Even with a few cold weather seasons extending through this month or next, most Iowa hunters have packed away their gear for the year.
It is also when safety officials review the just completed seasons and begin planning for 2011. "Overall, hunting in Iowa remains a safe pastime; year after year," reports Megan Wisecup, recreational safety programs supervisor with the Department of Natural Resources. "It seems like we get a lot of concern that the number of hunting incidents is up (after 2010). As you look over the past decade, though, we are consistent with personal injuries and the total number of incidents related to hunting."
With 14 injuries, 2010 matches the average shown since 2006. There were two deaths related to hunting incidents last year. The previous firearm related hunting death came in 2008. "While even one incident is too many; Iowa continues as a safe state in which to hunt, as you look at the overall number of hunters, acres of land hunted and terrain," emphasizes Wisecup. There were four incidents of personal property damage in 2010 with one incident undetermined.
Most of the credit for the downturn in hunting incidents goes to Iowa's mandatory hunter safety program. It was established after years of 10, 14, even 20 deaths in the 1960s; with scores of injuries reported in many years, too. A voluntary program in its first couple decades, hunter education became mandatory in the early 1980s. "We have definitely seen hunting incidents reduced; especially since it became mandatory. There has been an even larger reduction," says Wisecup. "We attribute that mainly to our dedicated volunteer instructors."
What remains a concern is a common thread that connects many 2010 incidents; shooting at a moving target. "This past year, they seemed to come in clusters; particularly around the opening weekends of Iowa's two shotgun [deer] seasons in December," noted Wisecup. "We plan to work with the public and with hunters to improve the safety of party hunting-or drive hunting-which has been a tradition for many years."
That outreach will emphasize how important it is for hunters to plan their hunt and to stay in place, during a drive for instance. Another emphasis will be awareness of their target-such as a running deer or a flushing pheasant-and what lies beyond it.
Most basic safety tips; such as muzzle control, extra blaze orange, and keeping guns unloaded and cased when not being used, are staples from Iowa's hunter education programs. Many sessions will be offered over the next couple months; the 'off season' before Iowa's spring turkey season gets underway in April.
Find a hunter education program in your area by going to www.iowadnr.gov and clicking on 'hunting and wildlife' in the left margin, then again on 'hunter education' found on either side of the page. Most hunter ed programs feature online registration.