SI Vault
Lew Dietz
November 08, 1954
Maynard Marsh has investigated some 250 hunting accidents in Maine. His surprising discovery: the veteran hunter is the greatest menace in the woods
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November 08, 1954

Woods Detective

Maynard Marsh has investigated some 250 hunting accidents in Maine. His surprising discovery: the veteran hunter is the greatest menace in the woods

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Smith took Marsh aside. "Warden," he said, "that fellow may have mislaid his rifle, but I think he knows where to find it. I saw him shove it into a brush pile down the trail."


The rifle was found, but Michaud still insisted on his innocence. Marsh was certain he had his man. Proof, without that bullet, was another thing.

He allowed Michaud to go home, taking pains to brief him once more on scientific detection methods. Twice that night, Marsh and the sheriff went to Michaud's home and took statements. They went back again the next morning. Each time Michaud made a few changes. Just to keep the pressure on, Marsh drove slowly by the house several times that afternoon. It was two days before Michaud broke. But he broke. He had mistaken the woman for a deer. What he hadn't been able to erase from his mind was the picture of her sprawled there by a stump, a cigaret still burning in her dead hand.

Here again was a seasoned hunter and a family man of good reputation.

Obviously, the most damning single piece of evidence in a woods killing is the bullet. Often this clinching piece of evidence is missing, and Marsh is hard put to make his charges stick. In spots like this, he digs deeper in science's bag of tricks. Time and again he has gone along with no more than a bit of recovered lead or cartridge case picked up at the scene.

What most hunters don't know is that it takes just the merest fragment of lead for presumptive evidence of guilt on the part of the shooter. A batch of bullets of given caliber and make has theoretically the same composition of lead and traces of other metals, but there is actually just enough of a variance for a positive identification by spectroscopic analysis and comparison of a bullet fragment and an unfired cartridge from the same batch.

It was along about this time that Marsh, a reflective man, began pondering his figures again. Just why was it that the majority of woods accidents?most particularly the cases of mistaken identity?were caused by seasoned hunters? There could be no distortion in his breakdowns. He wondered whether it would be possible to isolate a certain type of person more prone to accidents than another. Reading the minutes of a hunting-safety clinic in Michigan gave Marsh an idea. At this meeting someone had suggested a psychiatric test as a prerequisite for a hunting license. Nothing has been done about this suggestion in Michigan, but Marsh decided to do something about it in Maine. He considered a psychiatric test for license applicants unrealistic; but if those shooters convicted in woods killings could be studied, it might lead to an explanation.

It did. In every case examined, the subject emerged as a man of average or above-average intelligence. The only significant deviation charted was in the matter of these hunters' reactions to visual-perception tests. To the inkblot personality test, for example, the subject almost invariably reacted more quickly than the average. Even more significant was the fact that in each case the subject considered his reaction deliberate.

In the light of this evidence it was obvious to Marsh that most of the checks and controls so clamorously advocated by the public to reduce woods accidents were designed to protect the hunter from the wrong fellow.

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