“Hunting is safe and getting safer all the time in Colorado,” said Mark Cousins, hunter education coordinator for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
That said, the Colorado Division of Wildlife sells more than 560,000 hunting licenses every year, resulting in several million hunter recreation days. Over the course of all the hunting seasons, from small game, upland game, waterfowl and archery, muzzleloader and rifle big game seasons, tens of thousands of individual hunters will take to the field carrying bows and arrows, shotguns and rifles. So safety must always be a primary concern.
Almost all hunting incidents could have been avoided if the hunter had exercised a little more care, Cousins explained.
“With hunting one moment of carelessness can mean a lifetime of consequences,” Cousins said.
Long before the hunting season starts, hunters should head to the shooting range for practice.
“Get out to a range and practice and be familiar with the guns you'll be using,” Cousins said. “Practice makes for a much safer and enjoyable hunt.”
Most hunting incidents involving firearms occur around vehicles. The reason: That's where guns are usually loaded or unloaded and where hunters are standing close to each other. Exercise extra caution when loading and unloading a gun, and do it well away from your vehicle.
Hunters are also reminded that it is illegal to place a loaded firearm in or on a vehicle. It's also unnecessary. It is illegal to hunt from or shoot from a vehicle. Hunters must be at least 50 feet from the center line of a maintained road before shooting. The distance is further in some areas, so check local regulations in the Colorado big game brochure.
It is highly recommended that firearms be unloaded when crossing streams and fences and while walking on unstable, steep or rough terrain. A safety isn't always enough to prevent a gun from firing because it can be moved to the fire position by clothing, vegetation or a fall.
“The safety is a mechanical device that can break or fail – it is not a substitute for proper, safe gun handling and safety,” Cousins said.
As soon as the hunt is over, whether that means an animal has been harvested or you're finished for the day, unload your gun. Firearms should be unloaded well before getting to the vehicle or camp, and then double- or even triple-checked to be certain they are empty before placing them in a case or vehicle.
“And at the end of a long day in the field when hunters are tired, it is more important than ever to be extra careful with firearms,” Cousins said.
The following are brief summaries of hunting incidents that have occurred in Colorado. Every hunting accident is different, but these examples provide useful information for all hunters. As you read these, please, think about situations you might find yourself in.
In one fatality, a father and son were kneeling side by side ready to fire at an elk. The son also was holding the lead rope of a string of horses. When his father fired, the horses spooked, pulling the son's rifle toward the victim. During the commotion the gun fired and the father was killed.
In another incident, a bow hunter took off alone in pursuit of elk. At some point he fell on an arrow – which was not in a quiver – cut the femoral artery in his leg and bled to death.
“This is a graphic reminder that most bow hunting incidents are the result of self-inflicted wounds,” Cousins said
Non-fatal hunting incidents are more common; here are some examples:
An elk hunter was running in an attempt to get ahead of some elk. When he stumbled and fell, he shot himself through the leg with his .308 rifle. Never run while carrying a loaded gun.
Another big game hunter was using his rifle as a walking stick and the rifle fired, shooting off the tip of his thumb. Always carry a rifle with two hands and never use it as a support.
A hunter was leading his horse through thick oak brush; a loaded rifle was in the scabbard. A tree limb apparently caught the trigger, the rifle fired and the bullet hit the horse and the hunter. Both recovered, but it took some time to catch the horse. When the rifle was found, it had a fired case in the chamber and the safety was off. Do not carry a loaded rifle in a scabbard.
One last example involved two bow hunters walking in single file very close together. Both held arrows in their bowstrings. The lead hunter saw something, stopped and squatted down – and in the process pinned his partner's broadhead between his thigh and calf. The second hunter pulled his arrow back which caused severe cuts to his friend's leg.
“In hunter education classes we always teach that arrows should be carried in a covered quiver until you are ready to shoot,” Cousins said.
No matter how long you've been hunting, you should always check basic safety rules.
Follow these tips:
· Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
· Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times.
· Be sure of your target – what is in front of it and what is beyond it. Once you take a shot, you can't take it back.
· If you are in doubt about the target, don't shoot.
· Keep the safety on and your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
· Never place your hand over the muzzle of a gun.
· Load and unload your gun at least 100 yards from your vehicle.
· Don't hurry while loading or unloading.
· Talk about safety issues to youngsters and less inexperienced hunters.
· Stop to rest when you are out of breath; fatigue often contributes to accidents.
· Always wear daylight fluorescent clothing when and where required. “Camouflage-orange” does not qualify.