HUNTING ACCIDENTS – THEY WON’T GO AWAY (February 20/98)

When no hunting accidents were reported in 1996, the Department of Natural Resources said it was the “safest hunting season ever recorded in Nova Scotia,” and the fourth consecutive year there were no shooting fatalities.

This is quite a record when you consider that in an average deer season around 50,000 hunters roam the woods carrying rifles. Since thousands of grouse and woodcock hunters are in the woods with shotguns the same time as deer hunters, and there is some overlapping of pheasant and deer hunting territory, this record is astounding.

Natural Resources says that credit for the decline of hunting accidents can be given to the hunter education programs, which became mandatory in 1980. In a release last February, Natural Resources said that since 1980 there has been a 50 percent reduction in accidental shootings and fatalities.

What the release didn’t tell us is that there have been no fatal hunting accidents since the “buck law” was implemented in 1993. From 1980 until 1993 there was on average at least one fatal accident, with three taking place in 1983 and again in 1986. When it became illegal to bag deer without antlers and hunters had to start looking before shooting, the number of fatalities fell to zero.

Looking at these statistics, it could be claimed that the regulation change makings doe deer illegal is the reason for the decline in fatalities. Claiming that the hunter education program is solely responsible for the overall decline in hunting accidents is questionable as well. Only first-time hunters are required to take the hunter education program. When the education program was introduced in 1980 few longtime hunters, who probably numbered around 100,000 by the way, were affected by it.

Besides implementation of the buck law, the ongoing promotion of hunting safety is most likely the real reason for the decline in hunting accidents. The education program for first-time hunters is a factor, but Natural Resources is wrong to give the program all the credit.

The introduction of mandatory hunter orange is another factor to be considered when looking at the decline in hunting accidents. Since hunter orange became the law for big and small game hunters in 1983, the number of hunting injuries has declined. Granted the highest number of injuries in any season since 1980 occurred the first-year hunter orange was introduced, but the decline since has been dramatic.

Now that all the factors contributing to hunter safety have been considered, let’s look at the period since the hunter education program was introduced. Between 1980 and 1996 there were 20 fatal shooting accidents, with none since the buck law and as many as three in two of the seasons. In the same period there were 125 non-fatal hunting accidents, or injuries as Natural Resources classifies them. The worst year was 1983 when 17 injuries were recorded. In recent years the number of hunting injuries has tapered off, reaching a low of only two per season in some years of the early 90s.

From these statistics it can be seen that in spite of hunter education programs, the wearing of hunter orange, and the buck law, hunting accidents won’t go away. “You can’t legislate away stupidly and carelessness,” an officer with the province’s hunter safety program once told me.

These words in the same vein from a fellow hunter put it more succinctly: “They can legislate the wearing of flashing lights and clanging bells and people will still get shot for deer. A better idea is to legislate careless hunters out of the woods.”

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