DES MOINES – With just a few exceptions, Iowa hunters are ‘getting it right’ when it comes to staying safe in the great outdoors. Iowa’s 2012 hunter safety incident report shows no firearm related deaths, just 13 injuries and six cases with property damage. Overall, that continues a trend seen for more than a decade now.
Still, hunter safety advocates know a truly safe hunting year should register zeros across the board.
“A lot of the incidents still involve target fixation. Basically the shooter gets focused on the game and tends to forget about surroundings…and what lies beyond the target,” emphasizes Megan Wisecup, safety education coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources; noting that the opening weekend of Iowa’s two shotgun deer seasons continue as busy weekends for investigators.
Several injuries sustained were self inflicted. “Most could be avoided by going back to basic firearms safety rules; making sure your muzzle is pointing in a safe direction. Keeping your finger out of the trigger guard until you’re ready to shoot,” lists Wisecup.
Figures from the last couple decades however, pale in comparison to the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
From the mid ‘60s to the mid ‘70s, hunting fatalities averaged 13 per year! In the last 10 years, the total has been just six. Injury rates were just as pronounced; scores of them in a typical year in the 60s…dropping a bit in the 70s. They are in the teens now.
On one hand, there were more hunters back then. On the other, anyone born after 1972 is now required to complete a hunter education class before buying a hunting license.
“That’s the common denominator. Since 1983, when it became mandatory; we have seen a significant decrease in hunting incidents,” agrees Wisecup.
A new round of hunter ed classes is underway now in communities across Iowa ahead of spring turkey season. More pop up ahead of the late fall openers for deer and pheasant season. There were 355 offered in 2012. Those classes are taught by more than 1,200 volunteer instructors, all giving up weekends or weeknights to cover the 10 hours of instruction. And more are needed.
Case in point?
A 40-seat early April class in Johnson County filled up in just days…even when 10 more spots were added.
“There’s still a big demand. We have enough volunteers for the four classes we do each year,” assesses instructor Doug Thompson of Solon. “The big problem is that our team runs out of weekends where we can all be there. We sometimes set classes four months out, to make sure.”
That annual report carries a grim reminder about the growing popularity in bowhunting. Tree stand falls resulted in two deaths in 2012. There were three injuries, as well. As with firearm incidents…a couple common causes can be traced.
“Not properly wearing a tree stand harness or a harness at all,” reports Wisecup, recommending a built in suspension release system; for hunters who fall but remain suspended for long periods.
She stresses as well, maintaining three points of contact with your ladder or steps as you ascend or come down; and taking care as you haul a bow or other essentials to and from the stand.
“In the last five or six years, we’ve had our archery instructor stress climbing safety, wearing the harness properly. We’ve had harnesses in class for instruction. There’s been a big push,” says Thompson.
With the longer season bowhunting provides, more archery in school phys-ed offerings; even the push attributed to the popularity of ‘The Hunger Games’ book and movie; archery is growing. That’s why safety instructors want to stay ahead of the curve.
More instructors would always be good, too. That involves a full day workshop; refresher courses each year and, of course, an interest in hunting, safety and interest in working with the (mostly) younger make up of hunter ed attendees. Information is available from the DNR website (www.iowadnr.gov) or local conservation officers.