It’s no accident that hunting in Wisconsin is a safe, fun activity for the entire family, according to Conservation Warden Jon King, who heads the Department of Natural Resources Hunter Education Program.

“And it is getting safer with each year,” he says.

Wisconsin has a fatality rate per 100,000 of 0.28 percent when considering a 10-year period. Going hunting is now safer than driving to work.

In 1985, Wisconsin’s hunter education certification program became mandatory for all hunters born on or after Jan. 1, 1973. That meant any hunter age 12, the youngest legal hunter, beginning in 1985 had to complete the hunter education program. Individuals applying for a hunter’s license this year would have to be at least 39 years old to be exempt and with each passing year the age goes up. Still, many older hunters take the course voluntarily because it is so well designed and useful.

King doesn’t stop with the expanded course and outstanding instructors as the sole factors behind Wisconsin’s safety record.

“There has been the creation of reasonable opening and closing hours for hunting, mandatory blaze orange clothing requirements for hunters, the growing use of full safety harnesses for tree stand use, global positioning satellite devices, smart phones and more,” King says.

Four rules of firearm safety

Firearm hunting incidents in 2011 also followed the downward trend and came in below the 10-year average of 32 incidents annually. King is confident more can be prevented by following these four basic principles of firearm safety – also known as TABK:

  • Treat every firearm as if it is loaded
  • Always point the muzzle in a safe direction
  • Be certain of your target and what is beyond it
  • Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot

Tree stands, harnesses and deer drives

Tree stands and harnesses, and the popular group hunting method involving “deer drives,” also pose challenges unless done with safety in mind.

King suggests each deer drive be planned in advance, with safety the top priority.

“Everyone involved in the drive should know and understand the plan – and follow the plan. Always be sure of your target and beyond,” he says.

King’s easy tree stand tips to follow:

  • Always use a full-body harness and tether yourself to the tree
  • Always unload your firearm while climbing into or out of the stand.
  • Use a rope or line to raise and lower your unloaded firearm
  • During the ascent or descent: maintain three points of contact — two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand.

King’s deer drive tips:

  • Review the four firearm safety principles.
  • Reconfirm you have positively identified your target.
  • Reconfirm you have a safe backstop for your bullet.
  • Review and stick to your hunting plan. Make sure all in the hunting party follow it.

“By keeping these tips in mind and being dedicated to using them, it will become second nature and safety becomes a reflex,” King says. “And that’s the goal – to have a safe, fun and successful hunt in Wisconsin where it’s all part of our heritage and tradition.”

Logo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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