Safe hunting is no accident

The first hunter education course was offered at a 4-H camp in 1944. But states were slow to require any kind of hunter safety program until the 1960s and ‘70s when the idea really caught on. Now nearly every state requires hunters to take an approved safety course in order to buy a hunting license.

Even if you’ve already taken such a course, or if you were exempt because of age or military service, it’s still a good idea to give hunting safety another look.

Protect yourself and the people you love.
In Wisconsin, for example, there were 28 hunting-related injuries in 2012. Eleven of those involved hunters who were injured by someone from their own group, and another 13 injuries were accidentally self-inflicted.

Primary rules of hunter education.
The International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) provides resources for instructors and students nationwide. Though its programs teach many lessons for the safe and ethical use of our resources, there are four key rules that, if followed, will virtually eliminate the possibility of shooting accidents in the woods or on the range:

1. Treat every firearm as if it’s loaded.
It might be loaded, even if you think it’s not, so get in the habit of checking the chamber every time you pick up your firearm.

2. Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.

Only point your firearm at a target you intend to shoot. If you’re not actively shooting, point the weapon to the ground or straight into the air to reduce the risk of accidental injury.

3. Be certain of your target and what’s beyond it.
According to the most recently published report by the IHEA, of the 19 hunting-related deaths that happened nationwide in 2007, 10 involved the shooter failing to properly identify a target or not recognizing that there was a person in the line of fire. Since bullets from a high-power rifle can travel more than a mile, shooters need to be especially thoughtful of where a round will go if it doesn't hit its intended target.

4. Keep your finger away from the trigger until you're ready to shoot.
Even if the firearm has a safety, it’s a mechanical device that can fail. In 2007, five of the 19 accidental hunting deaths were caused by the shooter’s finger being on the trigger while carelessly handling a firearm or tripping and stumbling. While hunters may be unable to prevent tripping over obstacles, they can make sure their fingers are away from the trigger so that a little slip doesn't become a huge tragedy.

Other tips for a safe hunt:

       Store and transport your firearms unloaded and locked.
       Wear blaze orange.
       Dress warmly and have extra dry clothes to change into.
       Tell others where you will be and when you plan to return.
       Hunt with a partner.
       Know your state and local regulations.

For a hunter education course in your area, check with your state DNR, local sportsmen’s clubs, or for an online course.