Preparation Key to Safe Deer Hunting Experience

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Big game hunters throughout Utah are eagerly awaiting the beginning of the state's general buck deer hunt Oct. 23.

Preparations now, in the form of gathering materials and gaining knowledge, are key to a safe big game hunting experience.

And, while taking a deer is usually the highlight of any deer hunt, hunters should remember to enjoy all the experiences a deer hunt provides.

"Enjoy the entire experience of the hunt," says Lenny Rees, hunter education coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "Good friends, a good camp, a chance to observe wildlife and the beautiful state we live in are all things deer hunters are fortunate enough to enjoy during their time afield."

Rees offers the following tips for an enjoyable and safe hunting experience:

Personal preparation:

* obtain your deer hunting permit. As of Oct. 7, Northern Region permits for residents and nonresidents were still available. Permits for the other regions are sold out.

* know the area you're going to hunt. If possible, scout the area before the hunt.

* put together a survival kit. The kit should include:

1. a small first aid kit;
2. three ways to make a fire (matches, cigarette lighter, firestarters, etc.);
3. quick energy snack foods;
4. a cord or rope;
5. a compass;
6. a flashlight;
7. an extra knife and;
8. a small pad of paper and a pencil (for leaving information at your last location — about yourself and the direction you're traveling — should you become lost).

Firearm preparation:

* make sure you have the proper ammunition for your firearm.

* be as familiar as possible with your firearm — know how to load and unload it, and where the safety is and how to operate it.

Firearm safety:

* muzzle control is the most important aspect of firearm safety. Never let the muzzle of your firearm point at anything you do not intend to shoot, including yourself.

* never carry a loaded firearm in your vehicle.

* before shooting, make sure of your target and what's beyond it.

Vehicle preparation:

* make sure your vehicle is in good mechanical condition.

* carry a shovel, ax, tire chains, jumper cables and a tow chain in your vehicle.

* if you experience mechanical problems with your vehicle or become snowed in, stay with your vehicle — don't leave it.

Before leaving on your trip:

* let someone know where you're going and when you expect to return. While In the field:

* never hunt alone.

* wear proper safety clothing — 400 square inches of hunter orange on your back, chest and head.

Field dressing your animal:

* use a sharp knife. A sharp knife is safer for field dressing than a dull one.

* cut away from you — never bring a knife blade towards you while cutting.

Your physical well-being:

* know your physical limitations and don't exceed them.

* be prepared for weather changes by dressing in layers. Dressing in layers allows you to regulate your body temperature by adding or removing clothes as needed.

* drink plenty of water, regardless of the temperature. "You can become dehydrated, even in cold weather," Rees said.

* hypothermia (the loss of body temperature) can occur in temperatures as warm as 50° F. Be aware of hypothermia signs. The first is stumbling or disorientation. "When you notice these signs sit down immediately and build a fire," Rees said. "Make sure to get yourself warm and dry."

* frostbite. If hunting in cold weather, be aware of frostbite development. White spots on your skin are the first sign. Check your face, feet and hands regularly. It's much easier to notice the first signs of frostbite on the face, if you're hunting with a companion who can alert you.

If you're lost:

* don't panic. Sit down and build a fire, even if it isn't cold.

"A fire is soothing and will help you to relax and think clearly," Rees said.

After calming down, try to get your bearings and think your way out of the situation. If you think you know the direction you need to travel, use the pad of paper and pencil from your survival kit and leave a note at your location, indicating who you are and the direction you're traveling. If you come across others as you're trying to find your hunting party, don't be embarrassed to stop them and ask for directions and help.

If you're unsure about the direction you should travel, stay at your camp and build a shelter several hours before sundown, if possible. Build a smoky fire (which can be spotted from the air) or build three fires (a distress signal that also can be noticed from the air).

"You can live without food and water for several days," Rees said of those who choose to remain at their camp until they're found.

Alcohol and gunpowder don't mix!

* do not handle a firearm if you've been consuming alcohol.

* do not give alcohol to someone who's cold. Rather than warming the person, alcohol will actually make them colder.