Hunter safety is key |

Hunter safety is key

Fran Reinier

So, you remembered the extra batteries, disposable gloves and toilet paper, but when were you born? If you were born after Jan. 1, 1949, the state of Colorado requires you to have hunter education card.

All states now offer hunter education with each state having a different effective date.

Hunters here now who don’t have a hunter education card may be out of luck, unless they can find a crash course.

The crash course cards are good until April of the next year. At that time, hunters must enroll in a class to receive a card good for life. To find a crash course, contact the local Division of Wildlife.

Usually, the eight-hour classes are offered the morning before season opens. The hard part is finding such a course, so the best bet is to have one before coming to Colorado.

In Routt County, hunter education classes are offered in Oak Creek, Hayden and Steamboat Springs. The classes usually are offered three to four times during the year. Once before applications are due, during the summer before school starts and in the fall before big game hunting begins. The DOW office can provide dates and towns.

In Steamboat Springs the office is located in the U.S. Forest Service building on U.S. Highway 40 east of town and the telephone number is 870-2197. For information when classes will be held in Moffat County, contact Sportsman Information Center on east Victory Way in Craig at 824-3046.

Hunter education teaches the basics of ethics and safety along with a dash of history, survival, wildlife management, game care, responsibilities and shooting fundamentals. Hunter education was developed by hunters for hunters.

The courses started after Division of Wildlife officials became concerned about the number of hunters being killed or seriously injured by other hunters. Before the legislative mandate, firearm-related hunting incident rates were extremely high.

A primary goal of hunter education is to reduce incident rates, protecting human lives and preventing injuries. In the 1990s, Colorado averaged 1.3 fatal and 11.1 nonfatal hunting incidents a year. In the 1960s, the state averaged 10.1 fatal and 24.2 nonfatal hunting incidents a year.

The largest causes of deaths in the field fall into three categories — being mistaken for game, mishandling of the firearm and alcohol-related incident.

Unfortunately, during big game season, someone will accidentally shoot a friend, loved one or stranger because of the failure to identify the target. A hunter is tracking a herd of animals, sees the animals in one location, and a short time later, sees movement in the brush and fires without checking.

The second cause is carelessness — thinking the firearm is not loaded, resting it against a truck bumper or tree, falling down with a loaded firearm and accidentally hitting the trigger while placing the firearm into the vehicle. All are caused by not taking time to check.

The third and by far the easiest to avoid is the alcohol-related accident. Alcohol should never be part of the hunt — save the alcohol until after the hunt when the firearms are packed away.

Not all injuries come from mishandling a firearm. Some are from not being familiar with livestock or all terrain vehicles. Not all outfitters have the time to test riders of horses or all-terrain vehicles to make sure the hunters have the skills they say they have. It is up to the hunter to be up-front with the outfitter before climbing onto a horse or renting an ATV.

Hunter education will not keep hunters from becoming injured, but it will help avoid the pitfalls.

The classes are geared to teach the basics. Classroom discussion along with workbook coverage, helps even the experienced hunter.

A hunter who claims to know everything he or she needs to know is a hunter waiting to become a victim. Every class has at least one experienced hunter who enjoys being a mentor for those who are not experienced. Companionship is the No. 1 reason given by hunters as what they enjoy the most about the hunt.

Remember, hunting may not be a spectator sport, but the first time you do something unsafe, the whole world finds out. Just remember, stop and think. n

–Fran Reinier works for the Steamboat Pilot and Today. She also teaches a hunter safety course at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus.

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