Missouri’s hunters have started 2009 in a tragic way after a historic 2008.

The conservation department recorded no fatal hunting accidents in 2008, the first fatality-free year since 2002, and only 15 firearms-related hunting accidents. But this January, the department has had four incidents and two fatalities.

The department’s hunter education coordinator, Tony Legg, says one of the deaths was a 37-year old squirrel hunter crossing a fence when his rifle went off. He was hit in the chest.

The other incident was a couple of boys being boys–"horsing around," says Legg.

He says a 17-year old boy and a 13-year old boy had been pointing their rifles at each other’s feet, pretending to shoot. When the 13-year old raised his .22 caliber rifle to re-engage the safety, it fired. The bullet hit his 17-year old companion in the neck.

Legg says the incidents underline the need for greater caution among hunters and emphasize the importance of adult supervision of novice hunters.

Download Bob Priddy’s story (:60 mp3)