By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

More evidence that the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Hunter Education program is having a positive impact on reducing hunting accidents is reflected in the incident report from the 2013-14 hunting seasons.

The increased emphasis on hunter safety has contributed to a significant decrease in accidents since WFF started tracking firearms-related accidents during the 1973-74 seasons. In the 1973-74 seasons, a disturbing 19 fatal and 25 non-fatal

accidents involving firearms occurred. The total number of firearms-related accidents remained high, peaking at 52 during the 1984-85 seasons. The average number of firearms-related accidents since the 2003-2004 seasons has been fewer than 12 per season.

There were five fatal hunting accidents during the 2013-14 seasons, and the people involved in four of the five incidents had not taken a hunter education course because of the grandfather clause that exempted those who were born before August 1, 1977.

The one exception in the fatalities during the 2013-14 seasons can only be described as a tragic occurrence. In Sumter County in January, two friends were hunting in shooting houses 642 yards apart.

Marisa Futral, WFF’s Hunter Education Coordinator, said the accident report indicated the two hunters were communicating with each other about which one would take the shot. One hunter shot twice at the deer. One of the rounds went into the shooting house of the other hunter and struck the victim.

Failure to properly identify the target, the most common cause for hunting-related accidents, was the cause of fatal incidents in Blount County and Cullman County. Both involved man drives and both victims were struck by buckshot.

Also in January, a hunter in Tallapoosa County was hunting with a firearm on private property that had been designated for archery hunting only. Although hunter’s orange is required during all open firearms seasons for deer, the victim was not wearing hunter’s orange in the archery-only area.

“Because the victim was not wearing hunter’s orange does not relieve the shooter from the obligation to properly identify the target,” Futral said.

The last firearms fatality of the 2013-2014 seasons occurred in February in a quail-hunting accident in Bullock County.

“That’s the only quail-hunting fatality we’ve had in the 10 years I’ve been here,” Futral said. “You hear of people getting peppered with shot, but that’s the first fatality.”

There were six non-fatal firearms accidents including two incidents of hunters shooting at low birds, another incident of failure to identify the target, one incident of the victim being out of the line of the sight of the shooter and two incidents of careless handling of firearms.

There were 14 total treestand accidents last year with one fatality. Futral said the victim in the fatal accident was wearing a full-body safety harness, and it was attached to the tree.

“What they figured was the leg straps were too loose, which allowed the chest strap to ride up and asphyxiate the victim,” she said. “I want to stress that people need to make sure their leg straps are worn correctly. A lot of people will loosen them up for comfort, but they need to make sure they are snug so the harness will work properly.”

Futral said the most common cause of treestand accidents is the failure to connect their harnesses to the tree as they are climbing up and climbing down the tree or transferring from the ladder to the treestand.

“The good thing is the accidents are down from last year,” Futral said. “The number of fatalities was about the same, but the total number of incidents was down. We want to emphasize that the main cause of accidents again for firearms was the failure to identify the target. For treestand incidents, the key is to be attached to the tree the whole time.

“Hopefully, these numbers will continue to go down.”

Futral said there is no doubt hunter education is one of the reasons the number of hunting-related accidents has decreased.

“Absolutely hunter education has made a significant impact on the number of accidents,” she said. “Even if you’re not required to take hunter education, there’s always something you can learn from taking it.

“We have adults taking the class with their kids, and they are surprised at what they learn in class.”

Visit www.outdooralabama.com/hunter-education-alabama to learn more about the classes available in person and online. A hunter safety course has been mandatory since 1993. Anyone born on or after Aug. 1, 1977, is required to complete the course before the person can purchase a regular hunting license. For those who are new to hunting or may want to try it before they take a hunter education course, the mentor license allows people of license-buying age (16 and older) who have not completed the hunter education requirement 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. The mentor must have a regular hunting license and not a mentor license.

Futral wants hunters to remember and 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.

Photos: (David Rainer) Most treestand accidents can be prevented if hunters use a full-body safety harness and have it attached to the tree at all times after leaving the ground. The failure to properly identify the target continues to be the main cause of firearms-related hunting accidents.

###