PORTLAND – In the past three months in Maine, there have been a series of tragedies where pet dogs were mistaken for coyotes and shot by hunters.

In one situation, the hunter fled the scene after realizing his mistake, only to be later identified by a witness to the shooting.

In the most recent situation, in York County, a family pet lost its life to a hunter who was out hunting squirrels and mistook the roaming dog for a coyote.

As a dog owner, I feel for the families that were impacted by the loss of a beloved pet.

I know that if this happened to one of my dogs, I would certainly want the hunter to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

As a hunter, I cringe when these unfortunate incidents happen and hit the news like a midwinter nor’easter.

Like it or not, it puts all law-abiding and safe hunters in the same category in the eyes of the general public and gives fodder to the anti-hunting segment of our population, who would use any of these incidents to fan the flames for their agenda.

Now, I’m not going to cast judgment on any of the hunters.

I’ll leave that up to the Maine Warden Service, which has appropriately charged each hunter in every incident. The state of Maine has clearly written laws and rules and is very specific in regard to target identification.

In addition, target identification — identifying your target and knowing what is around and beyond it — is heavily emphasized in every hunter-safety class.

I would suspect that in each of these incidents, this rule was obviously violated.

I’ve read comments on The Press Herald’s online forum from a number of people who have stated that dogs should not be out roaming the woods, especially during hunting season.

I don’t buy that excuse. Neither do a majority of hunters.

In each of these situations, it was incumbent upon that hunter to clearly identify their intended target, then to remove their weapon off the safe mode before discharging the weapon. If those steps had been taken, I would not be writing this column.

Maine currently has an open season on coyotes, meaning that they can be hunted year-round, except on Sundays. They can even be hunted at night during part of the year.

The state recognizes there is a coyote problem, and the problem isn’t limited to the big woods.

In southern Maine, the coyote population continues to grow. Coyotes are efficient hunters that can take down a healthy deer.

They continue to negatively impact Maine’s deer population. Thus, the heavy emphasis on hunting them.

In addition, their diet includes small rodents as well as pets including small dogs. If the family cat has been missing for some time, I’m willing to bet it’s a victim of a coyote.

On a northern Maine moose hunt a few years ago, my hunting party was surrounded by two packs of coyotes while calling moose.

That episode was a little unnerving, to say the least.

As development continues in the southern part of the state, the number of times when hunters encounter domestic animals and humans when in the woods and field will increase.

Although I would highly recommend that nonhunters wear an article of hunter orange when walking in the woods and fields during hunting seasons, there is no law requiring people to do so, and those nonhunters have a right to be in the woods and feel safe in doing so.

Unfortunately, after these recent incidents, people may not.

Chuck Fagone is a registered Maine Guide who lives in Portland and writes about outdoor issues. He can be reached at:

[email protected]