Field experience does not guarantee hunter safety

The past hunting season has been the safest in New York since hunter education became mandatory in 1949.

This is a good thing. There were nine hunter-related incidents in 2021, the fewest on record.

The really bad thing, though, is that one of those incidents resulted in the death of a hunter – and there was another fatality involving a stand of trees – and there’s no good number in regard to that other than zero.

Still, it’s a good thing that incidents are down much from a few decades ago. Our hunters are among the best trained and most skilled in the country.

There is one additional thing, however, that I find very troubling about the Hunter Safety Report recently released by the Department of Environmental Conservation – the number of years of experience of those involved. The four big game incidents? The shooters had 48, 41, 45 and 50 years of experience in the field.

What does that tell you?

Which tells me we can’t take safety for granted. We never know everything. That we can never go through the motions. That reviewing safety procedures before each hunting season is a must. Retaking the hunter training course might not be a bad idea.

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Take a look at the deer hunting incidents: in one, a hunter discharged his firearm over a highway (an extremely obvious violation of the rules) and hit a car , injuring two people. In another, a hunter slipped, unloading a bullet and injuring a hunting partner. In a third case, a hunter grabbed his firearm as it fell after he propped it against an ATV and shot himself in the foot.

In the fatality, a hunter shot his partner from a watchtower while the latter was stalking a deer. The victim was not wearing orange. As of last season, New York gun hunters are required to wear 250 square inches of orange or pink or a hat of those colors.

Small game hunters – or, in one case, non-hunters – were involved in four incidents. In one, in Sullivan County, a man birdshot a squirrel in his front yard and hit someone walking down the road. He did not have a hunting license and had never taken a hunting education course. The ages of those involved in the small game incidents were 66, 63 and 20, with one unknown.

There was a turkey hunting incident, with the hunter, who had 40 years of experience, injuring two of his companions.

I don’t know what it says there were no incidents involving 12 and 13 year old hunters, who for the first time were allowed to hunt with shotguns, rifles, shotguns muzzleloaders and crossbows. Of course, there are many more adult hunters than teenagers, but this statistic speaks volumes about young hunters. And, again, the youngest hunter involved in an incident was 20, while seven were 55 and older. The age of another was unknown.

Again, what does this tell you? Again, among other things, it reminds me to review safety procedures before each season, and to demand that my companions do the same.

The report also noted incidents in tree stands, now referred to as high hunting incidents. There were 10, with one fatality, when a hunter went into cardiac arrest, fell from his stand and died of his injuries. Nine of the victims were not wearing full body harnesses. One was, but he wasn’t tied to the tree.

No incidents were reported during the renewed hunt extended half an hour before sunrise and half an hour after sunset. Honestly, I was surprised by this.

Years ago I talked to a guy who didn’t want to take the hunter education course because he had been in the military and knew all about guns. He might have, but he might not know everything about safety, or at least he needed a few reminders.

I told him, at the end, that he wasn’t going to make it and it wasn’t going to take him long, and that he would learn something worthwhile and…. well, do it. I don’t know if he did.

Gun safety has many components. Here are five simple ones recommended by the DEC:

Treat each firearm as if it were loaded. Control the muzzle, keep it pointed in a safe direction. Identify your target and what lies beyond. Keep your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to fire. Wear orange or hunter pink.

And tips on using tree stands:

Always inspect the tree stand before each use. Buckle the full body harness securely every time. Connect to the tree before your feet leave the ground.

Write John Pitarresi at 60 Pearl Street, New Hartford, NY 13413 or [email protected] or call him at 315-724-5266.