While the rules and seasons for hunting vary from state to state, safety is one common factor that should always be consistent.
The number of hunting-related accidents occurring nationwide varies. According to a report from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, 28 hunting accidents and four fatalities were reported there during the 2012 season. Between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, no fatal hunting accidents were reported inside Washington state, and only five nonfatal accidents were recorded.
From fiscal 2008 through fiscal 2013, 25 hunting-related accidents and two fatalities involving Soldiers were reported to the U.S. Army Combat Readiness / Safety Center.
One of the Soldiers was shot and killed by a .22 caliber rifle while hunting with fellow Soldiers. According to reports, one of the other Soldiers shot a raccoon but didn’t kill it. When he tried to shoot the raccoon again, a hunting dog bumped his rifle, with the round striking the Soldier.
The other Soldier was running on an authorized post trail when he was fatally shot by a hunter.
“The deaths of these two Soldiers are unfortunate and unacceptable,” said Lt. Col. James Smith, director, Ground Directorate, USACR/Safety Center. “Unfortunate because the loss of even one Soldier is tragic, and unacceptable as these losses adversely affect our combat readiness.”
In most states, hunters are required to wear blaze orange during hunting season. However, hunters aren’t the only individuals who should adopt this practice. Hikers, joggers, campers, horseback riders and anyone involved in other outdoor activities near hunting grounds must be aware of hunters potentially sharing the same real estate. One of the easiest precautions is wearing blaze orange so hunters can see them.
“Army installations have guidelines for hunting and use of training areas,” Smith said. “However, by the same token, individuals participating in non-hunting outdoor activities need to be cautious and have situational awareness of possible hunters near the same area.
“The types of hunting accidents reported to us often involve falls from tree stands, negligent discharges, slips and trips and even fires,” Smith added. “It’s important that Soldiers don’t let their guard down while hunting. Even the most mundane of tasks has the potential to become an accident if someone is complacent.”
Another important consideration is use of all-terrain vehicles while hunting. Numerous Soldiers have injured themselves while operating ATVs during hunting trips or loading one afterward. Individuals should wear proper personal protective equipment and get appropriate training to operate their ATV safely.
For Chief Warrant Officer 4 Timothy Edgette, a USACR/Safety Center accident investigator and hunting enthusiast, hunting season doesn’t begin until he’s completed a preseason safety inspection.
“I always PMCS my weapons, ammo and other hunting equipment before I head out,” he said. “There’s one safety check in particular, often overlooked, that results in dozens of accidents each year: tree stands. Not only do folks need to make sure their stands work, but they need to use all the safety features once they’re perched in a tree.”
Edgette said hunters failing to wear a full-body harness or neglecting to have it properly connected to a tree ranks as the No. 1 cause of tree stand-related injuries and fatalities nationwide.
“Hunters, novice and expert alike, should take a hunter education course, even if it isn’t mandatory to hunt in a particular area,” Edgette said. “The International Hunter Education Association is an awesome resource for all things hunting; their education courses cover hunting safety, firearms, bows, wildlife identification, regulations and more.”
“On and off duty, risk management saves lives,” Smith said. “The key to effectively integrating risk management into our formation is leadership. As we give Soldiers the tools to incorporate risk management into their daily tasks, we set them up for success. Soldiers should adopt safety as a way of life and not just a check in the block.”