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     Safe Hunting is NO Accident    

by Michael Stephens


Between now and the midst of winter, millions of sportsmen and women across the country will head to the field to participate in the 2009 hunting season.  While many will experience hours of enjoyment others will experience tragedy.   

During the 2008 hunting season the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) recorded 35 hunting related shooting incidents.  Three of those incidents proved to be fatal.  The majority of the victims as well as the offenders of the incidents where male ranging between the ages of 21 and 50 years old and had more than 10 years of hunting experience.  82% of the incidents occurred during normal daylight hours after dawn and before dusk on clear or slightly overcast days.  The good news is that hunting related shooting incidents have fallen 37.5% from when I originally wrote this article in 2004 and 75% since 1991.

Although shooting related incidents are an inherent danger to sportsmen & women, those numbers are small compared to tree stand related incidents and the number of outdoorsmen & women who suffered heart attacks and other stress related illnesses or fatalities while in the field.  Education, awareness, and a little common sense are the only way to stay safe while in the field.  Here are a few things to remember to make this season safe and enjoyable for everyone.

Hunter safety starts before your hunt begins.  Have a detailed plan of your hunt and stick to it.  Let somebody know about those details, especially where you will be and when you will return.  Make a checklist to ensure that you will not forget any important gear including a first aid kit, compass, and a map if you’re not familiar with the area.  Be sure to dress appropriately in layers for pending weather conditions to avoid heat exhaustion, hypothermia, or catching a cold.  Hunters that are dressed properly are not only more comfortable during the hunt, but they are also more alert to their surroundings providing a safer environment for you and others around you.  Hunting can be hard work so get in shape before the season starts to avoid being a statistic.  Also, remember to keep your firearms locked & stored in a safe location when not hunting, preferably unloaded and in a different location than which the ammunition is stored. 

During your hunt always treat every firearm as if it where loaded.  Keep your safety on and your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.  Make sure your firearm is kept clear of obstructions such as mud or a jammed cartridge or shell casing.  Before shooting, always positively identify your target and know your zone of fire.  Knowing your zone of fire means that you know where you can safely shoot at all times as to not endanger other people or property.  Know what is beyond your target.  Unload your firearm while crossing fences, streams, logs, rocks, or any other unstable ground that might cause you to fall or drop your firearm.  And always make sure that you are visible to other hunters by abiding by requirements set forth by the PGC for wearing fluorescent orange.  Carry a whistle and don’t be afraid to use it as a distress call if you are in danger or if you feel you are in eminent danger by from another hunter.

When using tree stands or elevated platforms always wear a harness or some type of fall restraint device, preferably a full body harness.  Use a haul line or rope to hoist equipment into the stand.  Never hoist a loaded firearm.  Before getting into the stand, be sure to inspect all stands and climbing equipment before each use.  Maintain at least 3 points of contact while climbing stands on the climbing system, ladder, or tree and follow all of the manufacturer’s guidelines and precautions. 


Good luck this season and remember that safe hunting is no accident. 


For more detailed information on hunter safety and tree stand safety, please visit the following resources provided by the

Pennsylvania Game Commission:

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General Hunter Safety Tips


Firearms Safety Tips


Tree Stand Safety


Tree Stand Safety Course


Turkey Hunting Safety Tips



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