Forestry & Wildlife
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Deer hunters across the United States are eagerly awaiting the leaves to change, temperatures to cool and the thrill of the hunt to begin. Until then, the responsibilities of wildlife enthusiasts and land managers are seemingly never-ending. Spraying weeds, tending to food plots, burning, equipment cleaning and maintenance are just a few examples of a hunter’s seasonal checklist. However, there is one hunting item on the list that is often cast to the wayside by accident: safety.
Safety measures can be the difference between a successful hunting trip and a tragedy. These recommendations and precautions should be seriously considered and not taken lightly. By making safety a priority, hunters can set examples for others – ensuring that the next generation is ready for a proper hunting experience.
According to Alabama Cooperative Extension System wildlife management professionals, no deer in the woods is worth the risk of a hunting injury. In 2022, Alabama recorded its safest deer hunting season, with only 15 nonfatal hunting accidents reported. This is an impressive feat considering the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) reported more than 228,000 deer hunters in the state. These near a quarter of a million hunters spent a combined 4.9 million days in pursuit of white-tailed deer.
Back to the Basics
Like many sports, it is always important to begin with the basics. As it pertains to hunting, most of these rules are taught at a young age through classes and programming. This is where Alabama Extension and its partners strive to instill these values at a young age. Bence Carter, an Alabama Extension forestry, wildlife and natural resources regional agent, said voluntary education in young hunters is highly recommended.
“Although it isn’t required for hunters younger than 16 years of age in Alabama, attending a hunter safety course hosted by ADCNR is recommended,” Carter said. “For hunters 16 years old or older, this course is required for purchasing a hunting license.”
Carter said most hunting accidents occur because of complacency. Like with any trade or skill, repetitive action can become monotonous. It can be easy to forget why you are performing actions in a certain order – such as ensuring the safety switch is engaged, always keeping a gun barrel pointed in a safe direction and keeping a firearm unloaded until you are secured in the stand. These basics are crucial to your safety as well as the safety of others in your vicinity.
Know Your Firearm
It is a firearm operator’s responsibility to know everything about their gun. When someone is handed an unfamiliar weapon or recently purchased a new one at the store, training is absolutely required for safety. Each gun’s make, model, caliber and action has its own quirks, and shooting practice helps build familiarity with the firearm.
A common rule of thumb is to treat all firearms as if they are loaded. Be familiar with your new firearm, and be able to load and unload it, as well as engage and disengage the safety without searching for it.
“Do not always assume your sights are dialed in or that the sporting goods store boresighted the new scope they installed,” Carter said. “Before the season begins, practice shooting your firearm and know its accuracy at different distances. Target practice with the ammunition that you intend to hunt with and know how the rounds respond at different distances. This can be the difference between wounding wild game and executing a clean shot.”
Loading and Unloading Firearms
It is never pleasant to learn of a hunting accident involving a discharged firearm. These occurrences may seem like there is a simple fix: don’t point a loaded weapon at an undesirable target. While this is an obvious step to take, there are extra precautions that hunters practice to promote the appropriate habits.
For example, hunting experts recommend abstaining from loading a weapon prior to arriving at a blind or tree stand. This eliminates the possibility of a discharge if the safety fails or the weapon drops and subsequently fires. The same premise applies to leaving a hunting site or greenfield. If a loaded firearm is necessary for safety, consider utilizing a sidearm secured in an appropriate holster with the safety engaged.
Making the Climb
According to the 2022 ADCNR report, exactly one third of Alabama’s documented hunting incidents involved tree stands. This record reinforces the need for education regarding safety when making the climb.
Using safety harnesses when hunting is critical. Much like wearing a seatbelt while driving a vehicle, these tools exist for a reason: safety. Most people would not want to take the risk of driving without the proper safety precautions. So, people who hunt – sometimes upwards of 25 feet in a tree – should give the same consideration to their hunting activities.
“Everyone who prefers to hunt in tree stands should wear a safety harness,” Carter said. “Using this tool is important to prevent injury from a potential fall.”
Along with using safety apparatuses, tending to your tree stands is important as well. Like with most metal tools, the elements will wear and tear at them over time.
“Before the season, check the structure of the stand for any rust or rot,” Carter said. “Additionally, check the straps or chains that secure the stand to the tree. Sometimes, stands will settle after installation. This could cause straps to loosen or the ladder to detach from the rest of the stand.”
Carter also said when utilizing a permanent ground blind or shooting house, clean out any paper wasps or rodents that might be in the structure. This will prevent an unwanted surprise the first time you go to use the stand for the season.
Back at Camp
On the days when there seems to be no luck and no buck, remember that the hunt is a success when everyone arrives safely back at camp. Hunting is a relatively safe sport when compared to others, and just like in other sports, proper techniques and safety measures need to be at the forefront to keep it safe.
Alabama Extension’s mission is to provide educational resources for safe hunting. Experts such as Carter and Extension’s partners strive to accomplish this mission, so everyone can safely enjoy this recreational pastime. Share these valuable hunting safety tips to everyone this season. You never know who will benefit from them.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System takes the expertise of Auburn University and Alabama A&M University to the people. Our educators in all 67 counties are environmental partners — bringing practical ways to better our homes, farms, people and the world around us. Our research extends knowledge and improves lives.
Want to learn more about hunting safety? Visit www.aces.edu.