MADISON – Thanks to hunters who work hard to learn the rules and regulations and practice safe hunting each year, Wisconsin remains one of the safest places in the world to hunt deer.
Jon King, hunter education administrator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, credits Wisconsin’s reputation as safety-minded to hunters themselves and a strong corps of volunteer instructors dedicated to sending new hunters into the woods equipped with the best safety practices around.
“Wisconsin hunters value this annual state tradition that is as much about family and friends as it is about harvesting a deer,” King said. “This state is fortunate to have thousands of volunteer hunter education instructors dedicated to keeping everyone safe while enjoying the outdoors – and even more hunters who carry on that safety priority during their own hunts and as mentors. This is what makes Wisconsin a great hunting state – the people.”
Experts trace the state’s culture of hunting safety to 1967, almost a half century ago, when the department launched a six-hour course stressing firearm safety. The course was voluntary, and while the impact was not momentous, the number of firearm injuries during the gun deer hunt began to slowly fall off.
In 1980, hunters were required to wear blaze orange during gun deer hunts, and the number of firearm incidents dropped more dramatically. Then, in 1985, an expanded hunter education certification program became mandatory for all hunters in Wisconsin born or after Jan. 1, 1973.
The state’s ingrained hunter safety culture was created and is sustained by the program’s dedicated, experienced volunteer instructors who have instilled skills, responsibility and ethics in more than one million students. About 28,000 new students are trained each year.
In 1966 in Wisconsin, the hunting incident rate was 44 injuries for every 100,000 hunters. Now the rate, based on a 10-year-average, is 4.04 incidents per 100,000 hunters, a reduction of more than 90 percent. Wisconsin has experienced four gun-deer seasons free of fatalities, (1972, 2010, 2011 and 2013) with three of them occurring in the past four years.
Warden King says hunting in Wisconsin is a safe, fun activity for the entire family.
King credits the expanded course and outstanding instructors as the main factors behind Wisconsin’s safety record, but there are others. “Trends in hunting patterns have changed,” King said. “There are fewer deer drives. The tendency is for gun hunters to go out and sit. It’s more like bow hunting, where you sit for a couple hours
King is confident more incidents can be prevented by following these four basic principles of firearm safety – known as TABK:
- Treatevery firearm as if it is loaded;
- Alwayspoint the muzzle in a safe direction;
- Becertain of your target and what is beyond it; and
- Keepyour finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.
For tree stand users, here are some easy tips to follow:
- Alwaysuse a full-body harness;
- Alwaysunload your firearm while climbing into or out of the stand; and
- Maintainthree points of contact during the ascent or descent — two hands and onefoot, or two feet and one hand.
Each deer drive should be planned in advance with safety as the top priority, King said. “Everyone involved in the drive should know and understand the plan.”
If you plan to participate in a deer drive:
- Review the four firearm safety principles;
- Reconfirm you have positively identified your target;
- Reconfirm you have a safe backstop for your bullet; and
- Review and stick to your hunting plan. Make sure all in the hunting party honor it.
King said department staff would like to thank Wisconsin hunters, who continue to serve as an example for ethical and safe hunting.