ST. PAUL -- Minnesota hunters have seen two firearms deer seasons and nearly three years without a hunting-related firearms death, the longest stretch since the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources started keeping track in 1947.
With nearly a half-million hunters potentially afield with the 2021 firearms deer season set to start Nov. 6 across the state, DNR officials hope the string of safer seasons continues.
The use of high-visibility blaze-orange clothing; mandatory firearms safety training required for nearly all hunters; and the trend toward hunting from elevated deer stands — which point bullets down into the ground rather than through the woods — have all been heralded as factors in the trend toward fewer deer hunter accidents and deaths.
Blaze-orange or bright-red clothing became mandatory for deer hunting in 1984 in Minnesota; blaze orange alone was required starting in 1994. In recent years, blaze pink was added as legal outerwear for deer hunting.
The number of hunting-related firearms fatalities has dropped significantly since the 1960s and 1970s, when it wasn’t unusual for 10 or more hunters to die each year. There were a stunning 29 people shot and killed during the 1961 hunting seasons in Minnesota, with as many as 14 in 1973 and 1975 and nine in 1989. In 1964, there were 149 firearms incidents reported. Most were during firearms deer hunting seasons.
Over the past 10 years, a total of 14 people have died in firearms-related hunting incidents, including four in 2011, the highest in recent years.
The total number of firearms related hunting incidents in 2020 was 11, down from 26 a decade ago.
“Our goal is that every hunter makes it home safely at the end of every hunt,” Col. Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR Enforcement Division, said in a statement. “That doesn’t happen by chance; it happens when all hunters understand what’s at stake when they head out for the day.”
Some firearms injuries are self inflicted during falls or other mishaps. In cases where one person accidentally shoots another, they are often in the same hunting party and in close proximity.
In 2020, Wisconsin saw one firearms-related fatality during the November firearms deer season, in Door County, with nine other serious firearms injuries. Wisconsin had averaged 6.8 firearms related hunting deaths per year over the past decade.
DNR officials in both states urge all hunters to refresh their recollection of the basic rules of firearms safety and remind everyone they hunt with, including:
- Treat every firearm as if it’s loaded.
- Always control the muzzle.
- Be sure of the target and what’s beyond it.
- Never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
In addition to safe firearms handling, and wearing blaze-orange or blaze-pink clothing, hunters also should keep safety top of mind when it comes to hunting from a tree stand. Accidents involving tree stands are by far the leading cause of injury among deer hunters.
According to national data, nearly 1 in 3 hunters who hunt from an elevated stand will fall and sustain a serious injury at some point. The following tips can help hunters stay safe while using elevated hunting stands:
- Check the stand before the season to ensure it remains in good working order.
- Climb into and out of the tree stand before the season begins, so that you remember what it feels like.
- Inspect the safety harness thoroughly, and use it when in the stand, as well as when climbing into and out of it.
- Maintain at least three points of contact with the steps or ladder at all times —two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot.