Hunter safety drive gives meaning to family's grief

MINNEAPOLIS (MCT) - Brandon Lanie died because of what his father calls "a hasty, greedy decision" by another hunter in the woods, shot when the man missed the 14-year-old's blaze orange clothing and took him for a deer.

"He lived, ate and breathed hunting," his father, Troy Lanie, said last week. "He hunted with me and my friends since he was 5. He shot his first duck in Manitoba when he was 9. He shot an antelope in Montana when he was 13."

Though a teenager, Brandon, of Buffalo, Minn., was a safe hunter who never would have taken the kind of shot that took his life, his father said.
Now, Brandon's family and friends are doing what they can to ensure others are spared the pain they've experienced since the boy's death last November near Lake Mille Lacs.
To promote safe and ethical hunting, they've created the Brandon Lanie Ethical Sportsmen Society, also known as BLESS.
The nonprofit group recently put up five billboards around the metro region. "Please Hunt Carefully," one reads. The billboards show Brandon holding a pheasant he shot, alongside his hunting dog, Molly, and the date of his death: Nov. 18, 2006.
BLESS also has another goal. "We'd like to instill in others the love for the outdoors that Brandon had," said Brandon's mother, Debbie Burmeister.
They feel they have to do something.
"You can't just say 'Oh well, my son was shot by a guy who made the wrong choices.' I have to change something," Troy Lanie said. "I can't let him die for no reason."
Brandon was killed by Steven Ferguson, 45, of Maplewood, Minn., a cabin neighbor who was convicted earlier this month of negligent manslaughter. The two were hunting together in a state forest north of Lake Mille Lacs.
A week after Ferguson's conviction, Brandon's parents filed suit against him, contending that the hunter's negligence cost their son his life.
Ferguson said that he fired twice after hearing leaves crunch and seeing something brown move through the thickets some distance from his tree stand. He said Brandon had brown hair that looked like a deer's back.
He will be sentenced Nov. 19.
Troy Lanie said Ferguson violated the most basic of hunting safety rules: Know your target and what's beyond.
"You never take a shot like that," he said. "Brandon knew that. You always assume it's a human being until you identify it as a deer.
"This was a hasty, greedy decision that took his life. It wasn't hunting. Everything about it was wrong."
He said too many hunters have a "if it's brown, it's down" mentality. Some take careless shots. Others flagrantly violate the law.
"Our goal is to create a better hunting population," Lanie said. "More ethical hunters. To weed out the guys who take a hasty shot or an unethical shot or poach.
"Maybe it's a pipe dream, but someone has to start somewhere. It has to stop."
Brandon was taught that there was much more to hunting or fishing than catching or killing something.
"It's about being outdoors, being on the water, spending time doing what you love doing," Lanie said. "He studied conservation. He took advanced hunter-education classes. He knew game wasn't just ours for the taking, we had to do something (to help wildlife). He understood that."
Brandon wanted to work for the Department of Natural Resources when he grew up, possibly as a conservation officer or in fisheries or wildlife management, his dad said.
"If Brandon could have lived, he would have done great things for our outdoors. I know he would have. He loved it so much.
"At 14, he was more of a man than most adults I know," his dad said. "That kid taught me a lot."
Meanwhile, Troy Lanie couldn't bring himself to hunt this year. He didn't fish this summer, either, though the family has a cabin on Lake Mille Lacs. He didn't make the yearly waterfowl hunting trip. He likely won't hunt deer when another season opens next month.
But he says he will, eventually.
"It doesn't seem right yet to go without Brandon. Not because of the tragedy, but because he's not there."
His three other children - Tyler, 13; Kaelen, 10, and Colten, 4 - will continue to be taught about the joys of the outdoors. Tyler already has his firearms safety certificate.
"We think about (Brandon) every day, of course," Troy Lanie said. "I know that's my life sentence. I'll remember this for the rest of my days.
"But, hopefully, we can also remember the good times, which we do. We laugh all the time about something he said or did."

(c) 2007, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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