Tragic Death Underscores Importance of Hunter Safety

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The 24-year-old hunter from Shelby County couldn't believe his luck. He was deer hunting on private land near Shelbyville one late afternoon recently when a doe walked out of the brush. He made the kill. Then, moments later and right near sunset, a buck walked out of the same area. He was amazed. He got the buck.

Then, as magic seemed to be settling in with dusk, he saw movement, this time across the pasture. The figure was about 250 yards away and was walking along the edge of the woods. He raised his .7-mm magnum rifle and took aim. Again, he made the kill.

Only this time it wasn't a deer. It was a man.

The 48-year-old who died was hunting with his 13-year-old son and had just emerged from the woods on an adjacent property. He was not wearing orange since it is not required on private property. He was shot in the abdomen, game wardens said. It is the second hunting-related fatality this calendar year so far and there have also been 23 hunting-related injuries since January, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which tracks the occurrences. And as of 2001, there were 1,076,159 hunting licenses issued in Texas.

While hunting is generally considered to be one of the safest outdoor activities, TPWD always strives to make it even safer. Terry Erwin, hunter education coordinator, said, "While we can't possibly eliminate all hunting accidents, they would be greatly reduced if Texas hunters would follow three strategies. First, attend a hunter education course to learn about causes and prevention of hunting accidents. (Hunter education is required in all states and is required of Texas hunters born on or after Sept. 2, 1971).

Second, always be aware of your surroundings and only take a shot within your 'safe zone-of-fire.' Third, never carry a loaded firearm in a vehicle."

And though orange isn't required on private land, it always helps.

"Hunter or blaze orange vests and caps have reduced hunter judgment mistakes by more than 50 percent in states requiring it to be worn," according to Steve Hall, education director at TPWD. "In Texas, hunter orange requirements affect only hunters on public land," he added. "Hunters and guides on private land, especially those hunting quail or pheasant, can also wear them to be more visible to other hunters.

Texas hunting accidents in 2001 declined from the year before. In 2001, there were 43 accidents and in 2000 there were 51, including seven that resulted in fatalities. TPWD has kept hunting accident records since 1966. The record low of 31 accidents, including two fatalities, occurred in 1996.

Hall, who has kept the game warden-generated Texas hunting accident records since 1987, said that the good news is that hunting accidents in the United States and Texas have declined in the last three decades by more than half.

"More than 55,000 instructors, many whom are volunteers, teach over 650,000 students annually across North America. This has had a great impact on the safety of hunters, and hunter education is one of the greatest successes of the United States Fish and Wildlife's Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration (federal aid) and state wildlife conservation programs and partnerships."

As a refresher, TPWD offers the following hunter safety rules.

  • Always point the muzzle of your firearm or your bow and arrow in a safe direction
  • Treat every firearm or bow with the same respect you would show a loaded gun or nocked arrow
  • Be sure of your target and what is in front of and behind your target
  • Unload and safely store firearms or unstring conventional bows when not in use
  • Handle firearms, arrows and ammunition carefully
  • Know your safe zone-of-fire and stick to it
  • Control your emotions when it comes to safety
  • Wear hearing and eye protection when shooting
  • Don't drink alcohol or take mood-altering drugs before or while handling firearms, bows and arrows
  • Be aware of additional circumstances which require added caution or safety awareness

For more information about upcoming hunter education student and instructor courses, visit the Web ( or call (800)-792-1112.