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Wisconsin is one of the safest places in the world to hunt deer, and this is no accident, said recreational safety officials with the state Department of Natural Resources.
Experts trace the state’s culture of hunting safety to 1967, almost a half century ago, when the DNR launched a six-hour course stressing firearm safety. The course was voluntary, and while the impact was not momentous, the number of firearm injuries during the gun deer hunt began to slowly fall off.
In 1980, hunters were required to wear blaze orange during gun deer hunts, and the number of firearm incidents dropped more dramatically. Then, in 1985, an expanded hunter education certification program became mandatory for all hunters in Wisconsin born or after Jan. 1, 1973.
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.
In 1966 in Wisconsin, the hunting incident rate was 44 injuries for every 100,000 hunters. Now the rate, based on a 10-year-average, is 4.04 incidents per 100,000 hunters, a more than 90 percent reduction.
Wisconsin has now experienced four gun-deer seasons free of fatalities (1972, 2010, 2011 and 2013) with three of them occurring during the past four years.
Conservation Warden Jon King, who heads the Hunter Education Program, said hunting in Wisconsin is a safe, fun activity for the entire family.
King credits the expanded course and outstanding instructors as the main factors behind Wisconsin’s safety record, but there are others.
“Trends in hunting patterns have changed,” King said. “There are fewer deer drives. The tendency is for gun hunters to go out and sit. It’s more like bow hunting, where you sit for a couple hours.”
King is confident more incidents can be prevented by following these four basic principles of firearm safety –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
Each deer drive should be planned in advance with safety as the top priority, King said.
“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.