Opening Day Means Putting Safety in Your Sights
With hundreds of thousands of Texans getting ready for opening day of the general gun season for white-tailed deer on Nov. 5, it’s important to keep safety in your crosshairs. “It looks like hunting accidents are headed for another record low this year, and we want to keep it that way,” says Terry Erwin, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s hunter education coordinator. Last year, Texas saw 25 hunting accidents, four of them fatal. If you were born after Sept. 1, 1971 and this is going to be your first deer season, keep in mind you must have completed a hunter education course or obtained a one-time deferral if you aren’t able to get into a course. “This coming weekend is a good time to get that taken care of,” Erwin says. “It’s also a good time to make sure all your equipment is up to speed, from your stands to your firearms.” Erwin suggests cleaning your rifle, checking for any mechanical problems and getting it sighted in. “Beyond that, the week before deer season starts is a good time to go over the basic rules of gun safety, even if you’ve heard them a jillion times before. The big four are always making sure your rifle is pointed in a safe direction, always treat it like it was loaded, always make sure of your target before you shoot (use binoculars, not your rifle scope) and keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to pull it. You can’t call a bullet back, and it always has the right-of-way.” Last year in Texas, four persons died in hunting-related accidents. All four instances involved gunshots – two self-inflicted, two by other hunters. TPWD’s annual Hunting Accident Report for 2010 identifies the factors involved in reported hunting accidents last year. The number one cause involved hunters swinging on game outside a safe zone of fire. One way to stay out of some other hunter’s sights is wearing blaze orange clothing or hat. “Blaze orange is not mandatory in Texas unless you’re hunting on public land, but it makes a lot of sense,” Erwin says. “Deer cannot see color, but other hunters can.” While firearms safety should be a hunter’s top priority, accidents in the field are more likely to occur without a shot being fired.” The most unreported of all hunting accidents are falls from elevated hunting blinds or tree stands,” Erwin says. “If you’re going to be hunting from a tree stand, make sure to use a Tree-stand Manufacturer’s Association-approved tree stand and a TMA approved fall restraint device.” While tree stands see a fair amount of use in East Texas, many more hunters used elevated blinds or tripods accessible by ladder. “Always keep in mind the three-point position when climbing into your blind,” he says. “That means having two hands and one foot on the ladder at all times, or two feet and one hand.” Don’t try to carry your rifle when you get into or out of an elevated stand and make sure it is unloaded until you are safely seated. “Use a haul line to bring your rifle up once you are safely in your blind, then, unload your firearm and lower it with the haul line before climbing down,” Erwin recommends. Another thing to remember about deer stands, especially permanent blinds is that they make good habitat. “Always check your blind for stinging insects, snakes and other critters that might have been living in it during the off-season,” Erwin suggested. The general gun season runs through Jan. 1, 2012 in North Texas and Jan. 15, 2012 in South Texas. A late youth-only season is also slated for Jan. 2-15, 2012. For additional late season deer hunting opportunities, consult the 2011-12 Outdoor Annual of hunting and fishing regulations.