Duck Hunt Turns Near-Fatal After “Freak Accident” Leaves Hunter with Gaping Wound (Graphic Images)

Cody Shipman (right) and Hayden James (left) have been hunting together since they were children.

Warning: The following contains graphic images that might be disturbing to some readers.

When Cody Shipman, 24, and Hayden James, 15, set out to hunt Mallards one frosty January morning on the Snake River in Oregon, they expected the excursion to end like any other: with birds in the boat. But what should have been a successful hunt turned near-fatal after a simple mistake left Shipman with a gruesome wound that’s taken four surgeries to mend.

The brothers have been hunting together for years. Shipman started pursuing birds when he was 10 and big game when he was 12, and James started tagging along as soon as he could. Suffice it to say, this isn’t a story about green hunters making rookie mistakes.

“Definitely a freak accident,” Shipman told me. “We’ve both hunted from the time we were able to, and he’s my little brother, so we grew up hunting together on top of that. It’s not like we were new hunting partners. Just one of those things, freak accident. We were laughing one second, and things got real the next.”

The brothers and James’ father set out from their home in Emmett, Idaho, where Shipman works as a painter and James attends school. They launched their boat from the ramp in Ontario, Oregon, around 6 am, and soon they had located some Mallards, set up their decoys, and started shooting.

“We were only there about 20 minutes, and we’d already had four or five flocks of birds come in,” Shipman said. “Hayden lost his balance when he was shooting because we were in the muddy brush. He tipped over in the water, and we were laughing and having a good time.”

That’s when things took a turn for the worse.

“I was kind of twisted and off balanced, so I fell backward,” James recalls. “We were laughing, and he went to grab my gun first, and then he was going to help me up, and when he grabbed it that’s when it discharged and hit him in the shoulder. It was still in my hand – I was still holding it.”

At first, James said, he didn’t think he’d hit Shipman.

“I thought I’d shot off to the side more. But he was like, ‘Oh man, I think you’ve shot me.’ And I was like, ‘Are you serious?’”

It was true. The misfire from James’s 12GA Beretta had taken a massive chunk out of Shipman’s shoulder, and with help a six-mile boat ride away, their situation wasn’t looking good.

James’s first worry was that his phone had gotten wet when his waders filled with water, but he soon fished it out, dry and functional, and called his father, who was with the boat. He then got on the phone with emergency dispatchers, who instructed him to apply pressure to the wound with something clean.

“But I didn’t have anything clean,” James said. So, he stripped off his jacket, sweater, and undershirt in sub-zero weather and used his undershirt to apply pressure to the wound.

As they waited for the boat to arrive, James said his brother stayed calm.

“He was doing good the whole time. Really calm, given the circumstances.”

Shipman said the injury hurt, of course, but the experience wasn’t as bad as he would have expected.

“To be honest, it wasn’t that bad,” Shipman recalls. “It may have been just from the shock. My fingers were tingly and my shoulder throbbed. It hurt, don’t get me wrong. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be.”

James continued to apply pressure as he sat next to his brother on the ride back to the boat ramp, where an ambulance was waiting to take Shipman to the hospital.

“I was just really shocked. I was freaking out,” James said. “I was crying on the boat ride back. It was scary.”

Doctors had to perform three surgeries to remove the birdshot and dead tissue from Shipman’s wound. The hunter lost two-thirds of his deltoid muscle, but the shot didn’t hit any arteries or bones. Shipman was still hooked up to a wound vac when GunsAmerica spoke to Shipman in February, and he was waiting until the wound had healed enough for doctors to perform a skin graft. He won’t be able to start physical therapy for several more weeks.

The shells were 3-inch magnums with steel 3 shot out of a full choke.

 

Shipman had some advice for hunters who want to avoid a similar situation.

“Always communicate,” Shipman said. “I’m sure I’m not the only person who has ever been shot this way. If I could think of one way to avoid it in that situation, it would be communication.

“You’re excited. Birds are coming in. Communicate and always watch where your barrel is pointed. That way they know their hand won’t be on the trigger. They can put it on safety first.”

James echoed his brother’s advice and added a piece of his own.

“Don’t ever get too comfortable with a shotgun,” he said. “Me and him have been hunting since I was 9. We go on a whole bunch of hunts together every year. I tell you one thing – I’ll never get too comfortable with a gun like that again.”

“We could have prevented that so many different ways. If I had just flipped my safety on. All that goes back to, I think, don’t get too comfortable.”

When asked whether he planned to hunt again after his recovery, Shipman didn’t hesitate.

“Absolutely.”

