Volunteer hunter education instructors big factor in safety’s
Wisconsin ended its 2010 gun-deer season free of hunter
fatalities, a feat first and last seen in 1974.
“No one was shot and killed while deer hunting this year in
Wisconsin,” said Tim Lawhern, Department of Natural Resources
hunter education administrator and conservation warden. “This has
happened once before in the state’s history of gun-deer seasons.
And that was 36 years ago.”
Overall, there were 12 hunting incidents during the nine-day
deer gun season. Lawhern said that for the families of those
injured hunters, 2010 didn’t feel like a success. The agency only
tracks firearm-related incidents and does not keep track of deaths
or injuries due to heart attacks, tree stand falls or other
“Any shooting incident is one too many,” Lawhern said. “We wish
them all speedy recoveries.”
Lawhern, who also serves as the president of the International
Hunter Education Association, says several factors are behind the
Education, guidelines and technology
High on Lawhern’s list as a key factor behind the second-only
fatal-free season in Wisconsin’s history of the gun-deer hunt is
the participation in the DNR Hunter Education Program – which began
as hunter safety classes in 1967.
“The year before hunter education began in Wisconsin, the
incident rate was 44 injuries for every 100,000 hunters,” Lawhern
said, adding the 1967 course was six hours long and covered firearm
Things have changed since 1967.
“Since that time, we have seen things like the creation of
opening and closing hours for hunting, mandatory blaze orange for
hunters, full safety harnesses, firearm restrictions, global
positioning satellite devices, cell phones and more,” he said. “All
of these have contributed to the increased safety for hunters.”
Wisconsin’s hunter education certification program became
mandatory for all hunters born or after Jan. 1, 1973 in 1985. That
meant any hunter 12, the youngest legal hunter, beginning in 1985
had to complete the hunter education program.
“We have certified almost one million graduates. Our program has
led the way both nationally – and internationally – with improved
delivery, curriculum and outreach regarding safe and responsible
hunting,” Lawhern said of the program taught by volunteer
instructors statewide. Wisconsin’s hunter education program has had
many firsts, including the nation’s first online course, instructor
academy and a junior instructor program.
“The hunter education program also has evolved into more topics
including knowledge, responsibility and ethics,” he said.
While the fatal-free season is a victory for safety, Lawhern
says it wasn’t a complete surprise.
Predicting the fatal-free season, and the four rules of firearm
Lawhern says considering all the progress made in hunting, along
with looking at the records behind every shooting incident of past
seasons, made it easy to predict the fatal-free season was
“We know a tremendous amount about hunting incidents. We can
predict who is going to be shot. We can predict how many, where and
what they are going to be doing at that moment,” Lawhern said. “We
just don’t have the names and addresses.”
Lawhern’s analysis shows about one-third to one-half of all
injuries is related to deer drives. The self-inflicted injuries
will be one-third to one half of all the total of the gun-deer
“We also know the shooters younger than 18 will make up about 20
to 30 percent of the shooting injuries. The vast majority will
occur on private land and half will happen on opening weekend,” he
said. “Ultimately, nearly all are linked to a violation of one or
more of the four basic rules of firearm safety – treat every
firearm as if it is loaded, never point your firearm at a person,
never put your finger in the trigger until you are ready to shoot
and know what is behind your target.”
And, Lawhern says, the most significant contributors to hunting
incidents are those 35 and older – the hunters not covered by the
mandatory hunter education course rule. “All hunters should take
the hunter education certification course – no matter the age.”
Safety doesn’t take breaks
“Our hunter education program is revered as one of, if not the best
in the country,” Lawhern said, adding most of the volunteer
instructors have never experienced a gun-deer season free of
fatalities. “Those instructors, along with other factors, are major
contributors to the success and safety of hunting.”
The course helps all hunters to make safety a habit.
“Safety does not take a vacation. Either you are safe all the
time, every time, or you are not. You are only as safe as the next
hunt,” he said.
Lawhern says he hopes those who haven’t completed the hunter
education certification course will make it a priority in 2011 to
make the next gun-deer season the third fatal-free in the state’s
history. More information about hunter safety education is
available on the DNR website.