2004 Was Safest Year Ever for Hunters

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Just three hunting incidents were reported in Vermont last year, making 2004 the safest year ever. None of these incidents was life threatening, and Vermont's most popular hunting season - the November rifle deer season - was accident free.

"Vermont hunters should be very proud," said Vermont Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Wayne LaRoche. "Their track record shatters the perception held by some people that hunting is dangerous. Still, even three incidents are too many."

Two of the incidents involved hunters hitting partners while shooting at game, and both violated the same basic firearm safety rule -- be certain of your target and what is beyond. This can be especially challenging in Vermont, where thick foliage can make keeping track of a partner difficult. Pre-hunt planning and plenty of fluorescent hunter orange can make this task much easier. In the third case, a self-inflicted wound resulted in the loss of two toes. Poor muzzle control due to careless handling was the cause.

"Clearly, these were all incidents -- not accidents, "said Christopher Saunders, hunter education coordinator. "All of them could have been prevented."

Hunting-related shooting incidents are thoroughly investigated by the department's state game wardens, often in conjunction with state police, county sheriffs, and other local authorities. The lessons learned from these incidents are used to continually update and improve the hunter education course in an effort to reduce the number of hunting injuries each year.

"I can't thank the wardens enough for this hard and certainly unpleasant work," said Saunders. "Our instructors use their information to highlight the common mistakes in the field and the consequences of those mistakes."

Mandatory hunter education has led to a 75 percent decline in the hunting injury rate over the past three decades. This is due in large part to the dedication of the Vermont Hunter Education Program's volunteer instructors. Last year was also a record year for them. The program's 580 instructors certified 5,032 students, up 27 percent from 2003.

The program is always looking for experienced hunters to pass on the tradition of hunting safely and responsibly to the next generation. If you are interested in assisting the department in this rewarding volunteer activity, please call (802) 241-3720 for more information on becoming an instructor

1976 and 1993 also saw three incidents, but the wounds were generally more severe. Records go back to 1953.