The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is ringing the safety bell after one person died and three others were seriously injured in firearms related hunting incidents in September.
The fatal incident occurred during a youth waterfowl hunting season when one person stood up and another person, still sitting, shot at passing ducks.
In other cases, a person in a deer hunting tree stand was "mistaken for a squirrel" and suffered head and shoulder wounds; a hunter in a canoe took pellets to his hand and foot after a shotgun tipped over and discharged; and a hunter was hit in the abdomen and groin area after another person in his party swung to shoot at ducks.
The DNR on Thursday hosted a media briefing to draw attention to the issue. Agency safety experts stressed that hunting-related firearms accidents remain rare, and are just a fraction of what they were 50 years ago. But the DNR warns that hunters need to be continually vigilant when using deadly weapons. That's especially true with the state's pheasant season starting Saturday and firearms deer season just three weeks away. Those season often produce the most serious firearms-related incidents.
"Hunting is a very safe recreational activity, considering more than a half-million people hunt each fall in Minnesota," said Jon Paurus, DNR Enforcement education program coordinator. "But our goal is for every hunter to make it home safely after every hunt. We've made great strides thanks to our firearms safety curriculum, but we aren't there yet."
Last year nine people were injured and one killed in firearms-related hunting accidents in Minnesota. The four firearms incidents this year are the most since 2013 when, for the entire fall, the DNR reported a total of 17 people injured. Between 2013 and 2017, there have been an average of about 10 firearms-related hunting accidents each year. In 2015 there were no firearms related deaths among hunters. During the 1960s, by comparison, as many as 29 hunters were killed in one year. So far this decade 117 hunters have been injured and 13 killed in firearms related incidents. That number has steadily declined since the 1960s when 1,030 people were injured and 142 killed in firearms related hunting accidents in Minnesota.
One reason there are fewer incidents is that there are far fewer hunters pursuing waterfowl and small game, although deer hunter numbers remain near historic highs.
Experts credit blaze orange clothing, now required for deer and small game hunting, for greatly increasing hunter visibility. Firearms safety training also has helped. Since 2011, the DNR's 4,000 certified instructors have provided firearms safety training to 177,453 students. Anyone born since 1980 must obtain firearms safety certification before they can buy a hunting license in Minnesota.
"Teaching is helping,'' said Frank Flack, president of the Minnesota Volunteer Safety Instructors Association and a 32-year volunteer safety instructor.
The three most common factors in hunting-related firearms incidents are careless handling, not knowing the safe zone of fire and not being sure of what's beyond the target. Whatever they're pursuing, and whether they're hunting alone or in a group, hunters should follow the three tenets of safe firearms handling: Treat each firearm as if it is loaded by keeping your finger off the trigger; always control the muzzle of your firearm; and be sure of your target and what is beyond.