Gun deer season’s safest on record

Lansing — Michigan’s 2012 firearms deer season was the safest on record, with just three firearms-related injury incidents and zero fatalities.

If there is any question as to whether Michigan’s required hunter safety classes and mandatory hunter orange (clothing) law are effective, the answer is evident in the DNR’s Hunting Incidents Report, according to state officials. Compiled annually by the DNR’s Law Division, the report details all the firearms- and archery-related shooting incidents that occur during hunting seasons.

Through all the hunting seasons in Michigan last year, there were 15 incidents and one fatality. While state law enforcement officials say that 15 incidents is 15 too many, they concede that the numbers have been trending downward, especially during the past three years.

“One of the things we’re very proud of in Michigan is that hunting is a very safe form of recreation. Yes, we do have some accidents, but statistically, hunting is a very safe form of recreation,” DNR Law Division Assistant

Chief Dean Molnar told Michigan Outdoor News. “Hunter orange is a big part of it, and hunter education is a big part of it. We have over 3,000 volunteers who spend their time educating people and getting the message out about safety.”

In Michigan, between 600,000 and 700,000 individuals annually participate in some form of hunting during the spring and fall seasons. In 2006, there were 35 incidents in all hunting seasons combined and four fatalities. In 2007, there were 32 incidents and two deaths. In 2010, there were just 14 incidents and three fatalities; 12 incidents and five fatalities in 2011; and 15 incidents and one fatality in 2012.

By comparison, during the 2012 snowmobiling season there were 16 fatalities on Michigan trails, and 13 in 2011, the lowest fatality total in 20 years.

“We sold under 200,000 (snowmobile) trail permit stickers in 2012, but we had 600,000 to 700,000 deer hunters alone and only 15 incidents and one fatality,” Molnar said, “Hunting is a very safe form of recreation.”

Those declining hunter incident numbers offer no consolation for the family of the 17-year-old who was killed in September 2012 in St. Clair County, when a 24-year-old predator hunter mistook him for a raccoon at the base of a tree and shot him in the head from 181 yards away.

Two of the 15 incidents that occurred in 2012, including the fatality, were attributed to hunters failing to identify their target.

Over half of the incidents (eight) were the result of careless handling of a firearm; in three incidents the victims were out of sight of the shooters. Careless discharge of a firearm was cited as the reason for one incident. Another is still under investigation.

At least five incidents were self-inflicted, including one in which a hunter attached a hoist rope to the trigger guard of a semi-automatic firearm, with the barrel pointing up. As he tried to hoist the firearm, it discharged multiple times, striking the victim twice, according to the 2012 report.

“It’s regrettable, because these kinds of incidents are avoidable,” said Sgt. Jon Woods, of the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division. “The largest percent of these incidents were the result of careless handling of a firearm.”

Both Wood and Molnar praised the efforts of Michigan’s volunteer hunter education instructors.

“We have over 3,000 volunteer instructors and hold 2,500-plus hunter education classes each year,” Wood said. “Between 24,000 and 34,000 people go through the classes each year. We are one of the leading states in the country in terms of the number of people we put through hunter education classes each year.”

Added Molnar, “A big part of the reason why hunting in Michigan is so safe is because of our core group of volunteers teaching hunter education classes. They are a very dedicated group of people.”

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