Most turkey hunters with Facebook accounts likely have seen the graphic image posted by 28-year-old Jarrod Ballard of Cool Ridge, W.Va, shortly after he was shot in the face while hunting on Army Corps of Engineers property in Giles County.
Ballard’s bloodied face showed where a pellet struck him in the forehead with another penetrating his nose and burying deep into his sinus cavity.
The shooting incident–I detest calling it an accident–is under investigation. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has filed for a deadline extension until May 4 to complete its report into the shooting, which occurred April 11, the opening day of the state’s spring gobbler season.
Ballard, a Marine Corps veteran, and his hunting partner Benjamin Helms, a Hinton, W.Va., resident, shared their story.
The two men parked at the Bluestone Wildlife Management Area’s Shanklin’s Ferry gate well before sunrise. From there, it was about a one-mile walk along the famed Mary Ingalls Trail to the Virginia state line. Once in Virginia, they walked nearly another mile to a favored vantage point where Ballard liked to listen for daybreak gobblers.
Early morning proved uneventful in terms of locating birds, Ballard said. As many hunters do, the duo formulated a plan to slowly hunt their way back. About a half-mile from the state line, they heard a gobbler sound off. They moved along the ridges, attempting to intercept the turkey. It didn’t work.
Ballard said they began walking down a little saddle between the hillside ridges and then started walking along a bench.
“It was open timber in there. There was a couple blown-down pines without limbs or anything. I took a few more steps and that’s when I was shot,” Ballard said.
“We had made some calls, but weren’t calling while we were moving,” Helms said. “We walked at least 200 yards through open woods from the last calling position at the base of a big tree. We were walking and debating which direction for the hunt to go from here on out when the man shot,” Helms added.
“I heard the shot and blacked out. I was out for a couple seconds. I picked myself up and saw my buddy on the ground a couple feet from me. He saw the blood running down my face and knew I’d been shot,” Ballard said.
Ballard wasn’t sure how badly he had been hit.
“I was losing so much blood. I was trying to feel around my head to assess how bad it really was; what was there and what wasn’t. I felt a lot of pressure in my nose, the left side of my face was numb. I couldn’t feel my teeth with my tongue. It felt like I’d been hit in the face with a sledgehammer,” Ballard said.
After ensuring Ballard wasn’t in immediate danger, Helms said he confronted the alleged shooter, calling out, “Quit shooting. Unload your weapon and place it on the ground.” Helms said he berated the shooter for his alleged carelessness and demanded to see his driver’s and hunting licenses so he could photograph them with his smartphone.
The DGIF confirmed that the alleged shooter is a 67-year-old West Virginia resident. His name is being withheld pending completion of the investigation report and review by appropriate judicial authorities.
According to Helms, the man said the two hunters “were creeping around over there” and that he had heard a hen in the area.
“I had disbelief that he would shoot at something he couldn’t see or identify. I still don’t get it. I told him, ‘You’re not supposed to be shooting at a hen, anyways.’ I felt anger. I know he didn’t wake up that morning and say, ‘I’m going to go out and shoot someone today.’ I was mad at the sheer stupidity of the whole situation,” Helms said.
Helms said the man wasn’t combative and never attempted to flee. “He seemed stunned, probably feeling disbelief as well. His hands were shaking,” Helms said, adding, “I’m not going to lie. I was yelling at him pretty good. He said this has never happened to me in either 25 or 29 years–I can’t remember which--of hunting.”
The shooting occurred just after 10:30 a.m., according to Helms. Getting the desired data took a few minutes. Helms said he then advised the shooter to leave the woods. His priority was getting Ballard back to their vehicle. The paper towel Ballard was using as a compress to try to slow the bleeding was soaked.
“It felt like a million years,” Ballard said. “I was bleeding so bad. I just wanted to get out of there.”
Cell phone coverage was poor and it wasn’t until they were near the truck at 11:10 a.m. that Ballard could call his wife. She called 911. An ambulance met them on the road and took Ballard to Summers County ARH Hospital in Hinton. He was air-evacuated to a hospital in Charleston.
Helms soon after met with DGIF Conservation Police Officer Mark Shaw and Senior CPO Wes Billings. The three returned to the scene to reconstruct the scenario.
Lucky? Unlucky? Both?
Ballard knows he is now among that group of people who have been simultaneously unlucky and lucky.
Here is what DGIF has released so far. The shotgun used in the shooting was a Harrington and Richardson, single shot, 12 gauge. The distance between Ballard and the shooter was 30 yards.
The investigating officers would not confirm the type of shotshell used, but Helms said he saw a green hull, high-brass 2.75-inch shell that was collected as evidence. Ballard said he was told it was No. 5 shot.
Ballard said he’s grateful he wasn’t shot with a magnum load of copper-plated or dense tungsten or similar shot, and that some shotguns designed to fire exceptionally tight patterns for turkey hunting would have likely resulted in many more pellets hitting him.
We will report on the results of the investigation and whether or not any charges are filed.
Most accidental shootings are wholly preventable. There is a lesson here, taught in every hunter education course and listed in the principles of firearms safety. If you’re a hunter and don’t know them by rote, maybe it is time for a refresher course.
Please, be safe out there.