Hunting safety, and ethics, takes first

Sep 24 2010 - 3:58pm

MILWAUKEE -- Hunting is unlike any other outdoor activity.

It places us in our natural -- though increasingly rare in 21st century America -- role as predator.

It involves the use of potentially lethal instruments.

It provides funding for wildlife management that benefits all citizens.

And it is perhaps more scrutinized than any other activity in our woods, fields and waters.

All of which makes it crucial for hunters to conduct themselves in the safest, most ethical manner.

Jim Posewitz is founder and former director of Orion, The Hunter's Institute, a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the preservation of ethical hunting and wild resources.

As you'd expect, Posewitz is a strong supporter of hunting and its ability to connect modern humans to the natural world.

"When hunting, you are no longer exclusively a supermarket-sustained voyeur," Posewitz said at a 1995 outdoor writers conference in Montana. "You are a participant."

The manner in which we participate, though, determines our success.

Here's another thing that sets hunting apart: It comes with more responsibilities than any other outdoor activity.

In his book "Beyond Fair Chase," Posewitz lists five important things about our role as hunter:

--The opportunity and privilege to hunt is ours by virtue of our citizenship.

--The animals we hunt are the result of conservation efforts of recreational hunters who stopped market hunting and commerce in wildlife.

--These early hunters began the restoration and conservation of wildlife that continues to this day.

--We have a responsibility to future generations to see to the conservation of the animals we hunt.

--We have the responsibility to be safe and ethical hunters.

As fall hunting seasons ramp up, it's fitting for all hunters to review the basic firearm safety rules.

As Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources hunter safety administrator Tim Lawhern often says: "Make safety your automatic reflex during the hunt."

The four rules are:

--Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.

--Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.

--Be certain of your target and what is beyond it.

--Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.

Hunting is safe and getting safer thanks to mandatory hunter education and common-sense regulations, including a blaze orange clothing requirement for gun deer hunters.

Wisconsin had 17 hunting accidents in 2009, fewest since the DNR and its predecessor, the Wisconsin Conservation Commission, began keeping records in the early 20th century.

Seven of the 2009 incidents occurred during the gun deer season; seven others took place during small game (squirrel and upland game) hunts.

Statistics show most incidents are self-inflicted or involve a victim being shot by a member of his or her own hunting party. In 2009, seven were self-inflicted and 10 were in the same party, according to DNR statistics.

"Each year, we can almost predict who will be injured," said Lawhern. "We just can't give you a name."

Hunters are also injured each year in falls from tree stands. Hunters should check stands each time they are used for loose bolts, nuts or damaged parts.

And always use a safety harness when hunting from an elevated stand.

Hunting is a unique privilege. If possible, share it with a friend, colleague, family member or neighbor this year.

With a constant commitment to the basic tenets, 2010 can be another record-setting year in an area we can all applaud: Safety.

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