Texas Hunting Accidents Drop to Record Low

Tom Harvey, 512-389-4453, tom.harvey@tpwd.texas.gov

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AUSTIN, Texas – A new report shows Texas hunting accidents in 2004 decreased to the lowest amount since statistical records began in 1966. The number of people injured in hunting accidents in Texas decreased from 44 in 2003 to 29 in 2004, although fatalities increased from two to four during the same period.

More important than the annual dips and peaks, however, is the long-term trend.

“Overall, we’ve cut accident rates by more than half since the 1960s and 70s,” said Steve Hall, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department education branch chief, and author of the latest Texas hunting accident report. Hall attributes part of the steady decrease to mandatory hunter education that began in 1988.

Hall said the significant factors behind most hunting accidents have not changed much in recent years. He believes wearing blaze orange would avoid many accidents. Law violations are common in accident scenarios, including many violations for “failure to take a hunter education course.” (Any hunter born on or after Sept. 2, 1971 must pass the course to legally hunt in Texas.)

The primary reason for Texas hunting accidents remains swinging on game outside a safe zone of fire. This happens when a person points a firearm at another hunter while following a moving target, such as a flying game bird. Hunter education teaches people to set up safe zones of fire where a gun can be safely pointed whether the target is moving or stationary.

Careless firearm handling remains another primary factor in many accidents.

“Careless handling incidents almost always involve three factors: pointing a loaded firearm muzzle at yourself or someone else with the safety off and with your finger inside the trigger guard,” Hall explained. Hunter education courses teach ways to safely handle firearms, including how to carry them in the field and pass them from one person to another.

Some statistics seem to defy stereotypical expectations. Most accidents do not happen under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Most of the people involved had more than 10 years of hunting experience. Most were in light to open cover with clear visibility in good weather.

Other findings verify what might be expected. Most people involved did not attend a hunter education course or wear any type of hunter orange clothing. Most accidents violated a cardinal rule of hunter safety, were situated in or around a vehicle or stand, and occurred toward dusk and involved fatigue as a factor.

Dove hunting had close to twice the number of accidents (11) as the next highest accident category for 2004, deer hunting (6). This is because hunting birds on the wing involves the greatest risk of swinging on game outside the safe zone of fire.

Last year was the first in which hunters in Texas could purchase a deferral, which postpones the requirement to take hunter education for up to one year.

“We did this to allow more adults to try hunting,” Hall said. “You still must be accompanied by a person who has completed hunter education or is exempt. The idea is to encourage hunter recruitment with experienced mentors.”

Texas has a national reputation for making access to hunter education convenient and plentiful with more than 4,400 courses offered across the state and at least one in all 254 counties each year. The summer months when school lets out are an ideal time for new hunters to take the course.

Texans have several options available for fulfilling hunter education requirements, including the traditional classroom environment, a home study course and an online course. Texas certifies about 33,000 students annually.

The hunter education course is a minimum 10-hour class that teaches hunting safety, modern and primitive sporting arms, wildlife conservation, outdoor skills and responsibility. When the course is completed, the certification card is good for life and is honored by all states, Mexico, and all Canadian provinces that require hunter education. Proof of certification, which includes the card or the hunter education certification number printed on the hunting license, must be carried at all times while hunting.

Hunters ages 12-16 must either pass the course or be accompanied by a person who is at least 17 or older licensed to hunt in Texas who has had hunter education or is exempt. Hunters younger than age 12 may take the course but they will not be certified and must be accompanied by a person licensed to hunt in Texas who is at least age 17 or older who has had hunter education or is exempt. Accompanied means within normal voice control and preferably within arm’s length.

Hunters can purchase a license before becoming certified, but they must carry proof of certification while hunting.

More information about hunter education as well as the schedule of course offerings are available at local TPWD offices, by calling TPWD at (800) 792-1112 ext. 4999.

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