Hunting is one of America’s favorite outdoor recreational activities. With around 15 million hunting license holders, it’s a lifestyle, sport, way of obtaining food, and sometimes also a source of income that brings people together across the country. In 2021, the number of hunting licenses, tags, permits, and stamps issued in the United States totaled around 39 million.
If you’re a hunter yourself, you may have gone big-game hunting in the Los Padres National Forest or explored the 13 wildlife reservoirs in the North Cow Mountain Recreation Area, both must-visit destinations for hunters in California.
Millions invested in safety training and hunter education
Like any hunter these days, you likely adhere to strict safety precautions to reduce the risk of a hunting accident. Just like unintentional fatalities by firearms have declined by 50% since the late 1990s, so has the number of incidents related to hunting-specific activities, including those with bows and crossbows.
A range of organizations, like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), have alongside state and local governments invested hundreds of millions of dollars to support safety training and hunter education.
With around 27 injuries per 100,000 participants, the NSSF reports hunting with firearms is one of the safest activities to take part in, safer even than baseball, football, basketball, running, and more.
Each incident brings risk of severe outcome
Yet, when hunting accidents do happen, the outcome can be serious. Fewer than 100 people die each year in hunting accidents involving firearms in the United States, some of whom may simply be bystanders out for a walk in the woods.
To take a few recent tragic hunting accident examples from late last year:
Nov. 20, Pennsylvania: The rifle of a bear hunter accidentally discharged when crossing a creek, hitting his companion, a retired police officer, in the abdomen. He later died from his injuries.
Nov. 28, Montana: The body of 21-year-old man, who had been hunting solo, was found with a gunshot wound near a trailhead during the final day of the general hunting season. His death is believed to be accidental.
Dec. 4, Iowa: A 37-year-old man was shot in the stomach during a deer drive on the first day of the state’s regular shotgun season. He was with a group of 20 hunters when one of his companions accidentally shot him.
Most common reasons for hunting accidents
These incidents offer a stark reminder that you simply cannot be too careful. Whether you’re new to hunting or a hunting veteran, a single slip can have dire consequences. The roughly 1,000 hunting accidents that occur every year often stem — as the above examples also illustrate — from any of the following scenarios:
- Firing into a wooded area without aiming at a clear target
- Shooting near populated areas, roads, or buildings
- Running or climbing with a loaded firearm
- Carrying a weapon without engaging the safety when firing is not intended
- Falling from a defective tree stand or failing to use it correctly
Wearing hunter’s orange and other safety tips
The key to avoiding accidents and close calls is knowing — and following — basic hunting safety rules. Although each state has its own set of regulations, some common principles apply. Since blaze orange is imperceptible to some wildlife but highly visible to humans, it has become one of the most essential components of hunter safety.
Still, California is one of seven states that does not require hunters to wear the so-called hunter’s orange, that blaze, fluorescent shade of the color that you can’t help but notice. Experts in those same states, however, strongly advise all hunters to wear such a colored a hat and vest (or coat), plainly visible from all sides. Camouflage-orange garments do not meet this requirement.
Other hunting safety tips include:
- Treat every firearm as if it were loaded
- Only point at what you plan to shoot
- Don’t touch triggers until ready to shoot
- Before shooting, clearly identify targets, and be aware of what lies beyond them
- Plan for weather conditions, and dress appropriately before heading out
- Always let someone know when and where you will be hunting and when they should expect your return
- When hunting from elevated stands, climbing stands or ladder stands, always use a safety harness
- Don’t drink alcohol before or during shooting
Have you experienced a hunting accident?
Despite your best efforts, you may still be involved in a hunting accident through no fault of your own. Was the accident the result of a defective firearm or tree stand? Did the mishandling of a firearm by another hunter cause your injuries?