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Wisconsin enters the 2013 gun-deer season with a reputation as a state dedicated to safe hunting for everyone. Years of hunter safety courses successfully completed by more than one million people since 1967, under the tutelage of expert volunteer instructors, is a big reason why hunting is safe and getting safer.
But it wasn’t always like this. The Badger State had its share of rough hunting seasons. The year before hunter education courses began in Wisconsin, the hunting incident rate was 44 injuries for every 100,000 hunters. But that was 1966.
Focus on safety started nearly 50 years ago
Things started to change in 1967. That was the year the precursor to today’s statewide Department of Natural Resources’ Hunter Education Program was launched with a six-hour course stressing firearm safety only.
Forty-six years later and an expanded hunter education course available in-person and online, Wisconsin has experienced three gun-deer seasons free of fatalities (1972, 2010 and 2011) plus fewer and fewer incidents. The state’s ingrained hunter safety culture was created and is sustained by the program’s army of dedicated, experienced volunteer instructors who have instilled skills, responsibility and ethics in more than the one million students. About 28,000 are trained each year.
Conservation Warden Jon King, who heads the Hunter Education Program, is not surprised hunting in Wisconsin is a safe, fun activity for the entire family. Wisconsin has a 10-year average fatality rate of .36 fatalities per 100,000 hunters. The 10-year average rate for all hunting incidents (this includes gun, crossbow fatalities and injury incidents) is 4.2 incidents per 100,000 hunters.
Wisconsin’s hunter education certification program became mandatory for all hunters born or after Jan. 1, 1973, in 1985.
King credits the expanded course and outstanding instructors as the main factors behind Wisconsin’s safety record, but there are others.
“There has been the creation of opening and closing hours for hunting, mandatory blaze orange clothing for hunters, the use of full safety harnesses for tree stand use, firearm restrictions, global positioning satellite devices, smart phones and more,” King says.
Four rules of firearm safety
Firearm hunting incidents in 2011 also followed the downward trend and came in below the 10-year average of 32 incidents annually. King is confident more can be prevented by following these four basic principles of firearm safety – also known as TABK:
• Treat every firearm as if it is loaded
• Always point the muzzle in a safe direction
• Be certain of your target and what is beyond it
• Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot
Tree stands, harnesses and deer drives
Tree stands and harnesses, and the popular group hunting method involving “deer drives,” pose some challenges unless done with safety in mind.
King suggests each deer drive be planned in advance, with safety the top priority. “Everyone involved in the drive should know and understand the plan,” he says.
Here are some easy tree stand tips to follow:
• Always use a full-body harness.
• Always unload your firearm while climbing into or out of the stand.
• During the ascent or descent: maintain three points of contact — two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand.
And here are King’s deer drive tips:
• Review the four firearm safety principles.
• Reconfirm you have positively identified your target.
• Reconfirm you have a safe backstop for your bullet.
• Review and stick to your hunting plan. Make sure all in the hunting party honor it.
“By keeping these tips in mind and being dedicated to using them, it will become second nature and safety becomes a reflex,” King says. “And that’s the goal – to have a safe, fun and successful hunt in Wisconsin where it’s all part of our heritage and tradition.”