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Common Sense Tips for Staying Safe this Deer Season

by Jason Wimbiscus
Statistically speaking, deer hunting is an exceptionally safe form of outdoor recreation. Of the millions of hunters who take to the woods each year, only a small fraction will experience any sort of injury.  Further, in an average year, fewer than 1,000 people in the United States and Canada are shot by hunters and fewer than 75 of those incidents result in fatality. To add further perspective, 20 times more people die annually due to drowning than hunting accidents.
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Unfortunately, while hunting is safer than a drive to work, accidents do happen and when they occur, they make news and leave the public with the perception that hunting is dangerous, and hunters are reckless yahoos. Such rare but tragic occurrences in the deer woods can be easily avoided by adhering to a few common-sense safety tips.

Secure Yourself Properly in Your Tree Stand

The number one cause of injury to deer hunters is not careless firearms handling but falls from tree stands. The state of Indiana found that 55 percent of hunting accidents in that state from 2009 to 2015 were falls from elevated deer stands. It was also found that nationally, 30 percent of all hunters who employ elevated stands and blinds will experience a fall at some point.

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The chances of experiencing a fall from a tree stand can be greatly reduced by following the basic safety procedures outlined in the video below. These measures include wearing a safety harness always; not using makeshift, homemade elevated blinds; and pulling gear into stands using a rope as opposed to attempting to climb with hands full (never climb into a stand with a firearm in hand).
It is also important for a hunter to know how to get back into a stand or safely to the ground if he or she falls while wearing a safety harness. Hanging by the harness from a tree for prolonged periods can result in suspension trauma, which occurs when the constriction of blood vessels causes blood to pool in the extremities. Suspension trauma can cause permanent injury or even be fatal.



Be Sure of Your Target and What Is Beyond It

To be blunt, there is absolutely no excuse for hunting accidents involving firearms. Such incidents are negligence pure and simple. Particularly abhorrent are instances in which a hunter inadvertently shoots a fellow human being after mistaking the victim for a deer or other game animal.

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Though rare, mistaken for game incidents are tragic newsmakers when they occur. One particularly notable case occurred in Maine in 1988 when a hunter fatally shot a woman in her own back yard after allegedly mistaking the white mittens she was wearing for the tail of a deer. More recently, in Michigan a hunter armed with a shotgun fired at what he mistakenly thought was the eye shine of a deer in low light conditions and struck a bow hunter in the stomach. The victim in this incident survived.

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It should go without saying that a hunter should never fire a shot in the woods unless he or she has 100 percent, beyond all shadow of doubt, identified a target as legal game. With a few rare exceptions, no one hunting in the developed world will go hungry if they fail to put a deer in the freezer. It’s far better to err on the side of caution and go home empty handed than to destroy multiple lives via a split-second negligent act.

Even when a game animal is positively identified, hunters need to make sure there is a sufficient backstop to safely catch a bullet that misses or passes through the target. Centerfire big game cartridges typically pack enough energy to potentially pass through an animal and pose a hazard to people, animals, and structures on the other side. A bullet that misses the target completely can potentially pose a risk to people miles away from where the trigger is pulled.

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Know How to Handle Firearms Safely in the Field

Firearms safety in the woods is somewhat of a different ballgame than firearms safety in the controlled, predictable, environment of a shooting range.  Unlike the local range, typical hunting grounds consist of uneven, possibly slippery, terrain where trip and fall hazards abound and visibility is low due to the thickness of plant life, the time of day, or both. Moreover, in the woods, there are no range officers to enforce basic firearms safety rules.

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A hunter must know how to safely cross fences and streams, negotiate muddy hillsides, press through brush and bramble, and get into and out of stands and blinds, all while adhering to the rules of firearms safety.  Hunters operating as a party have the added burden of needing to know where each other are at all times. 

It makes sense for aspiring hunters to become familiar with what it’s like to navigate through fields and forests unarmed before attempting to do so with a gun in hand.

Be Visible

In an ideal world, all hunters who take to the woods would be so careful and attentive that a man wearing a lifelike deer costume could crawl through the underbrush while blowing into a deer call and be perfectly safe. Unfortunately, our world is not an ideal place and a small minority of hunters are the uncouth, careless stereotypes that are too often portrayed in movies and other media.

While one could be forgiven for doing everything in their power to not be noticed by the above types of human while going about their day to day, it is in their best interest to be easily noticed by them while hunting. To again be blunt, the most effective way to avoid being shot is to wear blaze orange clothing.

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Blaze orange is considered the most visible color to humans and it stands out even in the dim, “gray light” conditions around dawn and dusk, which are often prime hunting hours when deer are typically most active. A side benefit to blaze orange is that since the eyes of deer lack the receptors best able to see colors on the red end of the spectrum, blaze orange does not make hunters more easily spotted by deer. It’s a win-win.

Currently, 41 US states have laws on the books requiring hunters to wear blaze orange during some or all hunting seasons. In states where there are no legal mandates requiring blaze orange, the practice is still highly recommended.

By every metric, hunting is among the safest ways a person can spend their free time. It is important, however, to avoid complacency and not lose sight of the fact that loaded firearms are often an essential part of the sport. By adhering to a few common-sense rules and staying alert and mindful at all times, the hunting accident rate will remain statistically negligible. 


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