Elements of safety are crucial in firearms season


November 28, 1996|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Last week, one hunter shot and killed another in Western Maryland after mistaking his companion for a deer, and that accidental death is remarkable for several reasons -- the least of which is that the pair was hunting out of season.

According to news reports, neither of the men was wearing hunter orange clothing, which is required in many hunting situations and recommended in all.

Also according to news reports, the killing shot was fired into an area obscured by brush and trees, without the shooter first confirming his target and ensuring he had a clear field of fire.

When the firearms season for deer opens statewide on Saturday, certainly there will be many situations afield in which hunters are tempted to snap off a shot, eager to take a buck or doe. But training and good sense will cause most to hesitate until the target and the field of fire are clearly defined -- even if the moment is lost.

Learning the elements of safety is mandatory in Maryland, where all hunters are required to pass the Natural Resources Police Hunter Safety Education Course before they can purchase a license.

Last year, 6,400 hunters completed the course.

Fatalities and serious injuries in Maryland are few during the firearms season.

According to Department of Natural Resources records, in 1995 and 1994, there was a total of four hunting-related fatalities, and none occurred during the two-week deer firearms season.

Serious injuries also are rare, with one in three hunting accidents nationally caused by improper use of tree stands.

When going into the field on Saturday, remember the lessons of firearms safety, tree stand use and the requirements for wearing hunter orange.

The following guidelines are recommended by the NRP:

Firearms safety

Treat every gun as if it is loaded.

Always be aware of the direction the muzzle is pointed, and be able to control its direction if you should stumble.

Keep the barrel and action clear of obstructions, and double check to ensure you have the right ammunition for the gun you are carrying.

Identify your target and what lies beyond it before shooting.

When not in use, unload your gun, disengage or open the action, and keep it cased on the way to the shooting area.

Never point a gun at anything you don't intend to kill, and avoid horseplay.

Do not climb a tree or jump over ditches or obstacles with a loaded gun. Put the gun down where it can be retrieved safely, butt end first.

Do not shoot at flat, hard surfaces or water.

Store guns and ammunition separately, out of the reach of children or people untrained in handling firearms.

Avoid alcoholic beverages before and during shooting.

Tree stand safety

Inspect your tree stand and related equipment before the season begins and then daily afterward, to ensure it maintains designed strength and integrity.

Always use a climbing belt when ascending or descending tree. Most accidents happen on the way up or down.

Wear a safety belt when on the tree stand -- clip it on as soon as your are aboard and leave it on until you are ready to go down.

Before climbing to the stand, unload your weapon and rig a handline, so your gun and gear can be hauled up safely.

Use extra care when weather conditions are wet, snowy or icy, all of which can make tree stand steps slippery and dangerous.

Hunter orange guidelines

Hunter orange, a color not found in nature, must be worn by all people who:

Hunt wildlife or accompany, aid or assist another person in the field while hunting.

Those people shall wear a cap of solid daylight fluorescent orange or a jacket or vest with 250-square-inch panels of the color front and back or an outer garment of camouflage worn above the waist with at least 50 percent daylight fluorescent orange.

Although the following are exempt from wearing hunter orange, its use is still recommended:

Those hunting on their own property with or without a license.

Deer bow hunters during bow season. During firearms and muzzleloader seasons, bow hunters are required to wear hunter orange.

Hunters and guides for waterfowl, rails, snipes, dove, crows, wild turkey or fur-bearers.

Pub Date: 11/28/96

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