Lessons Learned: Hunting Incidents Are Preventable!

Let's review three recent (completely preventable) Iowa hunting incidents for a hunting-safety refresher course.

by
posted on December 13, 2023
Iowa Dnr Hunting Accident Lede
Courtesy Iowa DNR

Hunting, as a sport, is safer than golf. Of course, most of the reason why that's true is that American hunters are well-informed about gun and hunting safety. That said, there's always room for improvement, and three recent incidents in Iowa demonstrate exactly where that room is.

Before we discuss what went wrong and how it could be improved, we'll point out one thing: The opening weekend of Iowa’s second gun deer season saw 50,000-plus hunters in the woods and fields in that state alone. Seventy-seven thousand deer have been harvested so far this year in Iowa. Out of all those people, three had problems ... it's a tiny percentage. But we here at the NRA won't be happy until that tiny percentage becomes "zero."

Another general point of impact is that, although the circumstances surrounding these incidents were all different, the real problem was (as always) carelessness. Even experienced hunters can lose sight of their training under stress, so remember: Familiarity breeds contempt if you let it.

Two separate incidents involved the same issue--shooting at running deer. It's absolutely true that there are hunters who have the requisite skill to make an ethical harvest on a running deer, but here's the catch: There are a lot fewer hunters who can do it than hunters who think they can! In both accidents, a deer was running between two hunters and one hunter was struck by a wayward shot from another in their party. Both hunters required medical attention, and both survived their injuries.

What's the first, best way to avoid an incident like this? Communication with your hunting buddies. It's important to discuss ahead of time where every member of your hunting party will be, and where your safe fields-of-fire are. Make a plan, and then stick to your plan. The second way to avoid an incident like this is to simply avoid shooting at running deer. 

Said Jamie Cook, hunter education coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, “We continue to stress that hunters should avoid shooting at running deer and to be sure of what is in front of and behind the deer before pulling the trigger,” Cook said. “If there is any question about taking a shot, don’t pull the trigger because once you pull the trigger, you can’t call the shot back and no deer is worth taking an unsafe shot. Another will come along.”

The other incident involved a self-inflicted injury due to carelessly handling a firearm and lack of muzzle control. This is where the NRA's Three Rules could have prevented the incident. Remember: 1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction; 2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot; 3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use. Yes, that's as basic as basic gets ... but it's critical to remember, even if the biggest buck you've ever seen just walked out in front of you.

As a reminder, Cook said it is important to develop, review and follow a hunting plan that outlines how the hunt will unfold and the role and location for every member of the group while in the field. “The hunting plan should also include reminders on not shooting at running deer, and safety basics of treating every gun as if it were loaded and always pointing the gun in a safe direction,” Cook said.

“We hunt with those who we are closest to – our friends and our family. This is just a reminder that things can happen in a split second,” Cook said. “At the end of the day, we all want to get home safely.”

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