With hundreds of thousands of hunters gearing up for Michigan’s deer firearm season, caution is paramount. Here are some tips to avoid tragedy:
Clearly identify your goal: Deer or other game is not worth the risk of injuring or killing. Incident reports from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are littered with cases where shooters thought they saw or heard the quarry only to be surprised the target was another hunter or hiker. Hunters in 2012, and again last year, mistook other hunters for raccoons. In another incident last year, a hunter told authorities that he thought the hunter he shot was a squirrel.
Know for sure that no one is in your extended line of fire: Bullets and shells from modern high-powered, flat-firing rifles and shotguns or muzzleloaders can travel long distances beyond a target. One hunter’s death in 2018 occurred on public land when the shooter missed a deer along a power line and failed to notice another hunter sitting in the woods beyond.
Know your weapon: Many hunters only handle their gun, or a borrowed gun, a few days a year. Unfamiliarity with safety locks and triggers is a leading cause of accidental gunshots and self-inflicted injuries. Double and triple check that your safety is in the safe position. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Double check that the gun is unloaded before putting it away.
If you hunt in a tree stand, the gun must be unloaded when you pick it up on a rope: Never tie the cord around the trigger guard, as several Michigan hunters have done, according to DNR incident reports.
Always point the muzzle in a safe direction, even if you think the gun is not loaded: Assume all guns are 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 mean to shoot.
Put down your gun when crossing a fence or obstacle: Several incidents in recent years have shown that this was a factor.
Do not trespass on private land: You also need permission to enter private land to track or find an injured 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 bright, highly visible material. Hunters can comply by wearing only a hunting hat. In many state-reported hunting accidents, shooters told authorities they did not see the hunter they shot. Suppose other hunters are not so careful.
If you hunt inside a closed and camouflaged hideout, make sure it is visible: Several Michigan hunters were injured or killed when they were 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 cell phone: In the event of a firearms accident or any health problem, make sure you can call for help, especially if you are hunting alone. Make sure someone knows where and when you are hunting.
Sources: Michigan DNR; International Hunter Safety Association