Taking dead aim at hunter safety

Sitting for hours along a game trail in bone-chilling weather waiting for a moose or deer to appear can breed inattention to detail.

Sitting for hours along a game trail in bone-chilling weather waiting for a moose or deer to appear can breed inattention to detail.

Then a snap of a dry twig or a sudden movement can trigger an adrenalin rush and sometimes fool a big-game hunter into thinking they see what they want to see.

Unfortunately, shooting with any degree of uncertainty can have tragic consequences, like so many fatal hunting accidents where it’s a hunting partner who takes the bullet after being mistaken for a deer or moose.

It’s especially crucial at this time of the year, as hunting season in Central Alberta gets into full swing, for hunters to sit down and discuss among themselves when or when not to shoot, before heading into the bush to hunt as a team.

Big-game hunting season west of Rocky Mountain House opened in September. On Nov. 1, the season opens in Central Alberta.

While hunting big game has declined dramatically in this immediate in recent years, the hunt still appeals to some. Most are the serious hunters — they know the rules, are experienced and don’t mix alcohol with a rifle.

But sometimes experience can breed overconfidence, overriding caution and allowing boredom or adrenalin to play tricks.

The Canadian Safety Council says that no matter how many years one has scouted the bush during hunting season, refresher courses for experienced hunters are highly recommended.

The No. 1 rule most ignored by the seasoned hunters, and resulting in tragedy, is: “Rely on sight, not sound. Do not pull the trigger until you are absolutely certain that your target is indeed wildlife, and not a person.”

The safety council reported recently that heartbreaking headlines across Canada highlight a rash of injuries and deaths from unintended incidents involving firearms in hunting season. They include:

l A young woman shot dead while hunting near Grande Prairie with family members.

l An Ottawa hunter dying after accidental shooting.

l A hunter in B.C. shot after another man mistakes him for wildlife.

l A son shot by his father dies in hunting accident in Saskatchewan.

l A B.C. hunter killed in an accidental shooting.

Terry Pratt, an instructor with the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, says “this has been an exceptional year for the accidental discharge of a firearm, especially while hunting.”

Pratt says common sense must be the top priority for anyone handling a gun. “Once you’ve got a firearm in your hands, you have to be aware of your situation at all times.”

The safety council warns that safety measures must be respected and good judgment is a must whenever a firearm is used for hunting.

Alberta wildlife regulations once required hunters to wear blaze orange jackets so they were easily identifiable to other hunters. That’s no longer the case. But anybody walking into the bush without obvious blaze orange clothing is courting disaster. The safety council says “safety never goes out of season.”

It’s also important to remember that the fall season brings another threat, this time to motorists.

Deer and moose are in the midst of their annual rut; males chasing females and females luring males, with only one thing in mind — and it’s not avoiding man and man’s machines.

So motorists are urged to be vigilant, especially during dawn and dusk.

Deer have been deemed the most dangerous wild animal in Alberta. They have been linked to more human deaths than any other wild creature, as motorists hit them or swerve to avoid them, triggering collisions.

Hunters need to ease off on the trigger finger this year — that extra moment of caution could save a life.

And motorists need to ease off on the gas pedal — the life they save may be their own.

Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.

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