Hunters, guns and common sense

Bob Wakeham
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Weather permitting, I’ll be traipsing down woods paths near Flatrock today, my beagle Tandy nearby, and a 12-gauge shotgun in my arms, looking to send Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and their assorted relatives to a roaster, unprotected by St. Francis of Assisi.

Guess who will not be with me.   

And, in a couple of weeks, I’ll be on the Southern Shore, this time armed with a rifle, wildlife division tags in one pocket, a licence in the other, hoping at any minute to have a sizeable moose appear in my crosshairs, transforming before my very hopeful eyes into enough sausage, steak and roast to keep my wife and I, and various family members, well fed for at least a year.

Guess who will not be making that trip as well?

And we’re not talking Mr. Magoo.

In fact, I’d rather have the legally blind cartoon character as a companion than you know who.

And yes, to bring this tasteless quiz to an end, I’m obviously talking about Mary Beth Harshbarger, the American sportswoman who killed her husband Mark four years ago near Buchans Junction. She was eventually charged with criminal negligence causing death, and walked out of a courthouse in Grand Falls-Windsor a little over a week ago, a free soul, after a not-guilty verdict delivered by Judge Richard LeBlanc. It’s a decision that — it’s fair to say — has mystified a large portion of people in this province, especially hunters like me who, with an immense respect for shotguns and rifles, take every precaution to ensure we can safely enjoy our time in the outdoors. 

Harshbarger’s lawyer, and the judge himself, described the fatal shooting as a “constellation of unfortunate facts.” Well, for sure, it was decidedly unfortunate for Mark Harshbarger, who wound up with a hole in his abdomen and a bloody death on a central Newfoundland logging road.

Carelessness in the extreme

Even if we’ve been convinced that a huge insurance payout to the grieving widow was irrelevant, as was the fact that Mary Beth, the shootist, has since started what newspaper accounts describe as a romantic relationship with her dead husband’s brother, there’s still the matter of her abject carelessness, her violation of the most basic rules of safety that govern hunting.

The cops and the prosecution felt it was criminal negligence. The judge begged to differ. And Harshbarger walked.

On the evening of the shooting, Harshbarger, as most of us know by now, sat in a truck awaiting her husband’s return from the adjacent woods, with her two children for company (a very odd situation, if you ask me; not the kind of place you’d bring the kids along for a laugh).

In any case, Harshbarger’s husband was wearing dark clothing, rather mystifying apparel, and not what you would think hunting guides would recommend or demand.

Nevertheless, his wife knew what he was wearing, but still fired when she saw a dark mass, claiming afterwards that she thought it was a bear.

The cops and the prosecution felt it was criminal negligence. The judge begged to differ. And Harshbarger walked.   

More than a few people in Newfoundland compared the incident to a vehicular accident in which a careless driver kills someone; in all likelihood, the driver would be charged with criminal negligence and convicted, even if it’s deemed a “constellation of unfortunate facts.”

Instead of careless operation of a car, Harsgbarger obviously exercised careless handling of a rifle.

And I still can’t comprehend the difference between the two. But justice has spoken, and Harshbarger has apparently headed back to the States where — I wouldn’t be surprised to discover — book and movie-of-the-week deals will start to pour in.

After all, the  incident at Buchans Junction has all the required gory and sensational ingredients. 

But here’s hoping she stays as far away from any location in Newfoundland where I happen to be hunting. 

Despite an inclination towards rotundity, I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a bear.        

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by e-mail at

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Flatrock, Buchans Junction

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