Only a couple of weeks into the pheasant season, hunters in North Dakota have already exceeded last year's total for accidents involving firearms and shooting for all hunting seasons combined.
Fortunately, as of Oct. 22 none of the injuries so far were life-threatening. With deer season coming up and a good share of upland game seasons still on tap, it's a good time to provide some hunters safety reminders. “It can't happen to me,” is not the best attitude to bring to the field.
Accidents can happen to anyone, though most of them are preventable. A hunter jamming the wrong caliber of shell into their rifle, resulting in a misfire, could be prevented.
Discharge of a firearm inside a vehicle is preventable because firearms are not supposed to have bullets/shells in the chamber when in a vehicle. I could write pages detailing the circumstances of all the preventable accidents that have occurred over the years, but this deer season I’d ask all hunters to simply keep in mind that it can happen … to you.
Always keep safety in mind. It's more important than a deer or pheasant. It sounds like a serious plea because it's a serious subject.
That doesn't mean we can't all go about our business and enjoy hunting. We can, and we do. With nearly 100,000 deer hunters in North Dakota, the number accidents is small, but it's a number for which zero is achievable.
We all know (or should know) the basics. Keep your eyes and ears aware of other hunters and groups in and around your area. Keep your gun pointed in a safe direction at all times, even if it's not loaded, because we know to treat every gun as if it is loaded.
There are some other factors that might not be part of our hunter education training that can add to our safety in the field as well.
Deer hunters, of course, are required to wear orange while in the woods, cattails and brush. The 400 square inches is the legal minimum requirement, but for many hunters, more is better. The idea is to make yourself look like a florescent orange beacon on the prairie.
During deer season, people who are hunting something else, especially waterfowl, should consider some type of orange marker or other display to let others know you are in the area. An orange jacket hung on a fence or bush that can be seen from the nearest road will alert others.
And, if you’re in a field situation, have orange handy to put on when retrieving birds or setting out or picking up decoys.
The same thing goes if you’re hunting from a ground or elevated blind. Place something orange somewhere in the vicinity so other hunters are made aware of your hideout. The idea is to minimize the risk of not being seen to the greatest extent possible.
People who aren't hunting but live in or visit rural areas during deer season should know that deer gun season is Nov. 5-21, and wearing orange while outside is a good idea. Not everyone who spends time outdoors in November is a deer hunter, and the least we hunters can do is acknowledge their fair use of the outdoors and give them room as well.
Deer hunting is important for a lot of us growing up and living in the Midwest. Tens of thousands of hunters bag and tag a season full of smiles year after year.
Let's be safe out there.
Leier is a biologist with the Game & Fish Department. He can be reached by email:firstname.lastname@example.org