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WI: 17 hunting incidents in 2009

January 16, 2010

Safety at all-time high during 2009 hunting seasons

The 2009 Wisconsin hunting seasons were notable for many things, including the lowest gun deer harvest in 29 years.

But as the full-year data are analyzed, it's clear last year will go down as a record in arguably the most important category of all - safety.

There were 17 hunting incidents in 2009, fewest since the Department of Natural Resources and its predecessor, the Wisconsin Conservation Commission, began keeping records in the early 20th century.

"This was a phenomenal year from the safety perspective," said Tim Lawhern, DNR hunter safety administrator. "The trend has been toward fewer accidents, which has been encouraging. And this year the number really dropped."

The previous low was 27 incidents in 2007.

Significantly, none of the 2009 incidents was fatal.

The DNR defines a hunting incident as human injury or death resulting from the "discharge of a firearm or bow and arrow arising from the activity of hunting, including travel to and from the hunting field."

There were 30 hunting incidents, including two fatalities, during the 2008 seasons.

Hunter education key

The trend toward fewer accidents is largely due to education, said Lawhern, with some technology mixed in.

When formal hunter education programs started in Wisconsin in 1967, the incident rate was 44 per 100,000 participants. This year it will be close to 2 per 100,000 (one case in Rock County remains under investigation and may later be classified as a hunting incident).

Hunter education became mandatory in Wisconsin in 1985. The state has 5,474 volunteer hunter safety instructors, the largest corps of any state or province in North America and probably the world, said Lawhern, who is serving a second term as president of the International Hunter Education Association.

"Our hunter safety educators are second to none," said Lawhern. "They've played and continue to play a huge role in making our hunters safer."

Last year, about 800,000 hunters took part in various seasons in the state, according to DNR records.

Lawhern said the blaze orange clothing requirement has also contributed to safety. And modern communication devices and medical practices have helped speed and improve treatment, at times preventing injuries from becoming fatal.

Many self-inflicted wounds

Seven of the 2009 incidents occurred during the gun deer season; seven others took place during small game (squirrel and upland game) hunts.

Statistics show most incidents are self-inflicted or involve a victim being shot by a member of his or her own hunting party. In 2009, seven were self-inflicted and 10 were in the same party, said Lawhern.

"Each year, we can almost predict who will be injured," said Lawhern. "We just can't give you a name."

Will the trend to safer hunting seasons continue?

"That's our goal, because even one incident is life-changing for the people involved," said Lawhern. "It will take the concerted effort of every hunter and firearm owner to remember and practice the four basic rules of firearm safety."

The state promotes "TABK" for hunters: Treat every firearm as if it were loaded; Always point the gun's muzzle in a safe direction; Be certain of target and what's beyond; Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.

"If they do that, they should have a great time and come home safe," said Lawhern.

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