As you join the nearly 600,000 hunters who head to Wisconsin’s woods, fields and marshes for the state’s annual nine-day gun deer season every year, remember that safety is your No. 1 priority during the hunt.

Incidents resulting in serious injury during hunting season can happen when you’re hunting on the ground as well as from a tree stand. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), tree stand falls are outpacing gun-related injuries and deaths for hunters.

Part of the problem is that less than half of Wisconsin deer hunters who use tree stands take advantage of a fall-restraint harness. Used properly, these manufacturer-certified safety restraints can save you from a long drop and injuries like head trauma, broken bones and spinal cord injuries. More than half of hunter injuries from tree stand falls are injuries to the spine. Suspension trauma is also a risk during a fall if you are hanging in a harness with no way to descend or climb. It can be hours or even days before help comes. Being suspended and vertically immobilized for a long time can lead to serious injury or even death.

In 2018, the number of hunting incidents related to guns as recorded by the Wisconsin DNR was below the 10-year average – but they do happen, so it’s wise to review gun safety before every hunt. The largest contributing factors to gun incidents are loading a firearm and the shooter stumbling or falling. Although children ages 12 to 17 represent the largest group of shooters, 53% of hunting incidents were caused by adults last year.

Hunter education is available through the Wisconsin DNR. To hunt legally in Wisconsin, you must complete a course approved by the DNR and the International Hunter Education Association-USA before you’ll be granted a hunting license. This requirement is mandatory for anyone born on or after January 1, 1973.

Here are some tips to help you enjoy your time outdoors and return safely to family and friends.

Tree Stand Safety

Climb and hunt sober. Drinking alcohol before or during the hunt increases the risk of incidents because it impairs coordination, hearing, vision, communication and judgment. Similar to alcohol, drugs can also affect you. If you take prescription medications, check with your doctor to see if they’re safe to take while you’re hunting.

Always check the condition of your tree before you climb. This is especially important if you’re using a homemade or permanent tree stand. Make sure the tree you select is alive and healthy and can bear your weight as well as the weight of your equipment, supplies, weapons and your tree stand. Look for rotten wood in the tree as well as in railings, steps and the tree stand itself if it’s made of wood. Even stable stands or platforms are dangerous if the tree they’re secured to is rotting.

Test the hardware that attaches your tree stand to the tree to make sure it’s still tight and secure. Check straps for decay or animal damage.

Get a full-body fall restraint harness that meets national standards — and wear it. If you’re not wearing it, it can’t help you.

Attach an extra foot strap to your fall-restraint harness. If you fall and are suspended, the extra strap will help relieve pressure on your upper legs.

Exercise caution when climbing or descending. This is prime time for a fall — even if you’ve done it many times.

When climbing in and out of your tree stand or platform, always use three points of contact: two feet and a hand or two hands and a foot. Use a lifeline as well.

Use a short tether (no more than 12 inches) to keep you secured in your tree when seated in your stand. Without this extra tether, if you fall too far, you’ll be left hanging with no way to get up or down.

Use a haul line to raise and lower your unloaded weapons or supplies.

Have a recovery and escape plan. Let friends and family know where you’ll be hunting – including the exact location of your tree stand as well as where you’ll park. Let them know when you’ll return.

Make sure you can communicate. Carry a cell phone on your body where you can easily reach it. Make sure it’s fully charged. Consider bringing a satellite phone with GPS or GPS tools since your cell phone may not work from your location. GPS equipment will also help rescuers find you if help is needed.If you fall, are suspended and can’t climb or descend, exercise your legs and arms until help arrives.

Consult additional resources on tree stand safety from the Wisconsin DNR.

Rules of Firearm Safety

Knowing the basic rules of firearm safety is essential.

Treat every firearm as if it is loaded. Never assume a firearm is unloaded and never treat it that way, even if you have watched as it is unloaded. Make it a habit to treat guns as if they are always loaded.

Always point the muzzle in a safe direction. About one third of all hunting incidents involve self-inflicted injuries. That means the muzzle was pointed at some part of the hunter’s body. A safe direction is a direction where the bullet will travel and harm no one in the event of an unintended discharge.

Be certain of your target and what’s beyond it. Positive target identification is a must. To shoot at something you only think is a legal target is gambling – in this case, with a human life. You must be absolutely certain and correct in judgment before deciding to shoot. To behave otherwise is reckless. In addition to identifying your target, make sure there is a safe backstop like a wide tree trunk for your bullet in every situation. We don’t always hit our target, and in some cases, the bullet passes through the target. A safe backstop guarantees no one will get hurt. • Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot. If you stumble with a firearm in one hand and nothing in the other, whatever you’re doing with your free hand will automatically happen with the hand holding the gun. If your finger is inside the trigger guard, that hand is likely going to close around the pistol grip of the gun and on the trigger, causing an unwanted discharge.

Keep your gear in good working order. Clean your firearm and inspect it carefully for signs of mechanical wear that could cause a problem in the field.

Inspect your clothing and other equipment for signs of wear and tear. Anything that might cause you to compromise safety should be repaired, discarded or replaced. Blaze orange clothing that has faded over time, a jacket that doesn’t fit well or a scope that isn’t adjusted correctly can compromise your safety and the safety of others.

Transport guns safely. Before starting your trip home, make sure all guns you’re transporting are safely unloaded and properly secured in your vehicle.

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