to be tricked or fooled into making a mistake out of sincerity. I should know—it almost happened to me on one hunt after the accident."
According to Grenoble, the old cliches of hunter safety—treat every gun as if it were loaded, completely identify your target and what lies beyond it, and numerous others—are cliches for a reason.
"These fundamentals are the bedrock of hunter safety. Identify your target. Never assume because you hear something or see something move that it is the game you are after," she said.
Back in the hunt
It didn’t take Grenoble, now 74, long to return to the woods and her favorite pastime. Immediately after the accident, one of the shooters stayed with her and helped her slowly walk more than a mile down along a jagged path along the gas line. The other ran ahead to get Grenoble’s truck.
Later, at the hospital, Grenoble had to endure a lengthy surgery to remove lead BBs from all over her body. Two additional surgeries were needed in the months after the incident to remove a BB that had lodged into a finger joint and another from the back of her head that had gotten infected.
She was ready to return to hunting by the following fall season. She is currently in the midst of her 55th year of hunting in Pennsylvania.
And how did her experiences 20 years ago change her view on hunting?
"I still get a little antsy when I go around the corner of a cornfield or walk into an opening in the brush. More than ever, I don’t want to be the one who shoots someone else, so it takes me longer to take a shot than it used to. If I am in the woods and hear something behind me, I must turn and look. I break into a cold sweat if I don’t," she said.
"But hunting has been a lifestyle to me for a long time. I wasn’t going to let some yahoo take that away from me."