The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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October 15, 2013

Aim for a safer hunting season

Why it matters: Education has made hunting dramatically safer, but experienced hunters need to remain vigilant and pass on safe practices.

Last weekend pheasant hunters took to the field, following on the heels of the duck and small game season openers.

In a few weeks, the woods across Minnesota will be filled with orange-clad hunters stalking whitetail deer.

The hunting tradition in Minnesota is as strong as ever. So strong, in fact, that voters in 1998 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution that preserves the right to hunt and fish.

The benefit of hunting, often with generations of family members joining in, are well accepted. Also well accepted is the inherent risk of carrying and shooting firearms.

Fortunately, injuries and deaths from hunting incidents has dropped dramatically in the state, even as the number of hunters has tripled in recent decades.

Thirty years ago, there were, on average, 55 shooting incidents and eight deaths a year. Now there are half as many shootings and an average of less than three deaths.

The DNR says the reason is clear: Most all hunters have gone through firearms safety and hunter education — something that wasn’t so prevalent decades ago.

Hunter education has been around since the 1950s, often taught at sportsmen’s clubs. But in the ‘90s, the state began requiring that young hunters must successfully complete the course before they are allowed to buy a firearms hunting license.

The statistics show how government actions can have a significant effect on public safety. While criticized as government overreach by some, such laws — including things such as requiring seatbelt use — have profound benefits.

Deer hunting, because of the higher-caliber firearms and slug guns used, carries a higher risk of fatal accidents. (But sometimes, accidents occur in bizarre fashion with bird hunters: In the past five years in Minnesota, hunting dogs have caused accidental firearms discharges five times.)

Of course, any number of shooting deaths are tragic and it’s up to older adults in the household and hunting parties to pass on safe gun handling and shooting practices to youth — from lifting unloaded guns up to tree stands with a rope, to keeping the safety on and ensuring you know what might be beyond your target before you shoot.

One of the best ways to promote safe hunting to youth is for the experienced hunters to lead by example.

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