With hundreds of thousands of hunters gearing up for Michigan’s deer firearms season, caution is critical. Here are some tips for avoiding tragedy:
Clearly identify your target: No deer or other game is worth the risk of injuring or killing anyone. Michigan Department of Natural Resources incident reports are rife with cases in which shooters thought they saw or heard the quarry only to be surprised that the target was another hunter, or a hiker. Hunters in 2012, and again last year, mistook other hunters for raccoons. In another incident last year, a hunter told authorities he thought the hunter he shot was a squirrel.
Know with certainty that no one is in your extended line of fire: Bullets and slugs from flat-shooting, high-powered rifles and modern shotguns or muzzleloaders can travel long distances beyond a target. One 2018 hunter death occurred on public land when the shooter missed a deer along a power line and was unaware of another hunter sitting in the woods just beyond.
Know your weapon: Many hunters only handle their weapon, or a borrowed weapon, a few days each year. Lack of familiarity with safeties and triggers is a leading cause of accidental firings and self-inflicted injuries. Double and triple check that your safety is in the safe position. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. Double check that the gun is unloaded before storing it.
If you hunt in a tree stand, the gun should be unloaded when you lift it up with a cord: Never tie the cord around the trigger guard, as several Michigan hunters did, according to DNR incident reports.
Always point the muzzle in a safe direction, even if you think the gun isn’t loaded: Assume every gun is loaded.
Don’t use your scope as binoculars: If you do, you could find yourself pointing a loaded gun at something or someone you didn’t intend to shoot.
Put down your gun when crossing a fence or obstacle: Several incidents in recent years showed this was a factor.
Don’t trespass on private land: You also need permission to go onto private land to track or find a wounded animal.
Don’t skimp on hunter orange: Michigan is among a solid majority of states that require hunters (with exceptions for archers and turkey or waterfowl hunters) to wear at least one piece of “hunter orange,” the highly visible, bright material. Hunters can comply by wearing only a hunting cap. In many hunting accidents reported by the state, shooters told authorities they didn’t see the hunter they shot. Assume that other hunters aren’t as careful.
If you hunt inside a closed, camouflaged blind, make sure it’s visible: Several Michigan hunters were injured or killed when struck by a bullet while sitting in a well-concealed blind. Hang a hunter-orange vest or hat or both on a nearby tree or on the blind itself.
Carry a fully charged cellphone: In the event of a firearms accident or any health problem, make sure you can make a call for help, especially if you’re hunting alone. Make sure someone knows where and when you’re hunting.
Sources: Michigan DNR; International Hunter Safety Association