Albany — New York hunters had the second-safest season on record in 2014, with 22 total hunting-related shooting incidents and just one fatality.
But the statistics tell a larger story in what DEC officials described as a solid safety year on the heels of a record low number of incidents (19) in 2013.
For the first time ever there were no hunting-related shooting incidents during the spring gobbler season, a time when camo-clad hunters are in the field and mimicking turkey sounds.
The lone fatality occurred not during the popular deer hunting season, but last September when a squirrel hunter shot a fellow hunter. There were two fatalities in 2013.
There were just two incidents on the state’s single biggest hunting day – the opening day of the Southern Zone firearms deer season, when hunters (DEC estimates about 500,000) head afield in record numbers.
Eight of the 22 incidents involved self-inflicted gunshots. Shotguns were involved in 13 of the incidents; rifles in six; air guns in two and bow and arrow in one.
“Eleven (of the hunting-related shooting incidents) involved members of the same hunting party, and only three where the victim and shooter did not know each other,” read a report from DEC sportsman education coordinator Chuck Dente. “The majority (12) of incidents were due to shooter negligence and/or improper gun handling.”
Four of the incidents occurred in Herkimer County, while three happened in Madison County and two in Columbia County. No other county recorded more than one incident.
The state’s lone hunting-related shooting fatality occurred in Monroe County last September.
In some of the incidents those involved were “participating in an illegal or unlawful act,” such as hunting without license, hunting out of season or after legal shooting hours, or hunting while prohibited from owning a firearm.
DEC does not include other hunting-related incidents – such as treestand falls, ATV accidents or hunters having heart attacks in the field – in its annual safety report.
The 22 hunting-related shooting incidents in 2014 was up from 19 in 2013, but below the five-year average of 26.2.
New York’s hunting incident rate (incidents per 100,000 hunters) has fallen by more than 75 percent since the 1960s. The recent five-year average is down to 4.3 incidents per 100,000 hunters, compared to 19 per 100,000 in the 1960s.
In the 1960s, there were an average of 137 hunting-related shooting incidents annually.
Dente credited the dramatically improved hunter safety record to the state’s nearly 2,600 volunteer sportsman education instructors. Those instructors last year taught an estimated 45,000-50,000 prospective hunters in a combination of firearms, archery, trapping and waterfowl identification courses across the state.
Still, Dente said most of the shooting incidents were preventable through common sense or by following basic rules of safety.
In one incident, a hunter used two shotgun shells loaded backward in his shotgun’s magazine to serve as a plug when waterfowl hunting. One of the shells exploded when he fired a shot, causing facial and hand injuries.