Deer Hunting Safety Has Evolved over the Years

Information Provided by the state DNR

CREATED Nov 12, 2012

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Italy's hunting scene looks a bit like Wisconsin's - circa 1960s.

So far in that country's fall hunting season, which started in September, 13 Italians have been killed and 33 have been wounded. Reuters news service in late October reported a bicyclist, a gardener and a teenager have been among those hit by bullets meant for animals.

Italian hunters could learn a few things by reading Wisconsin's hunter safety history - including the development of an effective educational program, stressing how to shoot only intended targets by using firearm safety techniques, and to use other modern-day devices to ensure a safe and enjoyable outing.

A national debate is under way in Italy about how to work together to improve the safety and fun for all.

In return, Wisconsin can empathize with Italy. The Badger State had its share of rough hunting seasons. The year before hunter education courses began in Wisconsin, the hunting incident rate was 44 injuries for every 100,000 hunters. But that was 1966.

Safety course starts in '67; smart phones follow

In 1967, the precursor to today's statewide Department of Natural Resources' Hunter Education Program was launched with a six-hour course stressing firearm safety only.

Forty-five years later, with an expanded hunter education course available in-person and online, Wisconsin has experienced three gun-deer seasons free of fatalities (1972, 2010 and 2011) plus fewer and fewer incidents. The state's hunter safety culture is enforced by the program's army of dedicated, experienced volunteer instructors who have instilled skills, responsibility and ethics in more than the one million students. About 28,000 are trained each year.

Conservation Warden Jon King, who heads the Hunter Education Program, says it's no accident hunting in Wisconsin is a safe, fun activity for the entire family.

“And it is getting safer with each year,” he says.

Wisconsin has a fatality rate per 100,000 of 0.28 percent when considering a 10-year period.  Going hunting is now safer than driving to work.

In 1985, Wisconsin's hunter education certification program became mandatory for all hunters born on or after Jan. 1, 1973. That meant any hunter age 12, the youngest legal hunter, beginning in 1985 had to complete the hunter education program. Individuals applying for a hunter's license this year would have to be at least 39 years old to be exempt and with each passing year the age goes up. Still, many older hunters take the course voluntarily because it is so well designed and useful.

King doesn't stop with the expanded course and outstanding instructors as the sole factors behind Wisconsin's safety record.

“There has been the creation of reasonable opening and closing hours for hunting, mandatory blaze orange clothing requirements for hunters, the growing use of full safety harnesses for tree stand use, global positioning satellite devices, smart phones and more,” King says.

Four rules of firearm safety

Firearm hunting incidents in 2011 also followed the downward trend and came in below the 10-year average of 32 incidents annually. King is confident more can be prevented by following these four basic principles of firearm safety - also known as TABK:

Treat every firearm as if it is loaded

Always point the muzzle in a safe direction

Be certain of your target and what is beyond it

Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot

Tree stands, harnesses and deer drives

Tree stands and harnesses, and the popular group hunting method involving “deer drives,” also pose challenges unless done with safety in mind.

King suggests each deer drive be planned in advance, with safety the top priority.

“Everyone involved in the drive should know and understand the plan - and follow the plan. Always be sure of your target and beyond,” he says.  


King's easy tree stand tips to follow:

Always use a full-body harness and tether yourself to the tree

Always unload your firearm while climbing into or out of the stand.

Use a rope or line to raise and lower your unloaded firearm

During the ascent or descent: maintain three points of contact -- two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand.

King's deer drive tips:

Review the four firearm safety principles.

Reconfirm you have positively identified your target.

Reconfirm you have a safe backstop for your bullet.

Review and stick to your hunting plan. Make sure all in the hunting party follow it.  


“By keeping these tips in mind and being dedicated to using them, it will become second nature and safety becomes a reflex,” King says. “And that's the goal - to have a safe, fun and successful hunt in Wisconsin where it's all part of our heritage and tradition.”