When hunting, don’t forget to put safety in your sights

A number of years, ago I did a grim deer-hunting story on a man that went into the woods and didn’t come out alive. I got a call from a game warden about a guy that left his house one afternoon to go deer hunting at a local club he belonged to that was not far from his house in Jasper. The man packed up his gear and told his wife he would be home shortly after dark. When he didn’t return late that evening, his wife called the sheriff’s department, which in turn called a game warden. The warden was familiar with the hunting club and found out what stand the man had intended to hunt from. A few hours later the warden found the deer hunter at the base of his box blind dead. While climbing into the stand, one of the rotted 2x4 steps had broken. The hunter took a tumble and snapped his neck.

Believe it or not, falls from deer blinds are not that uncommon. That’s especially true for hunters using tree stands and tripods. That’s just one risky aspect of hunting. The other is gun safety. Last season, Texas had a record low 25 hunting accidents, four of them fatal.

For the record, hunting fatalities were up by one in 2010. Most of those occurred during dove and duck hunting situations. Last year shotgun accidents were up; ditto that for pig hunters. TPWD reports that fewer hunter education graduates were involved in hunting mishaps, there was one incident involving alcohol, and it was found that 50 percent of accidents were self-inflicted.

“It looks like hunting accidents are headed for another record low this year, and we want to keep it that way,” said Terry Erwin, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s hunter education coordinator.

Erwin points out that if you were born after Sept. 1, 1971, and this is your first deer season, keep in mind you must have completed a hunter education course or obtained a one-time deferral if you aren’t able to get into a course.

Prior to a deer hunt, remember the big four safety points. First, always make sure your rifle is pointed in a safe direction. Second, always treat it like it was loaded. Third, always make sure of your target before you shoot (use binoculars, not your rifle scope). And fourth, keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to pull it. You can’t call a bullet back, and it always has the right-of-way, said Erwin.

“Last year in Texas, four persons died in hunting-related accidents,” says Erwin. “All four instances involved gunshots – two self-inflicted, two by other hunters.”

TPWD’s annual Hunting Accident Report for 2010 identifies the factors involved in reported hunting accidents last year. The No. 1 cause involved hunters swinging on game outside a safe zone of fire. One way to stay out of some other hunter’s sights is wearing blaze orange clothing or hat.

“Blaze orange is not mandatory in Texas unless you’re hunting on public land, but it makes a lot of sense,” Erwin said. “Deer cannot see color, but other hunters can.”While firearms safety should be a hunter’s top priority, accidents in the field are more likely to occur without a shot being fired.

“The most unreported of all hunting accidents are falls from elevated hunting blinds or tree stands,” Erwin said. “If you’re going to be hunting from a tree stand, make sure to use a Tree-stand Manufacturer’s Association-approved tree stand and a TMA approved fall restraint device.”

While tree stands see a fair amount of use in East Texas, many more hunters use elevated blinds or tripods accessible by ladder.

“Always keep in mind the three-point position when climbing into your blind,” said Erwin. “That means having two hands and one foot on the ladder at all times, or two feet and one hand.”

Don’t try to carry your rifle when you get into or out of an elevated stand, and make sure it is unloaded until you are safely seated.

“Use a haul line to bring your rifle up once you are safely in your blind, then, unload your firearm and lower it with the haul line before climbing down,” said Erwin.