For the second year in a row, Michigan recorded no fatalities in 2015 during all hunting seasons, according to reports compiled by the Department of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement Division. Thirteen incidents resulting in injuries were recorded in the state during the year, up slightly from 10 incidents in 2014. Twelve incidents occurred in the Lower Peninsula and one in the Upper Peninsula.
This is part of an overall trend toward fewer hunting-related fatalities and injuries over the past several decades, a downward trend that started in 1988 when completion of a hunter education class became mandatory for all first-time hunters born after Jan. 1, 1960.
In 1988, the state saw the lowest fatality rate – four deaths – since annual record keeping began in 1970, when there were 18 fatalities. Record keeping began in the 1940s, but fatalities and injuries figures were compiled per decade rather than per year.
“Our excellent hunter education program saves lives,” said Sgt. Steve Orange, supervisor of the DNR’s Recreational Safety, Education and Enforcement Section. “When looking at the downward trend over the last five decades, it becomes very clear that our hunter education program is one of the major factors attributed to preventing fatalities and injuries.”
Injuries have fallen substantially since hunter education classes became mandatory. From 212 injuries in 1970 and climbing to 275 injuries by 1974—the most recorded in a single year—injuries have, for the most part, steadily decreased every year since. Incidents involving injury fell below 50 in 1991 for the first time, and after a very slight increase over the next several years, injuries began dropping again. Incidents resulting in injury have not exceeded 15 per year for the past five years.
The steadily decreasing numbers are attributed by Orange to the dedicated team of hunter education volunteer instructors—who currently number over 3,400—and the expanded hunter education programs, which now include a home study program and online hunter safety courses.
“Our many hunter education volunteers, who cumulatively donate over 35,000 hours every year, are dedicated to providing new hunters with the skills needed to handle and operate their firearms or archery equipment safely, which results in enjoyable experiences for them and others in Michigan’s out of doors,” said Orange.
He also noted the benefits for experienced hunters in taking or retaking a hunter education class as a refresher.
Individuals completing home study or online hunter safety courses must still complete a hands-on field day, where they receive instruction and practice in operating firearms, bows, traps and more. Field days are taught by volunteer instructors and conservation officers.
Hunter education classes have been available since 1946, although they were not mandatory at that time. In 1971, the program became mandatory for first-time hunters ages 12-16. That was expanded in 1988 to all first-time hunters born after Jan. 1, 1960. Since 1988, more than 600,000 hunters have completed hunter education classes. In recent years, over 20,000 hunters complete the program annually.
Of the 13 incidents resulting in injury reported in 2015, one involved a turkey hunter, one involved a waterfowl hunter, one involved a trapper and six involved deer hunters. One injury does not specify animal hunted because the report is pending. Victims ranged in age from 21 to 74. The majority of injuries, over 60 percent, were a result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
Five of the deer hunting incidents were reported during the firearm deer hunting season Nov. 15-30 and occurred in the counties of Calhoun, Gladwin, Roscommon, St. Clair and Van Buren. The sixth deer hunting incident that resulted in injury occurred during late antlerless firearm season Dec. 19-Jan. 1. The incident took place in Lapeer County.
The DNR reminds hunters to follow all safety rules and recommendations to ensure a safe hunting season, including:
- Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times.
- Treat every firearm with the respect due a loaded gun. It might be loaded, even if you think it isn’t.
- Be sure of the target and what is in front of it and beyond it. Know the identifying features of the game you hunt. Make certain you have an adequate backstop; don’t shoot at a flat, hard surface or water.
- Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot. This is the best way to prevent an accidental discharge.
- Make certain the barrel and action are clear of obstructions, and carry only the proper ammunition for your firearm.
- Unload firearms when not in use. Leave actions open, and carry firearms in cases and unloaded to and from the shooting area. Point a firearm only at something you intend to shoot. Avoid all horseplay with a gun.
- Don’t run, jump or climb with a loaded firearm. Unload a firearm before you climb a fence or tree or jump a ditch. Pull a firearm toward you by the butt, not the muzzle.
- Store firearms and ammunition separately and safely. Store each in secured locations beyond the reach of children and careless adults.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages before and during shooting. Also avoid mind- or behavior-altering medications or drugs.
“Although these are all common sense rules and recommendations, the majority of accidents and fatalities happen because one or more of these safety points were not followed,” Orange said.
Cpl. Dave Painter of the DNR’s Recreational Safety, Education and Enforcement Section reminds hunters to wear hunter orange during designated seasons.
“It’s the law, and it’s paramount in keeping hunters seen and safe,” Painter said.
In 1977, wearing hunter orange became mandatory on certain lands for the first time. In 1984, the law was amended to require hunters to wear hunter orange on all lands open to public hunting.
Regulations require hunters, during designated hunting seasons, to wear a cap, hat, vest, jacket or rain gear of hunter orange. The garments that are hunter orange must be the outermost garment and visible from all sides.
“Hunter orange is a high-visibility color that, when worn according to regulations, increases hunters’ safety,” Painter said.
Hunter orange is readily identified as the color worn by hunters, according to Painter.
“For nearly 40 years, hunters have worn this color so that they can be seen by other hunters while in the field. This is an important added safety measure and can also be attributed, along with hunter education programs, to saving lives and reducing the number of incidents leading to injury.”
Painter encourages individuals who aren’t hunters but enjoy public and private lands with hunters – such as hikers, birders and general outdoor enthusiasts – to also wear hunter orange during designated seasons so they are seen and recognized.
“Outdoor enthusiasts who share lands with hunters are taking the initiative to wear hunter orange because they recognize its significance,” Painter said. “They correctly attribute the color to safe hunting and safe outdoor recreation.”