GunsAmerica reminds all shooters and hunters to memorize and follow the four safety rules:
1. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
2. 
Keep your finger outside of the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.
3. 
Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
4. 
Be sure of your target and be aware of what is beyond it.

About the author: Jordan Michaels has been reviewing firearm-related products for over four years and enjoying them for much longer. With family in Canada, he’s seen first hand how quickly the right to self-defense can be stripped from law-abiding citizens. He escaped that statist paradise at a young age, married a sixth-generation Texan, and currently lives in Waco. Follow him on Instagram @bornforgoodluck and email him at jordan@gunsamerica.com.

{ 48 comments… add one }
  • Sgt. Pop August 21, 2020, 8:42 am

    hunt with the safety off??????? I shoot conservation order Snow Geese a lot. The shooting can get fast and faster, however, I do not know any of my 8 hunting partners that has a problem with using the safety all the time. Sometimes we have somebody with a new dog (in training) that gets excited and makes a “quick” trip through the group blind knocking stuff all about, no way will we not have the safety on unless we are pulling/pressing, or whatever, the trigger.

  • Tommy Barrios March 20, 2019, 1:14 pm

    Can see how this happened as one who has personally fallen out of a duck blind with a magazine loaded shotgun, only thought on the way down was… which way the barrel was pointed and risked severe injury falling flat on my back into the boat, over anyone being shot!
    Safety was ON, chamber unloaded, but still… scary as hell and another, “Wake Up Call”!
    Even obeying the basic rules, things can still go sideways!
    Be ever vigilant!

  • Tom Hobbs March 19, 2019, 4:17 am

    Ha e some time with grandson shooting in the morning. He is 10 and real sharp on the 4 rules. Er alwaya talk them over and he talks safety when we are walking out to our shoot range . This is one I’ll make sure to talk about. I know he will listen and I’ll have him read the article. This is a good teaching tool. Guys, keep hunting and share the great time together. It was an accident. Someone slipped and a safety rule was forgotten for a second. Sadly it happened. We all have made a mistake at one time or another, some just dont admit it.

  • Don March 10, 2019, 3:10 am

    Thanks for sharing. I’m not going to make but one suggestion, be very familiar with the safety, an accidental discharge is the worst event that can happen to a hunter or anyone handling a weapon. I just said a little prayer for full recovery from this setback. I hope you have good insurance.

  • Robby Jacobs March 6, 2019, 12:10 am

    GunsAmerica reminds all shooters and hunters to memorize and follow the four safety rules:
    1. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
    2. Keep your finger outside of the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.
    3. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
    4. Be sure of your target and be aware of what is beyond it.

    Been a safety instructor for years. Observe rule number THREE ! The story says he had already fallen. His Brother went to help him up by first taking his gun. This is proper safety protocol. Secure the firearm FIRST ! Then assist. It was rule number three that was violated. Not a freak accident as far as I can tell from the way they tell this story. It sounds as though he was already on the ground and had control of his firearm again. If there was no control then how was his brother able to grasp it unimpeded ? A fall or a slip in the mud can happen, no one is perfect . But this accident happened AFTER the fall and the firearm was again in a controllable situation. This could have been avoided ! Neglect on BOTH parts. James, even if you had to stick that gun in the dirt or water, it was better than what happened. Sounds like you had control of it after the fact. Good job. You got too comfortable around your guns. You said you were laughing ! After a fall with a firearm in your hand your mind should have gone INSTANTLY into safety mode. Instead of reaching for your gun that was obviously pointed AT him, your brother should have moved to avoid the muzzle direction. The just as he said, you should have communicated. I’m glad he is here to tell this story. REALLY GLAD ! Unless there are details about this story that I didn’t understand clearly, then This wasn’t a freak accident. It was neglect.

  • Jeffery Sartain March 5, 2019, 10:17 pm

    Thank God that the shot did not hit any arteries and veins. The young man could have bleed out. Good thing that James stayed cool and rendered first-aid. Glad they had cell phone coverage to call for advise and help.
    I know that James will feel guilty for accidently shooting his older brother.

  • Johnny March 5, 2019, 1:35 pm

    We can sit here and Monday morning quarterback this incident, and we can repeat the “basic firearm safety handling rules” but, one thing really stuck out to me I believe these young men found out (the hard way but, fortunately everyone still alive), and others have probably also learned the hard way… Biggest word or, phrase I’m taking away from this is “NEVER GET TOO COMFORTABLE WITH (ANY) FIREARM.” Any and every close call I’ve either seen or, had myself (yep, we all have little brain farts), it was a pure case of I got too comfortable.

