Hunting is a popular outdoor activity. Whether it's for sport or for sustenance, hunting requires you to be focused, skilled and patient. You also need to be careful -- hunting can be very dangerous. Every year, hundreds of hunters suffer injuries. Sure, people have gun accidents, but not all injuries come as the result of a firearms mishap. Unstable terrain or dangerous animals are hazards that also put hunters at risk. It's important for you to know about the potential dangers before heading out on a hunt.
It's a good idea to enroll in a hunter safety course even if you've gone hunting before. In the United States, some states require hunters take a safety course before they can apply for a hunting license. Many states offer courses in hunter safety, some of which are conducted over the Internet. Most programs require hunters to participate in a field day to demonstrate they have learned and can apply the lessons from the course. The International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) has an online course that you can complete at your own convenience. But the IHEA's hunters should use its course only as a supplement to a traditional hunter safety program.
We'll take a look at five tips every sportsman should keep in mind to stay safe while hunting.
Tip 5: Tree Stand Safety
A tree stand is a useful hunting tool. It allows hunters to gain an elevated view of the surrounding terrain and avoid leaving a strong ground scent that game might detect. But tree stands can also be very dangerous. They provide a very small surface upon which the hunter kneels, sits or stands. Getting on and off a tree stand safely can be challenging, and then there's the trip up or down the tree to take into account.
Once on the stand, you must stay aware of where you are in relation to the edge of the platform. You shouldn't focus on the target to the detriment of your spatial awareness. And there's also a risk of nodding off to sleep while waiting for game to show up.
That's why you should always use fall restraints and harnesses when you're using a tree stand. In general, a fall restraint tethers a hunter to the tree, not the tree stand. There are many styles of restraints and harnesses. It's important to wear the restraints from when you begin your climb to the moment when you're safely back on the ground again. You should also have a plan on how to safely lower yourself to the ground if your restraint system catches you after a fall.
Tip 4: Don't Hunt Alone
Whenever possible, you should go hunting with at least one partner. Together, you and your partner can watch out for one another. If either of you should have an accident, the other can assist the injured party or go get help. Without a partner, you're left on your own. Something as simple as a twisted ankle can quickly become a life-threatening situation under the right set of circumstances.
It's doubly important to work with a partner if you'll be hunting in unfamiliar terrain. Together, you stand a better chance at navigating through the area and having a positive hunting experience than you would on your own.
If you enjoy hunting as a solitary experience, at the very least, you should tell other people when you're going out to hunt. Let someone else know when and where you'll be hunting. You should also establish a time when you'll touch base with that person to let him or her know you're fine after your hunting trip. If you suffer an injury, you don't want the added dangers of being caught outside without anyone knowing where you are.
Tip 3: Wear Hunter Orange
One thing you should always keep in mind when you go hunting is that you may not be the only hunter out there. You want to make sure you're visible and identifiable as a human being. To that end, you should always wear blaze orange -- also known as hunter orange. Ideally, you should wear an orange vest or jacket as well as a hat. This will help prevent other hunters from mistaking you for game.
A newsletter by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) listed statistics from a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) report about hunting injuries suffered from 1989 to 1995. Out of all the injury reports that involved two or more hunters, 76 percent of the incidents involved people who were not wearing hunter orange at the time. The report listed 259 accidents in which the injured hunter wasn't wearing hunter orange. In 125 of those cases, the DEC reported the accident was a result of one hunter mistaking another for game [source: CDC].
Another good tip is to carry a flashlight with you when you go hunting. If you hunt into the evening hours, a flashlight can help identify you as a human being.
Tip 2: Be Sure of Your Target
It's the moment of truth. You've just spotted your game after waiting patiently for several hours. You quickly move your gun into position, line your target up in your sights and fire. What's wrong with that?
First, that's not the right way to ensure an effective and humane kill. Every time you fire at game, you want to make the best shot possible. That's the shot that kills humanely while leaving the most meat. Second, you need to verify that your target is actually game and not another hunter or a non-game animal. Third, you need to be aware of what's between you and your target, as well as what's beyond your target. If you are hunting near a farm or road, you have to consider what might happen if you miss your shot -- or if it goes clean through your target and keeps on going.
You should never take a shot unless you are certain that there are no safety risks involved. That might mean you'll miss the opportunity to hit your target once in a while, but it will also help prevent accidents and injuries.
Tip 1: Practice Gun Safety
The last tip seems the most obvious, but it cannot be overstated: Follow gun safety practices. Treat every gun as if it were loaded at all times, even if you are absolutely certain it's unloaded. You should keep the gun's action open and only load the gun when you're ready to use it. Never point a gun at yourself or another person. Practice muzzle control -- keep the gun's muzzle pointed in a safe direction. The safest direction is usually toward the ground.
Also, keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to take a shot. While guns are designed so that your finger fits over the trigger in a natural way, avoid carrying a gun this way. Always keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you're prepared to actually shoot. You should also keep your gun's safety on until you are ready to fire.
If you plan to use a tree stand, you should tie a strong rope or cord to your unloaded rifle. Wait until you are on the stand and secure before pulling your rifle up after you. When you're ready to come down, lower your unloaded rifle to the ground first. Never try to climb up to or down from a tree stand with a loaded weapon.
To learn more about hunting safety and related topics, take a look at the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Hunting-Associated Injuries and Wearing "Hunter" Orange Clothing -- New York, 1989-1995." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Oct. 18, 1996. (Dec. 3, 2008) http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00044112.htm
- International Hunter Education Assocation. (Dec. 2, 2008)http://www.ihea.com/
- Metzler, Ray. "Don't Let Your Treestand Safety Restraint Leave You Hanging." Outdoor Alabama. (Dec. 3, 2008)http://www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/articles/hanging.cfm
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. "Hunting Safety: The Facts About Hunter Orange." (Dec. 2, 2008)http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/9186.html
- Oakland County Sheriff's Office. "Hunter Safety Tips." Oakland County, Michigan Sheriff's Office. (Dec. 3, 2008)http://www.oakgov.com/sheriff/safety_tips/hunting.html
- Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Hunter Safety Tips." Dec. 12, 2003. (Dec. 2, 2008)http://rainbow.dfw.state.or.us/nrimp/tips/huntersafety.htm
- Outdoor Alabama. "Alabama Safe Hunting Tips." (Dec. 2, 2008)http://www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/education/huntingtips.cfm
- USDA Forest Service. "Safety: Hunter Safety." Aug. 14, 2008. (Dec. 3, 2008)http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/boone/safety/camp/huntsafe.shtml