The number of Texas hunting accidents in 2011 declined to the lowest since statistical records began in 1966, according to a new report by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The number of people injured in hunting accidents in Texas fell from 25 in 2010 to 23 in 2011, and fatalities also declined from four to two during the same period.
More important than the annual dips and peaks, however, is the long-term trend continues to track downward.
"The statistics show hunting is safe and getting safer in Texas," said Terry Erwin, TPWD hunter education coordinator. "And we do believe that is directly related to hunter education."
The steady decline in the number of accidents tracks the growing number of people who take hunter education in Texas. In 1972, 2,119 people were certified in hunter education. In 2011, more than 3,000 volunteer hunter education instructors trained 43,645 hunters across the state.
The state's worst year on record for hunting accidents was 1968, when 105 accidents were reported, including 37 fatalities. In 1988, hunter education became mandatory in Texas for anyone born on or after Sept. 2, 1971.
According to Erwin, most accidents are preventable if hunters follow basic safety principles like those taught in hunter education courses.
"You know you're not going to stop accidents altogether," he said. "But you're going to help people build knowledge and skills to avoid accidents. It's things like the '10 Commandments of Shooting Safety,' the very basic safety principles that are promoted a whole lot more now than 30 or even 20 years ago."
Erwin said the significant factors behind most hunting accidents have not changed much in recent years. "Swinging on game outside a safe fire zone remains the number one cause of hunting accidents in Texas," he noted.
This happens when a person points a firearm at another hunter while following a moving target, such as a flying game bird. Hunter education teaches people to set up safe zones of fire where a gun can be safely pointed whether the target is moving or stationary.
Careless firearm handling remains another primary factor in many accidents.
"Careless handling incidents almost always involve three factors: pointing a loaded firearm muzzle at yourself or someone else with the safety off and with your finger inside the trigger guard," Erwin explained. Hunter education courses teach ways to safely handle firearms, including how to carry them in the field and pass them from one person to another.
Last year's statistics showed a decline in accidents among those under the age of 40, and a significant increase among hunters over 40. Although hunter education in Texas is not mandatory for those born before Sept. 1, 1971, it is encouraged for even the most seasoned shooters and hunters and is a requirement of anyone hunting in some states.
The complete 2011 Hunting Accident Report is available online at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_rp_k0700_1124_2011.pdf .
Texans have several options available for fulfilling hunter education requirements, including the traditional two-day, 10-hour classroom environment, two free online courses, including courses in Spanish or three optional fee-associated online courses. For more information and to find a hunter education course near you, visit http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/learning/hunter_education/ or call 512-389-4999.
The hunter education course is a minimum 10-hour class over two days that teaches hunting safety, modern and primitive sporting arms, wildlife conservation, management, game laws, outdoor skills and responsibility. When the course is completed, the certification card is good for life and is honored by all states, Mexico, and all Canadian provinces that require hunter education. Proof of certification, which includes the card or the hunter education certification number printed on the hunting license, must be carried at all times while hunting.
Hunters ages 9-16 must either pass the course or be accompanied by a person who is at least 17 or older licensed to hunt in Texas who has had hunter education or is exempt. Hunters younger than age 9 may take the course but they will not be certified and must be accompanied by a person licensed to hunt in Texas who is at least age 17 or older who has had hunter education or is exempt. Accompanied means within normal voice control and preferably within arm's length.