“We continue seeing a trend of self-inflicted incidents. There were seven this year. That has stayed pretty steady over the last four, five years,” reviews Megan Wisecup, safety education programs coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources. “It gets back to basic firearm handling. Point the muzzle in a safe direction. Keep your finger off the trigger, until ready to shoot. And take an extra minute when crossing obstacles to unload.”
A jacket drawstring….a handgun falling from a truck…thick brush on a creek bank. Each triggered a gun to fire in 2013. Linn, Marion and Floyd counties each recorded two 2013 incidents. The others were spread among 11 central, eastern and north-central counties.
The key to the long term drop can be traced directly to many Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons…in mandatory hunter education classrooms and outdoor safety courses.
“Back in the 60s; we were seeing over 100 incidents and up to 20 fatalities a year,” underscores Wisecup. “Hunter education--voluntary since 1960—became mandatory in 1983. Since then, we have seen a drastic drop in the numbers of hunting incidents.”
There were 11,505 Iowa students certified in 368 classes 2013. The 10 hour sessions, usually spread over two or three days, teach basic understanding of hunting regulations, first aid and ethics, as well as safe firearm handling, and wildlife understanding; all under the watchful eyes of nearly 1,300 volunteer instructors.
“We like the traditional classes for younger students; those 12 up to 16 years old,” outlines Pat Jorgensen, recreational safety officer for the DNR, in eastern Iowa. “They get a lot more hands-on type learning; live firing, a safety trail with ‘shoot/don’t shoot’ scenarios. They handle firearms in a safe manner.”
The classes and emphasis evolve over time. For instance an ‘online only’ course is now available for adults; recognition that work schedules and juggling family commitments don’t always leave two or three days in a row to sit through a class.
Even the areas of emphasis are updated through the years. With upwards of 50,000 archery deer hunters, now; a noticeable climb in tree stand falls—some fatal—brings special attention to tree stand safety.
“We focus more on putting up stands; carrying equipment up and down the tree,” says Jorgensen. “Using three point contact climbing (meaning three hands/feet are in contact with the ladder or stand at all times), too.”
And the emphasis on safety continues in the stand. A decade ago, most tree stand hunters slid a single strap around their waist…if that. Now, full body harnesses are recommended.
Still, people are not always properly wearing them. That has resulted in injuries…and death,” warns Jorgensen. There were two fatal bowhunting falls in 2012.
In upland game or deer hunting, firearm hunters are wearing more blaze orange than years past. The minimum might be a ‘torso covered’ (deer hunting) or an item ‘at least 50 percent blaze orange,’ (upland game), however, instructors stress that more is always better.