How to be safe this hunting season
The hunt is on.
Big game season is now open in Utah. For the next several weeks, hunters will be spending as much time as they can in the state’s mountains and back country searching for that next big score.
Safety is an obvious issue on the front of most hunters’ minds. After all, they are handling live firearms. Unfortunately, some aspects of safety go overlooked, even before the hunters get to their intended campsite.
Mark Hadley, Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) public information officer, said too often scouting and preparation are neglected as a result of time or other reasons and the hunt becomes less productive.
“Getting prepared now — by gathering materials and gaining knowledge — is the key to a safe and successful experience,” Hadley said.
“Scouting before the hunt is absolutely vital,” added Kirk Smith, hunter education coordinator for DWR. “You need to know the current conditions and how deer are responding to those conditions. The better you know the area, the better chance you’ll have of taking a buck.”
Kathy Jo Pollack, public affairs coordinator for the Utah Forest Service, said attention to road conditions while scouting ahead is also essential.
“I think that [hunters] really have to be aware of what the roads and trails are like,” Pollack said. “If we’ve had storms before the hunt, at those higher elevations we might have snow. If it warms up, it makes the roads and trails really muddy.”
Such weather can wash out roads and even create environments where vehicles get stuck. Pollack said drivers should take a second to look and think if it is safe enough to drive on a road.
Smith advised drivers to carry a shovel, an ax, tire chains, jumper cables and a tow chain in the vehicle in the event of vehicular problems.
When hunters find themselves in these sticky situations, they typically spend more time than originally planned out on the hunt. Pollack recommended that hunters notify someone of where they’re going, when they plan on being back and to have a fully charged cell phone. That way, getting lost or stranded is a more solvable problem.
Hunting alone is never safe, even though people frequently do so. It makes it easier for accidents to happen, and more difficult for hunters to receive support and aid.
Hadley also said hunters need to be aware of their physical limitations. Exceeding limitations leads to excessive sweating and exhaustion, which can lead to dehydration and even hypothermia. According to Smith, the latter can occur in temperatures as warm as 50 degrees.
Smith also said hunters need to be as familiar with their firearms as possible. Every firearm should be treated as if it is loaded, and hunters should never point the firearm at anything they don’t intend to shoot.
Every firearm should be regularly checked to ensure no obstructions are in the barrel. And once the hunter is ready to take the shot, Smith said to be sure of the target and what’s beyond it.
Though there is frequently a stereotype of beer drinking association with hunting, Smith recommended against it.
“Alcohol and firearms don’t mix,” he said. “Do not handle a firearm if you’ve been drinking alcohol.”
Be aware even if you’re not a hunter
Hunting accidents come with the season. Policies are aimed at mitigating these accidents, such as the requirement that hunters wear bright orange vests and hats so other hunters don’t mistake them for game.
But what about campers and other people just out enjoying the outdoors at this time of year?
“All users have to be aware, whether it be hunters that there are other users recreating in the forest at the same time, or that there are hunters out there,” Pollack said.
She recommended that everyone using the outdoors for recreation should wear visible orange, “whether you’re hunting or not.”
This year’s rifle deer hunt begins Oct. 18 and is the most popular hunt in the state. Hadley said reports indicate the number of buck deer will be similar to, and perhaps better, than it was last fall in almost every area of the state.
Smith said as important as it is to be safe, hunters should enjoy every moment they have in the outdoors.
“There’s so much more to deer hunting than taking a deer,” Smith said. “Being in the mountains with your family and friends, enjoying the beautiful fall scenery and the variety of wildlife in Utah can make any deer hunt a memorable experience.”