    Glad to hear the young man is going to be ok and is on the mend and I’d personally like to thank everyone in this article for sharing their story and not being worried about how others may view it or, what others will say. This is unfortunate but, very good teachable moment for all of us. If not a teachable moment, a darn good reminder!

    • WILLIAM HICKS March 5, 2019, 2:13 pm

      Your point is well made. I have been an Emergency Room nurse for over 40 years, and most of the power tool/chain saw type trauma we have come in is not the “newbie” who’s never used it before, it’s the old hand who has used the tool for years and forgotten that it has teeth and will bite you if given the chance. This translates into gun use. My father was killed in a hunting accident in 1998, not by an inexperienced hunter but by a lifelong sportsman who forgot the rules for just an instant.

      • grifhunter March 5, 2019, 8:39 pm

        Sorry for the loss of your father. How terrible.

        I agree 100% with your post. I’ve been adjacent to two near fatal accidental discharges, and both were by experienced gun handlers who were otherwise nuts about firearms safety all their lives.

        Sorry the rest on here feel the need to sanctimoniously repeat the rules of gun safety; humans make mistakes and regret them. The pictures posted herein are a better reminder than the clucking hens posting the same old, same old.

        • SD March 18, 2019, 6:56 pm

          Yes it’s true. Many repeat the gun safety rules. But that’s ok, because if followed there would be fewer accidents. Yes, everyone makes mistakes, but with firearms sometimes you only have to make one. There’s no second chance.

  • JDHasty March 5, 2019, 12:21 pm

    mis·fireDictionary result for misfire
    verb
    /ˌmisˈfī(ə)r/Submit
    1.
    (of a gun or missile) fail to discharge or fire properly.

    • DaveGinOly March 18, 2019, 8:42 pm

      Exactly. A misfire results when a firearm DOESN’T discharge when it should. If it discharges when it shouldn’t or when the operator doesn’t intend it to discharge, that’s an accidental discharge or a negligent discharge (depending on the exact circumstances). But a MISFIRE is a failure to fire.

  • Eric Holder March 5, 2019, 12:13 pm

    I hope you recover fully. Many people who read about this incident will be inspired and reinforced and remember it. It will surely inspire people to be that much more cautious in their use of any firearms.

  • OldGuy March 5, 2019, 11:36 am

    Did the safety malfunction?

    The safety should remain in the ON position until you are ready to shoot.
    If the safety was actually in the ON position then how could this accident have occurred?
    After emptying the weapon from shooting the safety should be placed in the ON position before reloading.

    The basics of Hunter Safety should always be followed.
    Hunter Safety is not some course curriculum which is outgrown by age or by time.
    No matter how old the hunters actually are the basics of Hunters Safety should always be followed.

    • ruppert jenkkins March 5, 2019, 3:05 pm

      You wrote “The safety should remain in the ON position until you are ready to shoot.”
      From my experience, that is not how duck hunters(and hunters of small, fast game) hunt. Reason being, that often you have only a 1-2 seconds to shoot once you spot the target, and moving fingers to take off the safety takes time away from prep to shoot.
      As an example, I hunt rabbits with a shotgun. I have the safety OFF, and as I hunt, I leave my trigger finger OUTSIDE the trigger guard. When I spot the target, I shoulder the weapon, put finger inside trigger guard, aim, fire. All in one sweeping motion. Even doing it this way, the target has run too far away before I can fire. If I had to do the extra step of taking the safety off, I’d have almost zero chance to get one.

      • Walter Hilliard March 6, 2019, 8:33 pm

        Your completely nuts…
        And anyone that would hunt with you is crazy…
        How can you be sure a tree branches, briers or even a button wouldn’t discharge your firearm…
        Your a walking cluster f##k….

        26 year HTE Firearm Instructing

      • Ronald March 18, 2019, 2:44 pm

        I used to hunt jack rabbits when I was a kid with my brother. We used a Savage bolt action .410 that he had bought and I can tell you that you ‘can’ move the safety off and shoot fast enough to hit them in sage brush. I took several of them this way. I was surprised at first, how easy it was to hit them. Like I said. I was just a kid and I was able to do it. Not being able to do it, as you say, equates to “I’m too set in my ways to learn my shotgun well enough to be safe with it.” As a 66 year old, I am still learning techniques of safe gun handling that was never mentioned to me as a kid by anyone. A gun is not so important to you that your buddy, or another hunter, is at risk of injury when you use it.

        • Ronald March 18, 2019, 2:48 pm

          I would like to ad death, or injury to my comment. I also have said a prayer for complete recovery for you Cody. I will write it on my prayer card for multiple prayers.

