Safe Hunting Year

As all the gear gets packed away until next fall, Iowa hunters
can look back at an overall safe hunting year. While 2008 did
record a firearm-related hunting death—in Hamilton County in
September-and nearly a dozen injuries, the state remains on pace to
mark the safest hunting decade on record.

With somewhere around 300,000 of us holding hunting licenses or
landowner tags, that means quite a crowd on opening day and plenty
of other overcast dawns in the duck blind, frosty mornings in the
upland switchgrass…or days spent crunching through snow after
whitetail deer. And while the incidents continue on a path that is
about as low as you can get, there is still room for

“Some of the main causes of incidents continue to be shooting at
running deer and not properly identifying your target…and just not
being able to see your hunting partners out there; especially this
past fall with all the vegetation; extra corn in the fields,” lists
Megan Wisecup, recreational programs safety supervisor for the
Department of Natural Resources.

She would like to see the day when that annual report card shows
‘zeroes’ all the way around. There have been three years, since
2000, with no fatalities recorded. Otherwise, one or two firearms
hunting-related deaths still occur in a year…with the injuries
ranging in the low to mid teens. Archery related incidents are
tallied separately. Even one death, of course, is too many. Still,
hunter safety is moving in the right direction, when compared to
the 1960s and early ‘70s. Then, it was not uncommon to have 10 to
12 deaths per year attributed to hunting, along with 80 to 100
injuries. In 1965, 20 hunters died.

No surprise, then, that hunter education was promoted heavily in
the late 60s: becoming mandatory in the early 1980s. Now, about
11,000 students—ranging from sub-teens to college students to
parents sitting in as their kids go through—take the 10-hour course
each year. Just about 2000 volunteers help instruct them. “I
definitely see our hunter education program as one of the main
components. I can see a significant difference in the trends,”
stresses Wisecup.  “It’s because of the awareness and education
points being out there.”

Rather than just an entry in a year-end report, an incident now
re-appears as a teaching tool. Students might be placed in a
‘shoot…don’t shoot’ situation on an outdoor safety trail. They
practice handing over their gun, as they cross a fence; how to
check to see if it’s unloaded…that the safety is on…and that the
muzzle is pointed in a safe direction. Each skill helps lower the
year end numbers that occur when a hurried response or momentary
lapse resulted in an injury or worse.

There are other factors tied to the drop in hunter injuries and
deaths. The rise in blaze orange clothing is an obvious plus.
Mandatory for years for firearm deer hunters, it is required for
upland bird hunters, too. That bright orange showing through the
underbrush or across a field can be a lifesaver, as a bird or buck
breaks from the underbrush.

Also, hunter numbers have dipped noticeably in the last 40 years
in Iowa; though the drop in hunting incidents is many times below
that falloff in participants. With a solid safety record to build
on, the next step is to retain or recruit more active hunters. “One
of the biggest causes of the decline is time,” explains Wisecup.
With all the scheduled activities in society today, it makes it
real hard to compete; to get people out into these traditional

Iowa, though, is making good inroads in the past couple years
with the Scholastic Clay Target Program and by introducing archery
in schools. Iowa just certified its 100th school in the archery
program. Last year, in the clay target competition took aim at a
half million clays. Schools organize in a team event setup; with
end of the year competition in a state meet; much like other
sports. “We are trying to develop plans for the whole department to
get involved in,” says Wisecup. “Not just young people, but other
new hunters and shooters as well.”

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