When most people hear or read the words “hunting accidents,” the first thing that comes to mind are gunshot wounds. It has long been claimed that many hunting accidents involve alcohol or drugs and negligence on the part of a hunter. That may have been true 50 years ago, but ongoing research has shown that this is now a myth; gun-related hunting accidents are actually a small percentage of the fatal and non-fatal hunting mishaps, and overall, the numbers hunting-related injuries and fatalities are falling, documents show.
This is partly due to the hard work of organizations such as the International Hunter Education Association. Let’s take a look at some of the statistics that reveal some fascinating trends in hunting-related injuries.
In the 1980s and 1990s, much larger numbers of deer hunters took to the trees as portable treestands became readily available. An explosion in the number of treestand manufacturers ensued and treestand falls began to spike.
Today, all treestands are packaged with a safety harness and a DVD about treestand safety. Hunters are increasingly wearing comfortable harnesses like those made by Gorilla, Tree Spider and Hunter Safety Systems. Still, most falls occur while climbing the tree and entering/exiting the stand. Several companies now offer lifelines that secure the hunter while climbing and transferring. The result of all this emphasis on safety has been a marked decrease in injuries and deaths resulting from falls from treestands.
A10-year study done by the Ohio State University Medical Center found that 50 percent of all hunting injuries coming into their trauma center were related to falls and of those 92 percent were falls from treestands. Contrast this to only 29 percent of the injuries which were related to gunshot wounds — 58 percent of which were self-inflicted and 42 percent of which were patients shot by another hunter. Trauma surgeon Dr. Charles Cook stated that the majority of the treestand fall injuries were the result of persons not wearing a safety harness.
Hunter education is mandatory in nearly every state, and has been for some time. The numbers make it very clear that hunter education has contributed to a significant drop in the number of hunting injuries and fatalities. In the longest study of its kind in North America, the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife started studying hunting accidents in 1966 and the change has been dramatic. In 1966, there were 644,653 hunting licenses sold in the state. There were 28 hunting related fatalities and 53 non-fatal hunting accidents — an accident rate of 12.6 injuries per 100,000 and 4.3 fatalities per 100,000.
As hunter education classes became more available and eventually mandatory in 1988, the numbers of steadily decreased. By 2013, there were 1,227,025 licenses sold but only three fatalities, or .2 per 100,000, and 30 non-fatal injuries, for an overall accident rate of 2.7 per 100,000 hunters. Clearly, education of safe hunting practices is an effective inhibitor of hunting accidents.
The takeaway from this is obvious; the sport of hunting is safer than ever, as long as reasonable precautions are taken. There will always be accidents and falls from plain old clumsiness, but the things we hunters can control are being controlled very effectively. The results of educating our novice hunters and using safety equipment means our time in the woods is freer from harm than ever before.
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.