Firearms safety instructor from Scandia now has first-person lesson to tell
A longtime hunter safety instructor from Scandia recently learned the hard way that his work is never done.
Jerry Cusick was hiking a friend’s property in Somerset Township, Wis., April 30 in preparation for a turkey hunt when a spray of shotgun pellets struck his upper torso and head.
“You come to, blood streaming down your face, and you put the clues together that the shot you just heard was meant for yourself,” he said.
A hunter from White Bear Lake stationed near the property line had shot into brush.
Evidently, Cusick said, the young man shot when he saw movement and left it to chance whether his target was a turkey.
“That’s violating the most important rule when handling a firearm: Keep it pointed in a safe direction and identify your target,” Cusick said.
Down, not out
Instincts quickly kicked in that Tuesday for Cusick, a lifelong hunter and 29-year veteran of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
He remembers hearing the shot while finishing his hike on a path he had mowed last fall through a prickly ash thicket.
The impact spun him around and knocked him over. Cusick got up and tried to call for help, but blood smearing his phone prevented him from dialing.
He then made for his truck, which was within about 50 yards. Along the way, the shooter emerged and said he did not know how to describe the location to the dispatcher. Cusick gave him the location but did not want to chance waiting around. Instead, he made for the nearest farm.
When paramedics arrived, Cusick had one take his phone and dial his wife, Cheryl, so she could hear the news straight from him. He spent a day and a half at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where he underwent a slew of tests to check for organ damage. Those came out clean, but he underwent oral surgery and will have to live with dozens of pellets inside of him. In all, 60 pellets from a 1-7/8 oz. shot Remington Nitro Turkey load struck his face, chest, and left shoulder, arm, knee and thigh. Though some are painfully embedded in bone, doctors did not want to risk nerve damage by digging them out.
The father of two returned the following week to his duties as a commander with the sheriff’s office.
“I was determined to get out and resume normal activities even though I was not yet recovered,” he said.
If there is anyone who knows the best safety practices regarding hunting, it’s Cusick. For 19 years he has volunteered as a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources firearms safety instructor at William O’Brien State Park. This incident will not deter him from that duty; rather Cusick will use it as a powerful, first-person lesson.
“If you just go back to the basics, the thing you preach and preach in firearm safety is to control the muzzle. … The other cardinal rule is you must, must identify your target and what is beyond it,” Cusick said. “There are so many clues to put together before you ever pull that trigger.”
The case remains under investigation by the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The district attorney will then consider charges against the shooter, 27-year-old Anthony Cardarelli.
“What did he expect to find when he walked over there?” Cusick said of Cardarelli. “A hen turkey, dog, cat, deer or worse yet, a person? To take that gamble, that risk, it scares me to wonder if there’s other people out there like him.”
Cusick, 53, still pictures himself walking along the path that day and shudders. His scars and pain will continue to remind him of what he considers an ambush. He prefers to hunt with a bow, but said it is now far too painful to draw back an arrow.
For now, Cusick will leave that duty to his son, Jeremiah, who rushed to Regions the day of the accident from the Olympic archery center in California where he is a resident in training as part of U.S. Archery’s senior national recurve team.
Cusick did not bother using his situation as an opportunity to preach to his son another lesson in safety.
“He’s really a conscientious person, and that has a lot to do with it,” Cusick said. “If you care enough and are conscientious enough, you just wouldn’t do anything like that.”