Hunting safety always important

Published 8:45 pm Thursday, December 10, 2009

With all hunting seasons in full swing, the concern for safety afield may be due for a little refresher course. A reminder about the cardinal rules of hunter safety may be in order, according to Ray Metzler, Hunter Education Coordinator with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division.

“Certainly, at the beginning of the season, everybody is in tune with safety,” Metzler said. “But after they’ve climbed that tree five times already, that sixth they might not hook up to the Prusik (sliding) knot at the bottom of the tree or inspect the stand. They might take some things for granted.”

Fortunately, as of Dec. 7, there had been no firearms-related hunting fatalities in the state. There have been four non-fatal incidents involving firearms, however.

The most recent incident happened during a duck hunting trip on Mink Creek in Jackson County.

“According to the preliminary report, the subject had his shotgun lying on some kind of shelf outside the blind and he started to pull the gun into the blind with the barrel pointed toward him and the gun discharged,” Metzler said. “There was extensive damage to his upper thigh.”

Although there is one deer hunting accident in Franklin County on the list, it did not occur during a traditional deer hunting outing.

“A group of four were illegally night hunting and when the firearm was pulled back into the vehicle it discharged and struck one of the subjects in the right leg,” Metzler said.

Metzler said there have been two squirrel hunting accidents this season and both occurred on Nov. 4. He said the first one happened in Clarke County when the subject was walking down a fire lane on private property. He heard a shot and was struck in the leg by No. 6 shot. Nobody responded when he called for help. He used a cell phone to call for assistance. Metzler said the second incident happened in Perry County when a male and female were sitting next to a tree while squirrel hunting. When they started to get up, the male’s shotgun discharged, striking the female in the chest.

During the 2008-2009 seasons, there were three firearms-related fatalities, two during deer season and one during turkey season.

Metzler said the first fatality in Coosa County on January 4 occurred when the subject broke the cardinal rule about unloading firearms when entering or exiting a stand.

“The subject had shot a deer and while he was descending the stand there was an accidental discharge and he shot himself,” Metzler said. “I don’t know that they ever recovered a deer. Witnesses said they heard two shots about 30 seconds apart.”

The second fatality occurred in Baldwin County on Jan. 22 when a 24-year-old shot his stepfather. A Baldwin County grand jury handed down a criminally negligent homicide indictment against the shooter in October. According to Baldwin County Sheriff’s Department reports, neither hunter was wearing the required hunter orange and the shot occurred about 5:30 p.m. According to U.S. Naval Observatory information, sunset occurred at 5:18 p.m. on Jan. 22, 2009. Alabama’s hunting regulation dealing with shooting hours for deer states hunting is allowed “during daylight hours only.” It does not specify official sunset as the cutoff point.

“As far as hunter safety goes, the cardinal rules that were apparently broken were shooting in dim-light conditions, not wearing hunter orange and not properly identifying your target,” Metzler said.

The final fatality occurred during turkey season when a hunter suffered a fatal gunshot wound while crossing a fence.

During the 2005-2006 seasons, Alabama did not have any firearm-related fatalities, a goal Metzler wants to achieve consistently. One firearms-related incident, fatal or not, is too many, he said.

“Until we don’t have any incidents, there’s always room for improvement,” Metzler said. “I think we’re doing much better nowadays. I believe part of the reason is the mandatory hunter ed program. Because we have a mandatory program and the kids are going through it, there is more awareness on everybody’s part about the basic safety rules.

“I’m sure part of it, too, is the way we hunt these days. Hunting has changed to some degree. Twenty or 30 years ago people moved around the woods while they were hunting. Now, most of incidents occur right at daylight or right at dark. Now people go to a spot on the club and they stay in that area. They have to sign out for an area and stay there. That’s their area and there’s not supposed to be anybody else in that area. For the most part, that seems to keep people separated enough that the incidents don’t occur.”

Metzler urges all hunters to follow the ten commandments of firearms safety:

Watch that muzzle. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times.

Treat every firearm with the respect due a loaded gun.

Be sure of the target and what is in front of it and beyond.

Keep your finger outside of the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.

Check your barrel and ammunition to make sure the barrel is clear of obstructions and you have the proper ammunition for your firearm.

Unload firearms when not in use. Leave actions open and transport firearms unloaded in cases to the shooting area.

Point a firearm only at something you intend to shoot.

Don’t run, jump or climb with a loaded firearm.

Store firearms and ammunition separately and safely.

Avoid alcoholic beverages or other mood-altering drugs before and during shooting.