  • Stephen Davies March 5, 2019, 10:58 am

    I pray for a speedy recovery
    My dad had a incident where he was pulling his shotgun out of a gun rack. The rack caught the safety and trigger causing it to go off hitting a friend Some 100 feet away in the neck lucky it wasn’t severe but any accident are usually caused by complacency. I lost my brother and in 1982 to a hunting accident where gentleman saw the Bush move and fired into it killing him. I still hunt and shoot we need to be vigilant about safety god bless and be safe

  • Michael Hughes Sr. March 5, 2019, 10:34 am

    Getting too comfortable for sure. Would never happen though if he had taken his finger off the trigger, said he’s been shooting for 6 yrs ? I can understand forgetting to put the safety on in that short time span. But what the hell was the older brother thinking? I mean how do you grab a long gun and pull on it with the barrel pointing at you? SMH

  • Ray Frisbey March 5, 2019, 10:20 am

    I’ve seen one constructive comment on this entire thread. Always carry a good trauma kit. For the rest of you high and mighty gun gods, this is as close to an accident as I have ever read about. If any of you think you can maintain perfect muzzle discipline while you are falling in the mud you are deluding yourself. If any of think you can maintain perfect trigger discipline while falling in the mud you are deluding yourself. Negligent discharge? Negligence: failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another. Now I don’t know about you, but I think stepping into the line of fire, grasping a gun in someone else’s hand and pulling it away from them pretty much absolves the shooter of any negligence. Now some of you may be perfect, never taken a tumble in the field. If you are, praise be to you. If you’re not, perhaps you should be thinking there but for the grace of god go I, not I am an infallible master of the rules of gun handling. So if you are not carrying an IFAK with GSW gear, maybe you should. You might not be hunting with someone as perfect as you are.

    • Mike V March 5, 2019, 12:57 pm

      Calm down, this thread is filled with constructive criticism.

      I don’t think anyone here is calling for the kid to be thrown in jail, nothing more than pointing out obvious and preventable mistakes which is exactly the response needed.

      • chris hale March 5, 2019, 8:53 pm

        Pointing out the ” obvious ” mistakes is really the last thing anyone needs to do. Why point out something that is OBVIOUS? Why do so many people feel the need to run their mouth?

        • Mike V March 6, 2019, 6:38 pm

          It’s the comment section of a blog…what did you expect?

    • Brad March 5, 2019, 10:50 pm

      My comment on keeping the muzzle pointing in a safe direction is 100% relevant. According to what I read, the discharge occurred AFTER the initial fall. The brother who fell was beginning to get back in the boat, brother who got shot took hold of the gun barrel, I’m guessing, and began to pull, at which time the shotgun discharged. Without being there we can only surmise that the trigger was pulled at that time due to the force exerted on the shotgun to try to get it in the boat, apparently brother #1 still had a shooting grip on the shitgun with his finger on the trigger, which is very understandable. An obvious and tragic accident to be sure but certainly avoidable. I know both brothers wish with every ounce of their beings that they could take back that split second of poor judgement. Both are very lucky to still have each other and I wish a speedy and full recovery to the 1 who got injured physically. Both have a lifetime to heal the mental scars. I wish BOTH brothers many many years of good hunting, together !

    • Robby Jacobs March 5, 2019, 11:48 pm

      Ray, God is spelled with a CAPITOL G.

      • Jim April 3, 2019, 12:41 pm

        Capital not capitol.

  • Mr. Sparkles March 5, 2019, 10:10 am

    Not to make light of what is a terrible injury, just saying multiple surgeries are better then a funeral. To add more emphasis to the four basic rules, I had the safety on my 30 year old pump gun fail this past fall. Fortunately, it failed as I was testing it as I do each day when bird hunting and not inadvertently in the field. Don’t trust a mechanical safety, following the four basic rules makes you the foolproof “safety”

    • BK March 5, 2019, 10:24 pm

      “Never Trust Your Safety”. Truer words were never spoken (typed?). I was once hunting rabbits with my father when the internals on my shotgun fractured, causing the gun to go off while it was resting over my shoulder, causing an unintended discharge. Had I turned my back to my father before the discharge, I could have shot him. Lesson #1: ALWAYS keep your muzzled pointed downward, away from harm. Lesson #2: NEVER TRUST YOUR SAFETY! It was a dirt cheap department store gun, with some crucial parts made out of pot metal. I still have that shotgun, 47 years later, just to serve as a constant reminder. It is worthless in one respect, priceless in another.

  • Richard Manfredi March 5, 2019, 10:01 am

    First ,both of you , get down on your knees and thank God it wasn’t worse .
    Second ,both of you , take the tedious , boring , hunter safety firearms handling course.
    Third , safety on , safety off ; finger on the trigger , finger off the trigger; not as important as having the safety located between you ears ON.

