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Outdoor Alabama Weekly
Make Hunter Safety Priority During Thanksgiving Week
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Because of time-honored traditions, the majority of Alabama hunters will head to the woods some time during the week of Thanksgiving.
Therefore, what better time to remind all hunters that safety should be the top priority this week and throughout Alabama’s liberal hunting seasons.
Marisa Futral, Hunter Education Coordinator with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, said the campaign to increase awareness of treestand safety has been successful, but some hunters are not being conscientious about one aspect of the safety campaign.
“We’ve already had three treestand accidents since the start of archery season,” Futral said. “Fortunately, there were no fatalities, but we continue to emphasize the need for hunters to have their safety harnesses attached to the tree at all times, not just when they get up in the treestand. People are falling going up and down the trees. Hook the safety line to the tree when your feet leave the ground and leave it attached until your feet touch the ground when the hunt is finished.
“We wouldn’t have these treestand accidents if people would wear a harness and stayed attached to a tree.”
During the 2012-13 hunting seasons there were five hunting-related fatalities.
One of those involved a treestand. Futral said the hunter, who was not wearing a safety harness, fell from a homemade stationary stand in Washington County.
Of the four fatalities related to weapons, three were firearms-related, while one involved a crossbow.
In Winston County, the cause of the fatality was careless handling of a firearm. The investigation revealed the hunter was fatally wounded when exiting the shooting house. The rifle was apparently propped up in the shooting house. When the hunter reached to retrieve it, the gun fired.
The other single-person incident occurred in Autauga County when the hunter died of a gunshot wound. The investigation indicated the hunter was descending the stand with a loaded firearm, which discharged and struck the hunter.
“We need to emphasize again about loaded guns when hunters are entering or exiting their stand,” Futral said. “We need to do a better job of getting that word out again. Be sure the firearm is unloaded before entering or exiting the stand or shooting house. Always use a pull-up rope on an unloaded firearm in an elevated tree stand.”
The crossbow incident involved two people in Baldwin County. That fatality remains under investigation. News reports indicated the person was killed when the crossbow discharged inside the vehicle.
Muzzle control is one area that some people seem to overlook on hunting trips or visits to the shooting range, said Futral, a hunter and competitive shooter.
“Always be aware of where the muzzle of the firearm is pointed,” Futral said. “Hunter safety begins with the premise that you treat every gun as if it is loaded. I don’t care if you ‘know’ a gun is unloaded. Make sure the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction at all times. We have accidents every year that have to do with muzzle control.”
In each of the past two seasons, a fatality involved breaking the cardinal rule of properly identifying the target and beyond.
In Sumter County during the 2012-2013 season, a two-party accident occurred when the shooter failed to properly identify the target. A hunter was mistaken for game during a hog-hunting outing in dense cover.
“Failure to properly identify your target is one of the most common mistakes people make,” Futral said. “You must be absolutely sure before you pull the trigger. And you need to be sure of what is behind the intended target. Be sure to identify your target, and don’t use your riflescope as binoculars.”
There were 14 non-fatal firearms accidents during the 2012-13 season, while there were 15 non-fatal treestand accidents. The 34 total accidents was a little disappointing for Futral.
The overall trend for hunter safety remains positive, however. Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries started tracking firearms-related accidents during the 1973-74 season. That year there were 19 fatal and 25 non-fatal accidents involving firearms. The total number of firearms-related accidents remained high, peaking at 52 during the 1984-85 season. The average number of firearms-related accidents since the 2003-2004 season has been fewer than 11 per season until the past two seasons when the firearms-related accidents hit 15 and 18 during the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons, respectively.
“Accidents went up a little bit, which is discouraging,” she said. “These numbers always go up and down, but we certainly don’t want to see those numbers increase again.”
Futral reminds hunters to wear the proper amount (144 square inches) of hunter orange during the gun deer season and to carry a flashlight for coming out of the woods at dusk to ensure the hunter is not mistaken for game.
Futral also emphasized the use of a full-body harness when using an elevated stand.
“Be sure to wear a full-body harness anytime you leave the ground,” she said. “You are required by law to use a full-body harness on wildlife management areas.”
Futral reminds hunters to practice the 10 commandments of firearms safety:
1. Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
2. Control the muzzle of your firearm. Keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction; never point a firearm at anything that you do not wish to shoot, and insist that your shooting and hunting companions do the same.
3. Be sure of your target and beyond. Positively identify your target before you fire, and make sure there are no people, livestock, roads or buildings beyond the target.
4. Never shoot at water or a hard, flat surface. A ricocheting bullet cannot be controlled.
5. Don’t use a scope for target identification; use binoculars.
6. Never climb a tree, cross a fence or jump a ditch with a loaded firearm.
7. Store guns and ammunition separately. Store firearms under lock and key, and use a gun case to transport firearms.
8. Make sure your barrel and action are clear of all obstructions.
9. Unload firearms when not in use. Never take someone else’s word that a firearm is unloaded. Check yourself.
10. Avoid drugs and alcohol when hunting or shooting. Even some over-the-counter medicines can cause impairment.
Completion of a hunter safety course has been mandatory in Alabama since 1993 for anyone born on or after Aug. 1, 1977. Those who need the hunter safety certification now have the option of taking the traditional course of eight hours of instruction plus a written exam free of charge or an Internet course. The online course is open to Alabama residents only and a fee is charged.
People of license-buying age (16 and older) who haven’t completed the hunter education requirement are allowed to purchase a restricted license to hunt with a properly licensed hunter as a mentor. The license will indicate ‘supervision required,’ which means the new hunter must be within normal voice control – not more than 30 feet – from a properly licensed hunter who is at least 21 years old.
Visit www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/education/ for more information.
PHOTOS: (By David Rainer) The safety rope attached to the full-body harness should be tethered to the tree when the hunter leaves the ground and remain attached while climbing and descending the tree. Firearms should be unloaded and raised into the stand with a pull-up cord or rope.