Bullet was a life-changing 'tap on the shoulder,' says Alberta hunter

Ronald Blais peered through the thermal scope and saw a glowing shape in the trees. He trained sights on the image, and pulled the trigger.

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Ronald Blais peered through the thermal scope and saw a glowing shape in the trees. He trained sights on the image, and pulled the trigger.

In an instant, he realized he’d made a terrible mistake. The bullet did not strike a bird; it was a man.

Concealed in the forest that late summer day was Fred Dostaler, an archer hunting elk. The bullet caught him in the shoulder and exited cleanly out his back.

Blais pleaded guilty earlier this year to careless use of a firearm. But in a remarkable statement to the court, Dostaler said he holds no ill-will toward the man who shot him.

“I believe truly from my heart that all of this was a gift, a reminder from God,” Dostaler wrote in a victim impact statement. “A literal tap on the shoulder, that he still has work for me.”

Both men declined to comment, but Dostaler said in his statement that he hopes his story “affects the ones that read it.”

The story begins Sept. 6, 2020, on an oil and gas lease road in Yellowhead County near Edson.

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Dostaler, then 53, was hunting for elk with his son. The two kept their distance from one another, communicating by radio.

At some point, Dostaler heard a pickup truck rumbling up the lease road. He ducked behind a tree, worried any conversation would spook the game.

Blais and his friend were hunting grouse and rabbits, driving the lease road, checking the tree line through a thermal imaging scope. When they spotted heat signatures, they climbed out of the truck and took a shot with Blais’ .22-calibre rifle.

Blais admitted that before he fired the shot, he did not stop to check the target with his own eyes.

Once the bullet hit Dostaler, Blais and his friend rushed to help. Dostaler climbed into the two-seat pickup. Blais’s friend drove, leaving Blais alone in the woods with Dostaler’s son.

A photo of Fred Dostaler’s injury, taken at Edson Hospital on Sept. 6, 2020. He later said that if someone had to be shot, they would hope for a similar injury.
A photo of Fred Dostaler’s injury, taken at Edson Hospital on Sept. 6, 2020. He later said that if someone had to be shot, they would hope for a similar injury. Court exhibit

In a court filing, Crown prosecutor Aaron Rankin said that following the shooting, the men had ample time to talk.

“In these two pairs, the men had long conversations and realized how much they shared in common, including a deep connection to the land, and a love of hunting.”

Dostaler was treated at Edson Hospital. Neither party wanted to involve police. The incident only came to RCMP attention after a phone call from an emergency room doctor.

On Jan. 19, Blais was given a 90-day conditional sentence, a $100 fine and a one-year firearms prohibition.

Rankin said no hunter should take a shot without fully seeing their target, calling the case a “cautionary tale.”

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“Certainty of one’s target — not likelihood — is required before taking a shot,” he wrote. “While the use of a thermal imaging scope is, at this time, legal during daytime hunting, it does not change the standard of care when discharging a firearm.”

‘There is goodness in this world’

Dostaler regained full use of his shoulder and was able to return to hunting two weeks later. He declared that if someone had to be shot, they would want to be shot the way he was.

In his impact statement, Dostaler described that day in the woods as “one of the most profound events in my life.” He recently lost his wife, his parents, and his father-in-law, and said that being shot has made him more compassionate and understanding.

“During all this time I have found a way to go on with life,” he wrote. “Being more loving and caring, more forgiving and accepting that we are human and fallible.”

A .22 calibre rifle belonging to Ronald Blais of Edson, who injured Fred Dostaler in a hunting accident on Sept. 6, 2020.
A .22 calibre rifle belonging to Ronald Blais of Edson, who injured Fred Dostaler in a hunting accident on Sept. 6, 2020. Court exhibit

While he didn’t excuse what happened, Dostaler said he could imagine his father similarly experimenting with something new and exciting, like an infrared scope. He said Blais and his companion were “good Christian men who felt so terrible to inflict such a thing on me.”

He made clear to Judge Michele Collinson that he completely forgives Blais.

“Meeting these men, knowing that they are good at heart,” he wrote. “There is goodness in this world and I only wish to add to it.”

jwakefield@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jonnywakefield

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