From the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
-- Hunting season is here again, and that means we’ll likely see reports of people shooting each other, shooting themselves or falling out of tree stands.
This is not slapstick. It is a tragedy, because unfortunate incidents such as these are preventable.
Law enforcement first investigates hunting-related fatalities as homicides, not accidents. A hunting fatality last fall was no different. A man aimed and pulled the trigger. He thought it was a deer coming out of the brush, but it was a human. Police determined the incident was not a criminal homicide, so no charges were filed.
One of the 10 Commandments of Gun Safety: Always identify your target before touching the trigger.
The victim, by the way, wasn’t wearing hunter orange. It wasn’t required on private land.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement officers respond to all kinds of preventable hunting incidents, which is why hunter safety courses are so important.
Hunters seeking white-tailed deer are involved in the most hunting incidents, because this is the most sought species.
By age, the biggest group of shooters written up in incident reports consists of seasoned, 40-49 year-olds (25 percent in two recent years). Statistics show a clear problem with careless handling of firearms, including dropping them.
In 2008-2009, seven hunters wounded themselves. A hunter walking through the woods with a loaded rifle slipped as he tried to cross a rain-swollen ditch and shot his foot when his rifle discharged. Another incident involved a man in a party of three hunters and 25 hunting dogs who was trying to catch a runaway dog and was shot by his own shotgun. He laid it down before the chase, but another dog stepped on the trigger, and the shotgun went off. Buckshot struck the man’s hand, as well as one of the dogs.
Here’s a troubling statistic. In addition to eight hunting incidents involving firearms last year, there were four that involved falls from tree stands. All four reports state, “The hunter was not using a Fall-Arrest System/Full Body Harness.” Unfortunately, one incident was fatal.
The first victim was an archery hunter. The 33-year-old was setting up a ladder stand and adjusting the strap when the stand tilted; he fell 17 feet and broke his leg.
Also last fall, the strap holding a hunter’s climbing stand broke, and he fell 25 feet, broke an ankle and had to hobble for three hours to get help.
Another hunter climbed to the top rung of her stand ladder and grabbed something to pull herself up. It gave, and she fell, landing flat on her back. She was airlifted from the woods for treatment.
If a tree stand isn’t properly secured to a tree, hunters can fall to their death, as happened in the fourth tree stand incident.
Despite these tragedies, the good news is that education is paying off.
According to the FWC’s 2009-2010 Florida Hunting Incident Report, the number of hunting incidents and fatalities per 100,000 hunting licenses generally decreased from 1980 to 2010 – the decreases showing up after mandatory hunter education began in 1991 for everyone 16 years old or older and born after May 31, 1975.
Hunting safely pays. Follow these other commandments when handling firearms or standing near someone handling them:
• Always point the gun in a safe direction.
• Always presume every firearm is loaded.
• Unload firearms when not in use.
• Never point a gun at anything you don’t want to shoot. This includes never using the scope as a pair of binoculars.
• Don’t climb a fence or tree or jump a ditch with a loaded gun.
• Never shoot at a flat, hard surface or water. Bullets ricochet.
• Make sure the barrel and action are clear of obstructions.
• Store firearms and ammunition separately and safely.
• Don’t use alcohol or mood-altering drugs before or during hunting.
Accidents do happen. However, many hunting accidents could have been avoided if the shooter followed the 10 Commandments of Gun Safety. Everyone should follow these rules.
For more information, go to MyFWC.com/HunterSafety. --By Rodney Barreto, chairman, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.