Question of the Week

November 10, 2008


In many parts of the country, fall brings hunting season. The exact dates vary, as do the animals that can be hunted. Also variable, is that age at which a person can hunt.

"In Kansas, you must be 11 years old to be certified and may not hunt alone until 12."

While in Kansas 11-year-olds are permitted to hunt, the law has recently changed in Minnesota to allow those who are 10 to hunt without first passing a hunter education course.

In Minnesota: "A law change last session allows kids that age [10- and 11-year-olds] for the first time in modern history to hunt deer and other big game in Minnesota using high-caliber firearms and slug-shooting shotguns without first passing a hunter education and firearms safety course."

In Wisconsin, people need to be 12 before they can be in possession of a firearm, and only then if they are accompanied by an adult. Those over the age of 14, yet born in the year 1973 or later, may hunt if they have completed a hunting safety course.

In Wisconsin:
"No one under the age of 12 may purchase a license or possess a firearm. Children ages 12 and 13 may purchase a license and hunt if accompanied by a parent or guardian at least 18 years of age. Anyone 14 years of age or older, born on or after January 1, 1973, may purchase a license and hunt if in possession of a hunting safety course completion certificate unless privileges revoked in a court of law."

There are arguments on both sides for how young or old people should be before they can safely begin hunting with guns. Proper instruction and guidance are key at any age, but even under the most controlled of circumstances, accidents can happen.

"An 8-year-old boy died after accidentally shooting himself in the head while firing an Uzi submachine gun under adult supervision at a gun fair. The boy lost control of the weapon while firing it Sunday at the Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo... As the boy fired the Uzi, 'the front end of the weapon went up with the backfire and he ended up receiving a round in his head,' police Lt. Hipolito Nunez said. The boy died at a hospital. ... [T]he boy's father was supporting his son from behind when the shooting happened. ... It is legal in Massachusetts for children to fire a weapon if they have permission from a parent or legal guardian and are supervised by a properly certified and licensed instructor."

While hunting accidents do not claim as many lives as they used to, when the mistake is made by a teen, the news story seems to gain a lot of attention.

"A 14-year-old Skagit County boy accused of fatally shooting a 54-year-old hiker after he mistook her for a bear pleaded not guilty this morning to first-degree manslaughter. ... The teen and his 17-year-old brother, who live in Concrete, were hunting by themselves on Sauk Mountain when they saw a 'black outline' on the trail about 100 yards ahead of them, according to court documents. The younger boy said, 'It's a bear, it's a bear,' and, 'I've got my cross hairs on it,' court documents allege. The older boy agreed and told his brother to go ahead and shoot, according to police and prosecutors. Almli was wearing a light-blue jacket and green pants when she was shot, investigators said. ... Skagit County prosecutors said they charged the boy because his actions were reckless. The teen was licensed and had taken a hunting safety class when he was 9. Prosecutors say he failed to follow the Washington State Hunters guide, which warns to always use binoculars and never a telescopic sight to identify a target, and to make sure the area behind the target is clear. It is currently legal in Washington for a licensed 14-year-old who has taken the hunting class to hunt without adult supervision."

The teen had taken a safety course, and he was old enough to legally hunt without an adult by his side. There was still a terrible accident that some think should have been avoidable. Safety courses do not prevent all hunting accidents, but they do help reduce the numbers. Additionally, they do give many hunters the knowledge and skills they need to potentially save the life of someone who has been accidentally hurt.

"Hunting accidents are relatively few nowadays, thanks mainly to safety skills gained from hunter education. Last year there were only 44 hunting-related mishaps in Texas among a hunting population of more than one million, and a majority of those incidents could be considered minor. Some were not. One accident in particular nearly cost a man his life were it not for the swift response by a trio of young hunters who drew on the first-aid skills learned in their hunter education class. ... The 44-year-old victim was not required to have hunter education because of his age, but had he taken the course he would have known that you never carry a loaded firearm when climbing into a stand, according to Terry Erwin, hunter education coordinator for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department."

Hunting Safety courses can help hunters learn ways to prevent accidents, as well as basic first aid that they can use in the event of an accident. Whether a hunter has taken a class or not, there are key points that can help assure a safer hunt:

  • "* Assume every gun is loaded
  • * Control the muzzle.
  • * Point your gun in a safe direction
  • * Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot
  • * Be sure of your target and beyond
  • * Hunter Orange ~ 7 times safer"

"Hunter Orange" can prove helpful for hunters as well as those who live near areas where hunting takes place. While this vibrant orange color does not make those wearing it more visible to animals, it does make it easier for people to see them.

"Deer have no red-sensitive cone cells in their eyes, so they can't tell red or orange from green and brown. ... Fluorescent colors like hunter orange look bright to humans because they absorb UV rays we can't see and turn them into longer wavelengths we can see. So, hunter orange reflects less UV that deer see well and more of the rays deer don't see well."

Questions of the Week:
What do all people (both hunters and non-hunters) need to know about hunting safety? How does what you need to know differ based upon where you live? What should you know before camping or hiking in another part of the country? Are there hunting areas in your state? In your county? For those who intend to hunt, what safety classes and precautions should they take?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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