From Missouri Department of Conservation
-- JEFFERSON CITY–Missouri recorded 15 firearms-related hunting accidents in 2008, the fewest since the Missouri Department of Conservation began keeping records in 1963.
Conservation Department records show that the incidence of firearms hunting accidents peaked in 1986, when 98 people were hurt in such incidents. That was not the most lethal year, however. While only seven hunters died in firearms hunting accidents in 1986, 22 lost their lives in both 1966 and 1970. Twenty perished in firearms hunting accidents in 1963 and 1967.
The number of total firearms hunting accidents hovered in the 70 to 90 range from 1976 through 1985, and Missouri averaged 11.8 fatal firearms hunting accidents during that period.
“In hindsight, those were dark days,” said Hunter Education Coordinator Tony Legg. “The annual toll was an embarrassment to hunters, and Missouri took a leading role in ending that era.”
In 1988, the Conservation Department began requiring anyone born after Dec. 31, 1966, to complete an approved hunter education course before they would buy any hunting permit. The results, documented in hunting-accident statistics, were remarkable. The number of accidents dropped by more than 50 percent in the first 10 years of mandatory hunter education. In 2008, the 20th anniversary of mandatory hunter education in Missouri, the number of hunting accidents was one-quarter what it once was. None of the accidents recorded last year was fatal.
Requiring hunters to wear hunter-orange clothing during firearms deer seasons also has played a significant role in reducing hunting accidents. However, Legg noted the frequency of accidents has decreased in all types of hunting, not just deer hunting.
Although pleased at the progress, Legg said he and the Conservation Department are far from content with the current safety record.
“Fifteen nonfatal accidents represents tremendous progress, but it still is 15 more than we would like to see,” said Legg. We think we can do better.”
One strategy the agency uses to reduce hunting accidents is aggressively publicizing the causes of hunting accidents to raise awareness of what causes them.
Legg said three-quarters of Missouri’s firearms hunting accidents consistently result from three things: victims in the line of fire but not visible to the shooters, hunters swinging on game and covering the victim and mistaking another hunter for game. One-third of last year’s firearms-related hunting injuries were self-inflicted. These most often involve victims resting the muzzle of a firearm on a foot or putting a hand over the muzzle.
“The number of hunting accidents that no one could have prevented is practically nonexistent,” said Legg. “That means hunters are almost entirely in control of the number of injuries that occur each year. A hunter who takes to heart the lessons learned in hunter education and keeps safety foremost in his or her mind in the field is almost guaranteed never to hurt another person.”
The Conservation Department offers hunter education in a classroom format or as a self-directed online course. The classroom version lasts about 10 hours. The Internet option includes an online test and a field exercise where participants demonstrate their mastery of key information.
For more information, call the nearest Conservation Department office or visit www.mdc.mo.gov/8821.