A SAFE SETTING

Hunting Safety Should Start Before the Trip Begins

story by Eric Shanks, LDWF Education Program Manager

It’s a cool December morning in the marshes of south Louisiana, a near perfect day for duck hunting.

Three buddies sit in a duck blind, talking about work, wives and weather, looking for the next flight of ducks to come in to the decoys. The sun has risen above the horizon, and it has already been a good morning, with several mallards and teal already down and retrieved. Even the dog is happy because finally somebody was able to shoot straight and let a professional work.

Their quiet camaraderie is suddenly broken by the whooshing sound of air ripping over duck wings as four gray ducks buzz the blind from behind. All three men watch the ducks intently as they fly out of range but turn left at the far end of the pond and begin to circle back to the decoys.

John, on the left end of the blind, loses sight of the flock behind the roseau cane concealing the blind. Tom, on the right end of the blind, has a good view of the ducks and begins to focus even more intently on them as they continue their looping turn and head back towards the waiting hunters.

John, whose lease they are hunting on, knows there is an open area on his side where ducks will occasionally land out of view. His mental clock tells him that now is about the time they would do so.

He stands up, leans forward slightly to try and get a visual on the ducks. At the same instant, the ducks have flown in range and Tom, focused on the birds to the exclusion of all else, brings his shotgun up and fires at the lead duck he is looking at over his barrel.

An hour later, John is pronounced dead at the scene by emergency personnel who responded to the 911 call.

Tragically, this story is loosely based on real events. Someone died because of poor hunting safety practices. Had the hunters discussed and followed proper zones of fire, shooting positions and designated a person to call the shots, this tragedy could have been prevented.

An annual average of 11.7 hunting incidents, in which an injury was sustained, occurred in Louisiana from 2000-2014. Most of them don’t result in death but no one wants to be injured while enjoying the sport they love. Almost all of these incidents are preventable. That’s why we at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries call them incidents rather than accidents.

With that in mind, we’d like to share trends in Louisiana hunting incidents to ensure your next hunting trip will be safe and enjoyable. All of the facts and figures below are compiled from 2000-2014 calendar years unless stated otherwise.

TYPES OF HUNTING

Out of 175 total incidents, deer hunting accounted for 43 percent, by far the majority in Louisiana. This isn’t surprising given the popularity of deer hunting and the fact that falling from your stand is considered a hunting incident.

Waterfowl hunting accounted for 16 percent. Again, not surprising given its popularity and the fact that you usually have several hunters hunting and traveling in close proximity. Squirrel and rabbit hunting each account for 9 percent of incidents, followed by turkey hunting at 6 percent. All other types of hunting combined make up the remaining 17 percent of total incidents.

COMMON CAUSES OF HUNTING INCIDENTS

Many things can cause a hunting incident and there is often more than one factor.

To keep it simple, we will only discuss those causes listed as the primary factor on the incident reports. The most common causes of incidents can be broken down into three broad categories, including hunter’s judgment, skill and aptitude, and tree stand related.

When you break these categories down even further, there are several factors that account for the majority, but not all, of hunting incidents.

Hunter’s Judgment

Failure to identify or check beyond the target accounts for 24 percent of incidents in Louisiana. That violates one of the primary tenants of hunting safety. Obviously, shooting at a sound or movement in the brush is always the wrong thing to do. Unfortunately it happens too often.

More subtle, and easier mistakes to make, are to misidentify the target or not noticing what is behind that trophy buck when the adrenaline starts pumping.

The human brain is good at building a full picture from just a few visual cues. The low lighting conditions at dawn and dusk can help your brain turn a climbing stand above another hunter into deer antlers.

Our binocular vision is also designed to focus on one small area in great detail, leaving the periphery, and sometimes background, indistinct. To combat this, always take the extra time before your shot to make sure you have identified your target correctly and that there are no other hunters anywhere in your line of fire.

Anyone down range, even if they are not directly behind your target, is reason enough not to take the shot. As my father told me at a very young age, once you pull the trigger you can’t take it back.

The next highest cause of incident, at 19 percent, comes with the victim out of sight or moving into the line of fire. This commonly happens when members of the same hunting party are hunting near each other, often in brush or some type of cover.

Communication, both before and during a hunt, can help prevent these types of incidents. Everyone should establish their safe zones of fire, establish a hunt plan and stick to it. The hunting party should maintain safe distances, and if visual contact is lost, maintain voice contact. You should always know where the other members of your party are and never fire in their direction.

Hunter orange is an important component in helping to prevent both of the above incidents as well as several others.

Louisiana has seen a significant drop in hunting related firearm incidents since the state began requiring hunter orange. It is highly visible and can help give you the right visual cues to tell your brain that there is another hunter in your line of fire.

An orange vest and cap are more visible than just a cap. Remember that not all hunting requires hunter orange, and other people - or houses, cars and livestock - may be in the field without it. A lack of orange does not make a safe shot, always be sure of your target and what’s beyond it.

The old saying be safe and be seen is paramount in hunting.

Skill and Aptitude

Careless handling of a firearm accounts for up to 17 percent of incidents. This can be anything from not keeping your muzzle pointed in a safe direction to keeping your shotgun loaded while in the boat heading to the duck blind. Most of these incidents can be prevented following basic safe firearm handling procedures such as:

  1. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
  2. Treat every firearm as if it is loaded (even when you know it’s not).
  3. Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.
  4. Keep firearms unloaded when not in use and cased during transport.

Tree Stand Related

Failure to use a safety belt and falling while climbing or descending results in 12 percent of incidents in the state.

And that statistic may be low. It is likely that many hunters who fall from their stands, including box stands, do not report it even if medical attention is needed. With increased awareness efforts by LDWF, reports of these types of incidents have been on the rise in recent years, but many of these incidents likely go unreported.

Basic safety steps can be taken to help prevent these types of incidents. Always use a fall arrest system (FAS) that is manufactured to industry standards. Keep your FAS attached to the tree for the duration of your hunt.

Those are the main causes of hunting incidents. But there are many other ways to injure yourself or others while hunting. All of them, however, can be prevented by following safe hunting and firearm handling practices.

SUMMARY

Though injuries are sustained during hunting season the sport is relatively safe.

For the 2014-2015 hunting season, LDWF estimated that about 265,000 licensed hunters made approximately 6.9 million hunting trips. For that same hunting season, there were nine hunting incidents reported. That comes to one incident per 767,667 hunting trips or .00013 percent.

While hunting incidents are not intentional, they are preventable by following safe hunting practices. Everyone should do their part to make sure that all hunters make it home safe and sound this season.

For more information, or to view some brief safety videos, please visit our website at   www.wlf.louisiana.gov/hunting/hunter-education.

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