Fall brings all sorts of events and activities to Western New York, and deer hunting season is a very popular one in these parts. The area has a wide variety of retailers to purchase the gear you need each season. And while we have a very experienced community of seasoned hunting enthusiasts, it never hurts to review safety protocols. Of course, the more inexperienced hunters need to vigilantly review best practices in safety, but veterans should, too. It’s like driving safety – new drivers need to be aware and instill good habits, while the long-time drivers need to be on guard against complacency and just ‘going through the motions.’ The veteran hunters may not need to develop good habits as much as monitor their behavior to see if they’ve developed any bad ones. No matter your experience, these hunting safety tips will provide good insight into a successful hunting season.
Clearly, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about hunting dangers is gun and bow safety – and rightly so. But the truth of the matter is that the largest percentage of hunting accidents that occur during deer season are tree-stand accidents, so we’ll begin there.
Make installing and maintaining tree-stands a two-person job, not a solo performance. As everything else in the world, two sets of eyes, ears, and two brains are almost always better than one. It’s the small details that are important. Check steps and straps for wear and tear – sometimes the exposure to the elements will corrode things more quickly than you anticipated, so be vigilant. You should consistently – as in always! — wear a full-body harness when in a tree-stand. Don’t let your need for a touch of extra comfort override your safety concerns – wear the harness in the way it was intended to be worn, with no custom alterations! Use a rope to hoist your gun or bow into the tree-stand. Finally, have a cell phone and keep it on you at all times. If it’s in a pack or somewhere else in the tree-stand and you take a tumble…well, let’s just hope it’s not a situation where you’ve fallen and can’t get up at that point, or the cell phone up in the tree-stand is going to be about as useful as a telegraph to send out Morse code!
The most important aspect of gun safety is being comfortable with the tool. Practicing on a range beforehand is important so you have an idea of what to expect when you fire it. Clearly, loading it, unloading it, and cleaning it are procedures that help a young hunter get familiar with the gun he or she will use. The firearm should have a safety that stays on until the hunter is ready to take a shot. In fact, never put a finger on the trigger until you intend to fire. And as many times as it’s been said, it bears repeating: never point the gun in the direction of another person. Finally, before taking a shot, double and triple check whatever may be behind the target.
For bowhunters, there are certain safety protocols that should be adhered to. Never dry-fire a bow – meaning don’t pull a bowstring back without an arrow in it. It can damage the bow and cause problems when you are really shooting an arrow. Make sure the arrow matches the draw-weight of the bow. There are bows that are too powerful for certain sizes and makes of arrows. Archery shops can help with this if you’re not certain. Never use damaged, bent, or cracked arrows. They may no longer have the structural integrity to fly true and in the direction you intend. Do not bow-hunt without a covered quiver. The cover will protect the hunter’s hands from cuts when reaching for an arrow – especially the very sharp broadhead arrows. The quiver will also protect the arrows from damage. Finally, remain alert and careful – especially when dealing with broadhead arrows. Most injuries in bow-hunting are self-inflicted and most are cuts from the razor-sharp broadheads due to hunter carelessness.
During open season when deer may be taken with firearms, hunters should wear blaze orange caps and clothing above the waist, not including sleeves and gloves. Camouflage patterns should be half blaze orange within ever square foot. Non-hunters should exercise caution, too, by wearing bright clothes like red or orange if hiking trails near woods or forests where hunters may be. Avoid areas you are not sure about – and make reasonable noise to let hunters know people are in the area – especially if you hear shooting. Whistling, conversation, coughing, singing (even if you have a voice only a mother could love!) can all carry well in the outdoors and let hunters know people are in the area. And don’t forget about our four-legged friends. Dogs can be dressed in blaze orange vests, too. Finally, although it should go without saying, drinking alcohol before or during hunting expeditions of any type is not only foolish but is highly dangerous.
Hunting season is a major part of life in WNY. Let’s keep it safe and fun for all involved. It also contributes a lot to our economy in the many associated businesses that contribute to the sport. For the latest in gear for 2017, check out Field and Stream’s recommendations – from the very simple and affordable to the high-end items for the very serious hunter.
The overarching rule for hunting safety is to use common sense. If there’s any chance of a danger or a misinterpretation of what you’re seeing due to lack of light, too much overgrowth, rain, fog, or snow, ALWAYS err on the side of caution. Happy hunting to all!