With fall hunting seasons already underway, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is emphasizing hunter and firearm safety.
Jennifer Pettit, wildlife biologist and DEC Region 9 sportsmen education coordinator, reminds new and experienced hunters that hunter safety is no accident.
“You have to remind yourself all the time, no matter how experienced you are,” that safety comes first — especially when you see that deer, she said.
The first reaction may be to aim and shoot. The most important reaction is to check what is beyond the target, Pettit points out.
She teaches hunter safety courses to youth as young as 11. At 12 youth can start small game hunting in New York with supervision. While many come from families with a history of hunting, there are some youth — and adults for that matter — whose family members do not hunt.
Courses are listed online on the DEC homepage at DEC.NY.GOV, Pettit said. Interested persons can sign up for the hunter education courses online too.
Pettit lists four rules of firearm safety:
• Treat every weapon as if it is loaded.
• Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
• Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
• Be sure of your target and what is behind it.
Besides following safe firearms handling rules, Pettit said the best thing to do in the field is to wear fluorescent orange or pink.
“From my experience as a hunter, you see people wearing it,” she said. Hunters age 14 and 15 and required to wear the orange or pink while hunting.
“It’s best to be proactive” and wear orange whether hunting with others or alone on your own property, Pettit said. “It does save lives. It is better than not wearing anything.”
The DEC states that in the past 10 years, no one wearing orange was mistaken for game and killed in New York. A majority of the big game hunters involved in gun-related accidents were not wearing orange.
Generally, Pettit said an orange jacket or vest is preferable to just an orange hat because they are more visible.
Wearing orange isn’t just for hunters, Pettit said. Anyone who is going to be out in the field during hunting seasons should seriously considering wearing orange as another way to avoid hunting accidents.
Pettit also warns against complacency. Sometimes after many years hunters can become too comfortable and careless — “like crossing a fence without unloading their gun, or not wearing a harness while getting into a tree stand or getting too excited about seeing an animal.”
“Don’t forget to hunt only during legal hunting hours,” Pettit said. The sunrise and sunset times change daily. “There’s a lot of information on our website. The DEC Hunting and Trapping Guide” also has a lot of useful information.
In 2017, there were 19-hunting-related shooting incidents, including the death of a Chautauqua County woman walking her dog by a hunter who thought he shot at a deer after dark. Fifty-two years ago, in 1966, there were 166 hunting incidents, including 13 fatalities.
The DEC investigated 12 tree stand accidents last year, six of which were fatalities.
Pettit said to use a tree stand safely, use a full body harness and climbing belt tied to the tree before you leave the ground.
Also, unload the firearm before using a pull rope (haul line) to bring it up into the tree stand. “Don’t carry it in one hand or strapped to your back,” she said.
Always let someone know where you are hunting and when you plan to return. Include a map of your tree stand location so others can find you if you don’t return on time.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)