by Gerald M. Dworkin
Printed in Sept. 1981, Security Tips Newsletter
According to the National Safety Council, accidents are the leading cause of death in this Country for people between the ages of 1 and 44. Accidents remain one of the leading causes thereafter. Of the leading causes of accidental death, falls rank 2nd, drowning ranks 3rd, and firearms rank 7th. These hazards, and others, must be considered carefully by the hunter before, during and after the hunt. Only through the recognition of the many causes of accidental death and disability, can measures be taken to prevent future occurances.
Although guns play a major role in hunting accidents, there are other hunting hazards. More deer hunters die from heart attacks than from gunshot wounds. Overexertion falls, drowning, exposure all take their toll.
Overexertion causes fatigue, which in turn exposes the hunter to all sorts of additional and unnecessary hazards. Hunters not acclimated to the rigor of the sport should spend time getting into physical condition prior to the hunt.
Falls, mostly from trees, ledges, slopes and rocks, account for many hunting accidents. And, many firearm accidents are related to falls. Hunters should remember that even simple injuries and sprains can lead to serious consequences when professional medical care is far away. The best protection from falls is avoidance. Hunters should avoid climbing trees, chasing does, jumping streams and taking shortcuts.
Water is a silent and constant menace to all hunters, not just waterfowl hunters in boats. Hunters who suddenly and unexpectedly find themselves in water should not panic and thrash about in the water. They should relax and let the air in their clothing bring them to the surface. From this floating position, the hunter can move toward safety in a modified breaststroke or backstroke.
Prolonged exposure to the cold can result in a condition known as hypothermia (reduced body temperature) which can be fatal. Lost hunters should stay put, keep warm, improvise a shelter and conserve food, water and energy. Sounding the international distress signal, three short blasts in quick succession, may help in obtaining aid.
Alcohol should not be taken for the purpose of keeping warm. Although it seems to have a warming effect on the body, it actually lowers the skin and body temperature and impairs judgement and coordination.
Before the Hunt
Individuals engaged in this type of activity should be trained in first aid and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR);
A hunter should prepare for the elements in the area to be covered by wearing adequately warm boots and clothing;
Clothing should be highly visible to avoid being mistaken for game;
Carry a compass, flashlight, lighter or matches in a waterproof case, knife, first-aid kit, a map of the area and a loud whistle to summon aid if needed;
Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return;
Both law and courtesy require a hunter to ask permission to hunt on private property. The landowner can tell a hunter the location of other hunters and the whereabouts of livestock. When leaving the property, the hunter should notify and thank the landowner.
During the Hunt
In open field or bush, hunters should walk abreast, making sure no one gets out in front. A left handed marksman should walk at the right end of the group because of the tendency to swing right;
While walking, hunters should cradle their guns in their arms, the muzzles pointing down in case of a fall;
The gun muzzle should be checked frequently to make certain it hasn’t been accidently plugged with mud, earth or weeds. A plugged barrel could explode or split when fired, with disastrous results. Hunters should be careful to never look directly into the muzzle of a loaded weapon;
A hunter should never try to cross a fence, or crimp, with gun in hand. If alone, open the action or unload the gun, push it laterally under the fence, then climb through or over the fence at the butt end of the weapon. When crossing a fence with a companion, one hunter should hold the weapons while the other hunter crosses. Then, before crossing, the first hunter should pass the weapons across, muzzle up;
The experienced hunter will wait until a target is fully visible and a good shot is possible before pulling the trigger. An overanxious shot at movement or noise can result in a wounded animal wandering off to die a slow death, dead livestock, or worse a dead hunter;
A hunter should approach downed game with caution as the animal may only be stunned. Bear, elk and moose can kill a person, and even a deer is extremely dangerous when wounded;
Game should never be carried over the shoulders. A pair of antlers emerging from brush or trees is a perfect target for another eager hunter. The hunter should drag the animal out, carry in on a travois or dress it out, quarter it and bring out the pieces.
After the Hunt
Last year, approximately 700 persons died from firearm accidents in public places. It is estimated that only about half of these deaths were related to hunting. At the same time, 1200 persons died from firearm accidents in the home environment. Obviously, the hunter’s concern for guns must not end after he returns from the fields. Hunting guns should be unloaded, cleaned and stored in a locked cabinet until the next hunting trip.
James Michener, in his novel”Centennial”, writes: “In the middle of the 19th Century, more than 350,000 emigrants moved along the Platte River from Missouri to the Pacific, and the bulk passed through Indian lands without encountering difficulty.. Something less than one-tenth of one percent of the travelers were slain by Indians – fewer than three hundred whereas many times that number were killed by their own rifles, or the rifles of friends fired accidentally…”