I finally made it to the woods last weekend, and was halfway to my stand before I realized I had forgotten my hunter orange vest, so I had to go back and get it. Once in my tree stand, I realized I was wearing white socks, not a good look in the woods. At least I remembered my Thermacell – had I checked to make sure I still had fluid, maybe the mosquitoes would not have had such a good day. But that’s about a typical start to a hunting season for me.
Over the years I’ve arrived at stands without the draw for my bow, and also had some really great hunts with no bullet in my gun. It always seems to take a few weeks of scrambling to get my gear back into shape, replace my flashlight batteries, get my gun sighted in, find my hunting clothes (which seem to be shrinking year by year for some reason) and generally find that groove of being tuned into the woods.
Make Hunting Safety Your Top Priority
That reminds me that I need to put myself into a “safety first” way of thinking, to remind my fellow camp members to remind their kids to be careful in the woods, to make sure their guns are unloaded when they finish a hunt, to wear hunter orange at all times, to put their pin on the map to make sure everyone knows where they are in the woods. Most important, emphasize to all camp members and their kids that they should positively identify what they are shooting at before pulling the trigger. Do not guess!
I’ve been tracking statistics put out on firearm accidents for many years, and it is painful to continually see the primary reason for shooting accidents listed as “failure to properly identify target.” Don’t let a tragic accident happen in your camp with sloppy enforcement of safety rules. I have seen many deer just before dark get jumped by a hunter moving through the woods after getting off his stand. You can’t guess that what you see seems to be a big deer. Maybe someone is walking out without their hunter orange. Whenever you have an over-anxious hunter and lax shooting ethics you have a potential problem.
So do everything you can in your hunting camps to teach and preach and insist that your members, their kids, and guests, put safety above all else. There is not a deer in the woods big enough to justify the risk of a shooting accident. Remember that it is very hard to tell your own kids anything that doesn’t go right out the other ear, but another adult firmly telling your child about safety may have a better chance of getting through. Don’t be afraid to speak up in your club houses and be that old guy that worries too much and preaches too much.
Common mistakes made in the woods include loading a gun before heading to your deer stand on the off chance that you might jump a deer and shoot it when all the safety rules tell you not to load before you are securely in your stand. A number of accidents happen when people trip and fall or get their gun snagged on briars or twigs. And too many hunters take off their orange once they arrive at their stand. Orange is your friend and helps to avoid unexpected encounters in the woods where mistakes are made. And don’t let hunters who have been drinking head to the woods. Enforce your club’s rules. If you don’t enforce the rules, then the “rules” become mere suggestions and that is not good enough. Support your leaders when they enforce fines and suspensions. Your club will be better for it.
Make sure your club has a program to check all the tree stands before everyone hits the woods. Over time, as hunters have migrated from the ground to the trees, the number of shooting accidents has dropped but the number of tree stand accidents has grown dramatically. Trees grow and storms come, wood rots, metal rusts, so don’t take for granted that your lean up stand is still firmly and securely attached or that the floor of your shooting house hasn’t rotted out. Wear safety harnesses in tree stands. There is not a hunter reading this who has not fought to stay awake on a deer stand. Better to wake up dangling from a tree than with a broken neck.
Ultimately, safety is about ethics, common sense, and respect for your fellow hunters. Safety should be Priority 1. Be smart and safe and have a great 2017 season. There is nothing more important that will happen this season than making sure your friends, children and loved ones stay safe in the beautiful outdoors. Here’s my prayer for the safest hunting season ever.