  • DEFENDER March 5, 2019, 9:46 am

    Not just shotguns – All Guns.

    1 – Muzzle Discipline
    “I” consider Muzzle Discipline the most important Rule:
    If your muzzle is not pointed at anything important – than a gun discharging can do no harm.
    (Of course this was an unusual, dynamic situation) – which should teach all of us a lesson.
    When things can be dynamic and un-loading is not practiced(exa Hunting) – “Extra Care is needed” – like engage the Safety unless actually shooting.

    When you teach people about the Rules of Handling – don’t just Tell them the rules.
    Actually “Show them” – Show them how to move a gun around without Muzzling anyone/thing.
    Show Finger Discipline at the same time.

    2 – No ammo in gun – Same as #1 – would have prevented this.
    Shoot in a competition and you will learn this very well.
    NO ammo is allowed in ANY gun unless on the Shooting Line.
    Hunting is different so Engaging the Safety is Critical when you cant unload every time.
    Engage Safety ? – Yup, would have worked here.

    3- Finger Discipline? Good But – There are ways for the trigger to be pressed besides with a finger.
    A dog once shot its owner. Gun and dog in back seat, dog excited to see owner returning – Paw gets
    into trigger guard – Bang – Owner Shot. Prevention: Unload or Engage Safety. Prefer Unload.

    4 – Be sure of target and what is beyond. No brainer.

    “Telling” – works for about 10min – “Showing” sinks in and they(Students) remember it.

    • TJ March 5, 2019, 11:21 am

      If they’re brothers, why do they have different last names?

  • Brad March 5, 2019, 9:27 am

    With 5 kids and multiple trips thru hunter safety program in Missouri, the NUMBER 1 RULE OF GUN SAFETY IS : ALWAYS keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction ! Number 1 rule. 100% of the time.

    • Sgt. Pop March 5, 2019, 11:59 am

      and the second rule is Rule #1

  • James March 5, 2019, 8:32 am

    It wasn’t a misfire. It was a negligent discharge. End of story.

    • steve March 5, 2019, 8:56 am

      correct

    • Medrick Northrop March 5, 2019, 11:58 am

      correct, if a misfire, i wouldn’t go off…….

  • Robert in IN. March 5, 2019, 8:29 am

    This is why I always taught ( WHERE IS THE BARREL POINTED ) and my kids and grandkids say it still today. SAFTY ALWAYS FIRST.

  • Dana Hales March 5, 2019, 8:29 am

    Wasnt a rookie mistake?Freak accident?It sounds like a string of rookie errors to me.The boy took a shot while not being properly planted,the recoil knocks him over backwards,first thing the the older guy does is grab the boys shot gun-next round ready in the chamber,the boy had just fallen so the safety was disengaged,his finger on the trigger while they are laughing.The guy grabs the gun with no care for the muzzle direction…..The whole thing was one big rookie mistake and was not a freak accident.

  • Todd Noebel March 5, 2019, 7:29 am

    Tragic accident to be sure and he’s, ultimately, very lucky. Another lesson to be learned here but didn’t seem to get covered – the importance of carrying a good trauma kit. They’re not expensive and easily added to your gear.

  • Eddie March 5, 2019, 7:22 am

    Some people may think the pictures were just used for click bait but they actually serve a very good purpose. 1st they show that the results of a gunshot are not pretty and clean like the movies. They also demonstrate that gun safety should always be practiced no matter how experienced a hunter is, DONT BE COMPLACENT!

  • Terry March 5, 2019, 7:18 am

    A misfire is a failure to shoot, call this what it is, a negligent discharge, at least 2 rules broken.

  • Abner T Yokum March 5, 2019, 7:14 am

    Solemn reminder about the basics of firearms safety. Glad he’ll be okay… and both of them a lot wiser.

  • Dr Motown March 5, 2019, 7:02 am

    Not a “misfire” but human error…should not have grabbed the gun with barrel pointed at him

    • Mike V March 5, 2019, 7:45 am

      Especially when the guy you’re grabbing it from has his finger on the trigger while the gun is pointed at you!

      Guns don’t discharge, people accidently pull the trigger!

  • Steve in CO March 5, 2019, 6:56 am

    Sounds like besides not putting the safety on, someone had a bad case of Hollywood trigger finger discipline.

    • Mark Nevins March 5, 2019, 8:26 am

      Exactly!

  • Brad Toliver March 5, 2019, 5:44 am

    “The misfire from James’s 12GA Beretta” – Come on now!

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