Whether you’re searching for the ultimate trophy or just looking to fill your freezer, hunting excursions should always be as safe as you can make them.
Relatively speaking, hunting remains a fairly safe pastime compared to some other types of outdoor activities. Statistics show that based on the number of participants annually, the total of serious accidents and fatalities is low. There’s always some room for improvement though.
We also need to consider that not all accidents are firearms related. You have to remember that there are many other ways to hurt yourself including ATV accidents, water related incidents, animal encounters, serious cuts, falls, tree stand mishaps etc. A ‘hunting accident’ is not always necessarily shooting yourself or one of your party.
As far as gun-related accidents do go, they can be broken down into several categories (with some cross over):
Human Error/Poor Judgment – this could include mistaking another person for game or not checking the foreground or background before firing,
Safety Violations – including pointing the muzzle in an unsafe direction, improper loading, unloading or cleaning procedures or unsafe storage or transport practices.
Weapon Control – this applies somewhat to the Safety point, but would include any other type of action that might lead to a negligent discharge. This could be ignoring the rules related to weapon handling on rough terrain and crossing obstacles, leaning a weapon with a chambered round or sweeping toward game with others in the vicinity.
Catastrophic Malfunction – such as mechanical failure, an obstructed barrel or using the wrong ammunition.
The positive side of having decent data around hunting accidents, is that it makes things easier to define what the issue may have been in the event of an incident. After all, there are only so many things that can go wrong. As an industry, there is a lot of effort made to ensure the safety of participants and this is also clear with the abundance of qualified instruction that is available. Many feel that the mandatory hunting education courses that are required in order to get a hunting license have had a significant impact on minimizing risk and helping to keep accidents and fatalities relatively low. With that in-mind, always be sure to know what your local and State regulations are, and don’t make any assumptions about the transferability from region-to-region.
See below for checklist of elements that can help ensure a safe outing for you and your hunting group. By no means a complete listing (we’ll talk about tree stands and blinds in another post), it’s a good start.
This would typically be #1 on any list of safety concerns and for obvious reasons. A lot of bad accidents can happen even before you leave your truck or camp (think loading or unloading) so you’ll always want to stay on top of this stuff.
- Be 100% familiar with your weapon – how it works, feels and performs
- Always treat your weapon as if it were loaded (ie. very carefully)
- Never actively point the muzzle at anything other than your intended target
- Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot
- Ensure that the weapon has the right fit for the shooter
- Be sure that the caliber of your weapon is right for the job (and that your ammo is correct)
- Know the effective range of your weapon
- Always check for chambered rounds (never assume)
- Practice safe storage & transportation protocols
- Use eye & ear protection
- Keep your weapon clean, dry & in good working order
Planning & Organization
Smart hunters make plans for each trip, especially when going out in groups. A disorganized free-for-all approach always has the potential for a bad outcome.
- Be familiar with the area that you’re hunting in, what the boundaries are and what may be in the vicinity (ie. homes / vehicles / roads / livestock etc.)
- Know what’s in-season and be aware of other hunters that may be in the area
- Work with a buddy system for added security & support throughout the day
- Have a plan for emergencies
- Determine coordinated times & rally points for meet-ups & end-of-day
Clothing & Gear
Like a good Boy Scout – Be Prepared.
Most everyone knows that wearing orange is the way to go to keep yourself visible, and it is a mandated requirement in some areas. There are those that scoff at the idea though and will always just opt for full camo. To be fair, the orange doesn’t work well while hunting certain types of game, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. There’s also some thinking around avoiding white, blue, red or black, on the off chance that you’re mistaken for a deer or turkey.
Be aware of weather conditions and dress accordingly. Water-resistant outerwear, dressing in layers and boots with a good tread are a must. Also go with middle and under layers that wick away moisture, as opposed to something like cotton.
Always carry a fully charged cell phone and/or radio to stay in-touch and for use in emergencies.
Get into the habit of carrying first aid and emergency supplies in your kit. Include a flashlight and food and water as necessary.
Bring a compass and a GPS device whenever you venture out into the wild. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to get turned around and to lose your way.
Having the wherewithal to know what’s going on around you at all times goes a long way in keeping yourself and others safe.
Most hunters are good at focusing on their environment and the signs of game in the area. That focus and level of concentration must also be applied to clearly identifying targets so as not to aim at a fellow hunter. Be sure to keep your finger off the trigger until you can see the animal and NEVER simply shoot at sound or movement.
In keeping with the above point, it’s usually good practice to carry binoculars with you for scanning the area and identifying targets. Absolutely avoid using your scope to identify the source of sounds or movement as it could easily be another hunter.
Have a good sense of what’s beyond your target (and the range of your weapon) as a safety check in the case of a missed shot.
- A few other miscellaneous items to keep in-mind.
- Always let someone know the area that you’ll be hunting within and when you plan on returning.
- Don’t be shy. If you hear shots or suspect that other hunters may be in the area, be sure to make some noise and make your presence known.
- Absolutely avoid the use of alcohol or drugs while hunting (for obvious reasons).
- If you are overly fatigued, feeling ill or on prescription medications that may affect your mental sharpness, it might be a good idea to take a pass.
- Unless you’re hunting for birds with a trained dog, it might be a good idea to keep Rover at home. The last thing you want is for your beloved family pet to be mistaken for something else in the woods.
Responsible hunters have a long tradition of ethical practices and safety protocols that help to keep this activity a great family endeavor. By maintaining industry standards, local bylaws and staying focused overall, we can all help to minimize risk.
Sign up for K-Var’s weekly newsletter and discounts here.