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Hunter: Vang seemed nervous but polite
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Chai Soua Vang, right, talks to a spectator in a Sawyer County courtroom during a recess in his murder trial Wednesday. (Pool photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Hayward, Wisc. — (AP) Shortly after eight hunters were shot in northwestern Wisconsin, the man accused of murdering six of them walked up to another hunter and politely asked for directions, though he seemed nervous and in a hurry, the hunter testified Wednesday.

Daryl Gass said he heard about 15 shots over 10 minutes some 500 yards from his tree stand around noon Nov. 21 and expected to see fleeing deer headed his way.

Gass said he heard a noise, looked behind him and saw a man wearing camouflage, instead of the usual hunter blaze orange, carrying a gun and a backpack.

"He mentioned he was lost and needed help," Gass testified, identifying the man as Chai Soua Vang.

Gass said he gave Vang directions to a logging road that would lead him out of the woods. Vang apologized for interrupting his hunting and walked on, Gass said.

"He was very polite," Gass testified. "But he seemed a little nervous. I just assumed that was because he was lost. ... When he left, he was making some time but he wasn't running."

Gass said he radioed his 19-year-old son, Eric, who was hunting nearby, and warned him that Vang was walking his way and not to mistake him for a deer. The son testified he watched Vang reach the logging road and walk on it for a bit before turning into the woods again.

Daryl Gass was apparently the first person to encounter Vang after the shootings that left six dead and two wounded in some isolated Sawyer County woods. Vang and the hunters got into a confrontation after they found Vang in a tree stand on their private property.

Vang says he acted in self-defense after someone shot at him first. Vang's attorney, Steven Kohn, has told jurors Vang, a deer hunter since 1992, came under a verbal attack from the hunters who used profanities and racial slurs, and Vang felt frightened and under siege.

But the two hunters wounded in the shooting have testified Vang fired first, and one of them returned one shot.

Vang, a 36-year-old Hmong immigrant from St. Paul, Minn., is charged with six counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. Vang, who was expected to testify Thursday, faces mandatory life in prison if convicted.

Another hunter, Walter Cieslak, testified Wednesday he was loading gear on an all-terrain vehicle to drive out of the woods around 4:30 p.m. that day when he heard a noise that startled him. He said he turned and saw Vang.

"He said, 'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you,"' Cieslak said. "He said he was lost and asked if I had a map."

Cieslak offered Vang a ride on his ATV, and they drove about eight minutes to Cieslak's pickup truck, he said. When they got there, Cieslak said he was surprised to see some unfamiliar people.

"I said, 'This guy is lost. Is there anyone who can help him?"' Cieslak said.

State Department of Natural Resources warden Jeremy Peery was there and realized Vang may be the suspect in the shootings, Cieslak said. The warden pulled his gun, demanded Vang put down his rifle and arrested him, Cieslak said.

Cieslak said he spent 15 minutes with Vang as darkness started to set in. Asked to describe Vang's demeanor, Cieslak called it "very calm."

Cieslak and the Gasses were among five people who testified Wednesday morning for the prosecution. The defense did not cross-examine any of them.

A gun expert testified Wednesday the Russian-made rifle used in the shootings could hold 10 cartridges and be fired as quickly as four times a second. William Newhouse of the state crime laboratory held the 7.62 mm semiautomatic rifle before the jury and pulled the trigger once.

Newhouse said 14 shells that investigators recovered from the woods were fired from Vang's black hunting rifle. His testimony suggested Vang had to reload his gun once.

In questioning Newhouse, Assistant Attorney General Roy Korte suggested that Vang, in taking the scope off his gun, made it easier for him to shoot the hunters.

"It is difficult to aim the gun at something close with a telescopic sight on the gun," Newhouse said.

Two hunters wounded in the shooting, Terry Willers and Lauren Hesebeck, have testified Vang was standing 25 to 30 yards from their group when he started shooting.