In 1987, the last year before mandatory hunter education, Texas recorded 81 hunting accidents, 12 of which were fatal. In 2018, the last year for which numbers are available, the state had 17 total hunting accidents. It is difficult to say, but fortunately only three of those were fatal.
With about the same number of hunters each of those years that is a massive improvement, but honestly anything over zero accidents is too many. Hunting is supposed to be a fun activity, not a deadly one.
With dove season opening Sept. 1 and deer and quail seasons shortly after, it is a good time to at least think about hunter safety, or, if you have not taken a hunter education course, get it done.
I consider myself lucky. I have never been a hunting accident statistic. There have been a few close encounters, including being sprayed with birdshot to the point it stung more than just a normal peppering.
Probably the scariest incident occurred years ago when I was about to take a newcomer to a deer blind. As we were about to get in my truck at camp, he was messing around with the rifle and it went off. The bullet made an indention in the ground just inches from my foot. It was a wake-up call for both of us.
It was also a clear indication of just how easily an accident can happen to anyone.
Statistically, hunting accidents do not have to involve doing something stupid or illegal. Only two of last year’s hunting accidents involved alcohol and three others involved a hunting violation. Instead, six were self-inflicted, which means hunters were not being as cautious as possible.
Some, embarrassingly so, like the South Texas pig hunter who took a restroom break in the field, but failed to uncock the loaded pistol he put in his pocket. As he was pulling his pants up, the gun went off and the bullet struck him in the thigh.
And speaking of pig hunting, more accidents (8) involved pig hunters than any other activity. That is a little scary when thinking that Texas just made it legal starting Sept. 1 for anyone to hunt wild pigs. Along with not having to have a license, they also will not have to have taken a hunter education course.
While saying hunter education has made a difference in reducing accidents, it at first seems odd to look at the statistics and see that eight of those involved in a hunting accident in 2018 had successfully completed a hunters ed course. Then when you look and see that about 1.2 million hunters have taken the course over the years, you realize the state is getting to the point where most hunters have been through the class.
“The number of those (relative to the hunting population) taking the course continues to rise, so eventually all who have incidents will have either taken it or be in violation. Though a slight anomaly, it should have been around five or six, it is expected,” said Steve Hall, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Hunter Education coordinator.
Last year’s enrollment of 57,440 was the fifth highest on record in Texas. Instead of taking the classroom course, many now opt for an online option through TPWD. The lessons learned through the online instruction appear just as successful as the classroom course with none of those involved in accidents the last two years being online graduates.
Probably the biggest takeaway from looking at the accident statistics is that the smallest things are equally import. That begins with the old saying of treating every gun as if it is loaded. As important is never to load a gun until actually ready to hunt, and always unload it in a safe location and pointed toward the ground.
When riding in a vehicle, make sure the gun is unloaded or at the very least the bolt or action is open to prevent the gun from accidentally going off.
If bird hunting, take a minute before the action starts to realize where the other hunters are in the field for your safety as well as theirs. Dove load in a 12-gauge shotgun will travel about 200 yards, and though it may not penetrate the skin at that distance, it can still smart or certainly cause eye damage.
Of course when hunting with a rifle make sure there is a backstop behind the target to stop the bullet.
And do not be afraid to speak up if someone around you is not being safe with a gun. You might not get a second chance.
Another thing to remember is not all hunting accidents involve guns. In 2018 there was the uncommon incident of a helicopter taking a group wild pig hunting and crashing after clipping a tree on takeoff. Fortunately no one was killed. There were two more common accidents reported, including a hunter falling from a tree stand and another crashing an ATV while hunting.
With more than a million hunters afield annually in Texas, accidents are going to happen. The key is to do everything possible to keep from causing one or being the victim.
For more information on hunter safety and hunter education courses, go online to https://tpwd.texas.gov/education/hunter-education.