By Tony Kuehn, CSP
As a certified safety professional and avid bowhunter, I realize that the potential of anyone ever being shot and killed by an arrow is extremely remote. Most bowhunters wouldn't even consider it a possibility. However, it does happen and a hunter's lacking of basic safety concerns doesn't appear to be the only reason. When I first began hunting more than 25 years ago, I remember a story my father told me about a woman being shot in Camp Ripley. Apparently she was wearing a bright yellow rainsuit or "slicker." The archer claimed that he thought it was deer he shot at. In reality, the woman was going to the bathroom in the bushes. Anyone, who has hunted Camp Ripley for any length of time, knows about the hunter hysteria and "greenhorns" participating in this high profile hunt. It seems that a lot of the hunters are more concerned about shooting one of those Pope and Young bucks that the area is famed for, than basic safety and hunter courtesy. I can imagine how it must have been many times worse before the advent of state bowhunter education programs and the utilization of the National Guard during the hunt. I have seen some pretty stupid things occur at Camp Ripley and other high profile public hunts I have participated in. However, since a person can never control all the other hunters in the woods, bowhunters need to focus on personal safety.
Fellow bowhunters may recall the stories from a few years ago of three bowhunters being shot in Florida, Idaho and Indiana. Upon further investigation these accidents could be further classified as willful criminal acts and/or homicides. The archer in Florida shot his hunting buddy because his "buddy" he was sleeping with his wife. The archer in Idaho shot his hunting partner not because he stepped in between the bowhunter and an elk, but over money. The victim was carrying about $600 in cash during the hunting trip. For the archer in Indiana, there was a conflict over the hunting area with another bowhunter. The shooter was hunting in the dark and shot and killed the other hunter from his stand when the victim was walking to his nearby stand. The 911 call was recorded a good 1 ½ hours before sunrise. The shooter admitted he waited the customary period before the follow-up on his shot of a deer (which of course turned out to be another hunter).
According to an article published in the Fall 2001 Minnesota DNR Firearms Safety and Hunter Education newsletter, three people were shot with arrows in the 2000 season. These "accidents" occurred in three states, Nebraska, Vermont, and Indiana. Two of the three resulted in fatalities. The common thread in all of these incidents was that none of the shooters were sure of their target and what was downrange beyond it. (At least that is what they claimed). The very simple commandment of firearm/archery taught to most beginners is to be sure of your target, and what is behind it! If bowhunters adhered to this rule no one should ever be shot by accident with an arrow. In my opinion, all accidents are preventable but willful criminal acts are not. I have been an archer and hunted long enough to know that you just don't hit a long-range target you can't see, and in the vitals, by accident. It just isn't very plausible. I think other bowhunters would agree.
When I worked for a major insurance company I was part of an industry group and spent time reviewing tree stand safety and hunting "accidents." What we found was the statistics indicating the vast majority of injuries/deaths were self-inflicted. Hunters were constantly falling out of tree stands, overexerting themselves while dragging out a deer, cutting themselves with knives and broadheads during field dressing, or impaling themselves on their own arrows. Basic safety rules in many cases would have eliminated the injury or significantly reduced the risk.
Here are some of those basic rules:
Treat your bow the same as a firearm. In many areas it is regulated as such, and deserves that respect.
Keep your sharp broad heads in a protective hood or cover. Every bowhunter knows broadheads must be sharp in order to kill an animal effectively. One of the advantages of expandable broadheads is that the sharp edge is protected until it makes contact with the target.
Never climb any tree without a safety harness and lanyard. Not just while you are on stand, but at all times when climbing the tree as well. It doesn't take any extra time or effort to climb the tree (actually decreases it) nor does it cause noise that may scare the deer. I have used one for 17 years now and still am a successful hunter. Too many people have been paralyzed by falling out of trees. Don't be one of them.
Never climb a tree with your bow in hand. Always use a tag line or retriever. Too many people have already fallen out of their tree to be impaled by their own arrows as a result.
Use flashlights or blinking lights when walking in the dark. I helps you to see better and you make less noise. A red blinking light could never be mistaken for a deer.
Always, always, be sure of your target and what is beyond it. A fellow bowhunter I know, shot two deer with one arrow by accident. Be certain of the travel path before and after your arrow penetrates the deer you are after.
Have a whistle on string around your neck in case something happens. Better yet, have a cell phone available. You can call for help, warn other hunters of your presence, or maybe even ward off an attack (bear or human) with one.
Know how to field dress your deer when successful and don't be afraid to ask for assistance from your fellow hunters in dragging one out.
Know your fellow hunter. Are they as safety conscious as you are? Alcohol consumption is illegal during hunting and negatively effects your judgment. Other recreational drugs are just as bad, or worse.
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