While hunting accidents have declined since the passage of two laws in 1970 — one requiring hunter education training and another requiring wearing at least 500 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing — accidents still happen.
“Hunting is safe and getting safer all the time,” says Colorado Parks and Wildlife hunter education coordinator Mark Cousins, adding that the state sells more than 560,000 hunting licenses every year, resulting in several million hunter recreation days. “But one moment of carelessness can mean a lifetime of consequences.”
Almost all hunting incidents can be avoided by exercising care, he adds. Safety measures include familiarizing yourself with your gun or bow at a range beforehand; exercising caution when loading and unloading, and do so well away from your vehicle (it’s illegal to place a loaded firearm in or on a vehicle, and to hunt from from a vehicle); and unloading when you’re crossing streams and fences and hiking in rough terrain. “The gun’s safety isn’t always enough to prevent it from firing,” he says.
When your hunt is over, unload well before getting to the vehicle or camp, and triple-check it before placing it in a case or vehicle. “At the end of a long day, it’s more important than ever to be extra careful with firearms,” he says.
The following are summaries of a few hunting incidents that have occurred in Colorado.
• A father and son were kneeling side by side ready to fire at an elk. The son was holding the lead rope of a string of horses. When his father fired, the horses spooked, pulling the son’s rifle toward the victim. During the commotion the gun fired and the father was killed. Lesson: Be extra careful around horses.
• A hunter was walking on a steep hillside with a guide. The hunter slipped and fell. The rifle fired and the bullet struck the guide in the head, killing him. Lesson: Unload your gun when hiking in rough areas.
• A bow hunter took off alone in pursuit of elk. At some point he fell on an arrow–which was not in a quiver–and cut the femoral artery in his leg. The hunter bled to death. Lesson: Keep arrows in a quiver.
• An elk hunter was running in an attempt to get ahead of some elk. He stumbled and fell, shooting himself through the leg. Lesson: Never run while carrying a loaded gun.
• A hunter was leading his horse through thick oak brush; a loaded rifle was in the scabbard. A tree limb caught the trigger, the rifle fired and the bullet hit the horse and the hunter. Lesson: Don’t carry a loaded rifle in a scabbard.
• Basic safety rules:
• Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
• Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times.
• Be sure of your target–what is in front of it and what is beyond it.
• If you are in doubt about the target, don’t shoot.
• Keep the safety on and your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
• Never place your hand over the muzzle of a gun.
• Load and unload your gun at least 100 yards from your vehicle.
• Don’t hurry while loading or unloading.
• Talk about safety issues with youngsters and less inexperienced hunters.
• Stop to rest when you are out of breath.
• Wear daylight fluorescent clothing when and where required.