Choose Good Leaders
Preventing accidents is the best way to avoid liability. The tone for the standard of conduct for your club is set by your leaders and then usually followed by most of the other members. Consider this the next time you are electing officers. Be sure to pick someone who sets the right tone, commands the respect of the other hunters, hunts ethically and within the game laws, and will not be intimidated when the time comes to enforce the rules, collect a fine, report a violator to the game warden, suspend or even expel a member.
Make Rules Not Suggestions
If your club has rules, it is important to enforce them, not just post them and then take no action if someone breaks a rule. Everyone, including the non-officers, should do their part to enforce the club rules. If a rule isn’t worth enforcing then it may not be worth having. A good lawyer may use that fact to demonstrate that the club knew a certain type of conduct was unsafe yet everyone just looked the other way.
There is no universal set of rules that apply equally to all clubs. Set rules that address your club’s issues and safety concerns. Some of the more common rules include: no drinking during hunting hours; no loaded weapons in the clubhouse or in vehicles; no target shooting on clubhouse premises; hunter orange required to be worn; children no allowed to carry a firearm before completing hunter education course; no shooting of illegal deer; all state and federal game laws to be followed.
Other things to consider when setting rules include the age at which children may be on a deer stand unaccompanied by an adult. This can be a tricky issue but bears consideration by your club. Also, does your club have an effective system in place to make sure where everyone is hunting? This can help prevent unexpected encounters in the woods. Many clubs do not allow members to get off their stands at certain times of the day. It may also be a good idea to schedule a short refresher safety course through the Hunter Safety division of the MDWFP. Some clubs require all of their members to take the hunter safety course, regardless of whether they are grandfathered in.
Make Safety the Primary Issue
When your club holds its next cleanup day or organizational meeting, make sure that safety makes it onto the agenda. Discuss any potentially dangerous conditions on the premises which should be repaired. Evaluate your club’s rules. Are they sufficient or are new ones needed? Are the club rules being enforced? Are the formalities of the corporation being kept up with if you are an incorporated club? Do you have liability insurance? What exclusions exist in your policy? Have you observed safety problems at your club in the past few years that concern you? Are illegal deer routinely killed at your club? If so, it may demonstrate one of two things: (1) hunters are not positive about what they are shooting at, or (2) do not respect the game laws. The next time they guess at a target it may be your son waling out of the woods at dark.
Don’t wait until an accident happens at your club to take a hard look at what your club is doing from a safety standpoint. By making your club as safe as possible you’ll have more peace of mind in the woods and possibly avoid a tragic accident. Many tragedies occur every year. Please help yourself, your friends and your children this season. There’s not a deer out there big enough to justify losing your son or friend.