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HUNTING FATALITIES DOWN COMPARED TO LAST YEAR

By: 03/10/2004

LITTLE ROCK - Hunting is one of the safest sports a person can participate in, but incidents still occur. Most hunters in Arkansas play it safe while enjoying their hobby and that's reflected in the number of fatalities this season. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officials say fewer people have been killed in hunting accidents at this point in the 2003-2004 hunting season than at the same time last year.

Four hunters have died in accidents so far this year compared to five fatalities last year. But it's not all good news for hunter safety. Although hunting fatalities are down from last year, hunting-related accidents are up. There have been 22 reported accidents during this hunting year compared to 18 accidents at this time a year ago.

Falls from tree stands are again the major contributor to hunting accidents in Arkansas. Last year, there were four reported tree stand incidents involving hunters. This year that total increased to 10 tree stand accidents. Twelve of the 22 reported incidents have included the discharge of a firearm. That number is down from 14 a year ago.

Using a tree stand is a popular way to hunt, but it also presents some special safety issues. Make sure your stand is well constructed and you know how to fasten it securely in place. Use safety belts when in the stand or climbing to and from the stand. Don't climb with your weapon. Raise and lower it, unloaded, with a safety strap or rope.

According to AGFC hunter education coordinator Joe Huggins, educating hunters is the reason for the low number of accidents. "Education plays a big part in reducing the number of hunting accidents each year," Huggins said. About 18,000 students of all ages successfully complete hunter education courses in Arkansas each year.

With spring turkey season beginning April 3 in Arkansas, Huggins said there a few things that hunters need to remember to have a safe and successful hunt.

*Always follow basic gun safety rules.

*Keep good muzzle control. Make sure you identify your target before you shoot. Once a shot is fired, you can't call it back.

*Wear blaze orange when moving around in the woods. A hat and vest are the best safety equipment to be used during turkey season.

*If a hunter sees another hunter, don't startle the other hunter. Let the hunter know in a calm voice your location.

*One of the most important habits to get into as a hunter is letting other people know where you're going to hunt and when you'll be back.

"Each person has to do their part while they're hunting. Identify what you're shooting at because once that shot is fired, you can't call it back," Huggins said.

Some other safety measures include:

*Do a pre-hunt safety check. Does the safety on your firearm work? Is the barrel clear of obstructions? Are all parts in good working order?

*Make sure there are fresh batteries in your flashlight and turn it on when entering or leaving the woods in the dark, whether you need it to see or not.

*Plan your hunt and hunt your plan. Know where other party members will be and don't leave your assigned area.

*Unload idle guns or when crossing obstacles.

*Never assume other hunters are safe hunters. Watch the gun handlers around you to make sure they keep muzzles pointed in safe directions.

To reduce the number of accidents in the field, the AGFC constantly preaches safety. Since 1985, successful completion of a certified hunter safety course has been required for all hunters born after 1968. Most hunter education courses are held in the fall, but there are classes being conducted in different location around the state year round. Persons interested in attending the course can find course dates and locations on the AGFC website at www.agfc.com or call 1-800-482-5795.

ŠOzarks Newsstand 2004

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