August 23, 2011
In an effort to reduce hunting accidents, the first mandated hunter education program started in New York in 1949. As these programs spread across the country, safety coordinators established the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) and developed a core training program to teach young hunters the proper use of firearms and hunting safety. Over the years, this program has evolved into more than just about safety. The goal of hunter education is to instill responsibility, improve skills and knowledge and encourage the involvement of beginner and experienced hunters. Responsible, ethical behavior and personal involvement are essential to safe hunting. In many states, hunters are required to show proof they have completed an IHEA-approved hunter education program before they can purchase a hunting license.
Most of us think of fall as the time of the year when hunters take to the woods in search of big game. However, depending on which state you reside, hunting season can start as early as August and run through the end of January. This time of year can be especially dangerous because of the different activities that attract many non-hunters to the outdoors. There are also some areas where hunting occurs year-round, so it's important to know your local schedule so you don't accidentally wander into an area during open season.
Different Weapons and Hunting Methods
There are many different types of weapons used for hunting, including rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders, pistols, bows and crossbows. It is imperative you become thoroughly familiar with your weapon, the proper ammunition it uses and all the potential hazards associated while in use. Different weapons can be operated in different hunting methods, so be sure you know the safety procedures for hunting. Also know the rules for when you or other hunters will be hunting from the ground or walking through an area.
Self-inflicted gunshots are one of the most common causes of accidental discharge injuries and fatalities. These accidents can be greatly reduced by following the IHEA's Ten Commandments of Safe Gun Handling:
1. Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.
2. Treat every firearm as though it were loaded.
3. Unload firearms and open the action except when ready to shoot.
4. Keep the barrel clear and choose proper ammunition for the firearm.
5. Be sure of your target before you pull the trigger.
6. Never point a firearm at anything you don't want to shoot.
7. Never climb or jump with a loaded firearm.
8. Never shoot at a flat, hard surface or water.
9. Store firearms and ammunition safely.
10. Avoid alcohol and drugs before and during shooting.
Preparation and Survival Skills
It is essential you carefully plan your hunt. Keep the following tips in mind for your next trip:
• Always let someone know exactly where you are hunting, who you'll be with and when you'll return. Leave a map with your hunting "spots" inside your vehicle so help can find you if you don't come home on time. Carry a cellphone or two-way radio. However, be aware that many backcountry areas do not get cellphone service.
• Always carry a survival kit in your backpack and restock it every season before opening day. For items to stock in your kit, see the "Survival of the Fittest" info box on page 25.
• Know how to survive. Take a course or read a book on techniques unique to your location. Know how to obtain water, food and shelter, with water being the most important. The smallest tip could save your life. Play the "what-if" game.
• Learn first aid and know how to use it on yourself if necessary. Practice self-administered first aid. You'll have a better grasp on your limitations and be able to react instinctively when seconds count. Also, be prepared if you know there are poisonous snakes or if you have allergic reactions to insect stings or bites.
• If using a tree stand, make sure you understand and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Select a live tree with a diameter that matches the requirement for your tree stand. Before each use, inspect the tree stand for loose, missing or broken parts. Also, always wear a safety harness when climbing or sitting in a tree stand. For more information on tree stands, see the article "Accident Free in the Tree" on page 28.
• If using an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), be sure you have taken a course in ATV safety, wear all necessary personal protective equipment and slow down so you have control. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are more than 800 deaths and 135,000 injuries related to ATVs each year. About one-third of those deaths and injuries are to children under 16 years old.
For hunters, not much can compare to being back in the woods " touching, smelling and being a part of nature. Keeping these tips in mind should allow you to have fun and successful hunting seasons for years to come without putting yourself or others at risk for injury or death.
Did You Know?
A good survival kit should fit inside a small pack and weigh just a little more than 4 pounds. A pocket in a backpack is all you'll need. Here are some items your kit should include:
• A lightweight nylon sweat suit (Be prepared should you have to spend the night in the woods.)
• Waterproof matches or lighter
• Compass or GPS
• A sturdy, sharp knife
• Duct tape
• Water purification tablets
• Collapsible water bottle
• High-calorie food (candy bars) or beef jerky
• Nylon string or parachute cord
• Signal mirror
• Large handkerchief
• Ax, hatchet or portable saw
• Flashlight and back-up batteries
• Multipurpose tool
In an effort to reduce weapons handling accidents, the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center has developed the Range & Weapons Safety Toolbox, available at https://safety.army.mil/rangeweaponssafety. Check it out today!