Safety is an important part of any hobby, but it’s especially important in hunting because of, you know, all the guns and bows. There’s also the wilderness itself, which can quickly change the unprepared hunter’s attitude from “Wow, this is beautiful” to “Uh oh, what direction is civilization again?” Many of these tips may sound like simple common sense, but accidents can happen even to experienced hunters in the blink of an eye, so it never hurts to refresh. Stay safe on your next hunt so that you can enjoy many hunts to come.
Always treat every firearm as though it were loaded. We can’t emphasize that enough, so we’ll say it again. Always treat every firearm as though it were loaded. Keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction, and never put your finger near the trigger unless you’re preparing to take a shot. You should keep your safety on until you intend to shoot, but don’t rely on the safety to do all the work for you. Only point your gun at what you intend to shoot, and make sure that your target—and what’s behind it—is clearly identified. If you wildly shoot at a deer shaped blur you could very well instead hit something (or someone) that you didn’t notice behind it.
The good news about firearm safety is that this is all pretty common sense stuff, because if you’re capable of reading this sentence you’re smart enough to not look down the barrel of a gun Elmer Fudd style. But, much like how even the safest drivers aren’t immune to accidents, you need to take safety seriously every step of the way. Accidents are rare, but they do happen, so don’t let your guard down and become flippant once things start to feel routine.
Bow hunters shouldn’t neglect safety either. No, a bow can’t suddenly go off with warning, unless you’ve somehow angered the ghost of Robin Hood. But bow hunters also need to confirm their target and the space beyond it in case of a miss, and they need to be careful that they’re not inadvertently waving a drawn bow in someone’s direction. You should also keep the points of your arrows covered right until they’re notched onto your string, both for safety and because “I cut my thumb open while trying to select an arrow” doesn’t make for a very impressive hunting story.
Weapon safety is crucial, but at least it’s somewhat intuitive to not mess around with guns. But did you know that treestand injuries are actually the most common type of hunting accident? Luckily, once you acknowledge that the combination of trees and gravity are more dangerous than you think, these kinds of accidents are also easy to protect yourself against.
First of all, always wear a harness. No exceptions. And make sure that your harness is ASTM certified. This is not a piece of equipment that you want to cheap out on. Yes, they can be uncomfortable, yes, they can be a hassle, but it’s also an uncomfortable hassle to fall out of a tree and break half the bones in your body. Use them!
Your harness should even be used during ascent and descent. Some hunters neglect this step, thinking that they only need to secure themselves once they’re lodged in the treetops, but climbing is actually when most tree stand accidents happen. And whether you’re a new hunter or an old hand breaking in a new harness, get some practice putting the thing off and on before you head out into the wilderness.
When ascending and descending, use both of your hands and keep your back free. Don’t try to lug your gun up in one hand with you—use a haul line to bring your gear and unloaded gun up to you once you’re secure. That’s the safest way to do it, and you’re settling in for the long haul up there anyway, so there’s no need to overburden yourself like you’re running to catch a plane.
If you do fall your harness will keep you safe, but then you’re probably going to need some help. Therefore, always have an emergency device, or preferably several devices, in a location on your body that’s accessible even if you’re hanging from a tree. A cell phone, a flare, a whistle, a flashlight, anything that can help you announce to the world “Oops, I fell out of a tree.” Even if you’re hunting with a friend, you’ll always want a reliable phone at the ready in case of emergency. And of course it wouldn’t hurt to have a Primal descender with you either, as our ASTM certified device allows you to descend to the ground at a controlled rate after a fall of up to 25 feet. Just saying!
Finally, be sure to routinely inspect your harness throughout the hunting season. That goes for all of your equipment, actually, but the quality of your harness in particular is something you want to keep an eye on. Even the best of them are subject to wear and tear, and you want to be spotting problems before they happen, not figuring out what went wrong after the fact.
Okay, so you’re handling your weapon with care, and you’re scaling trees like an adult, not an overly enthusiastic kid. You’re on the right track, but don’t forget that the wilderness is, well, the wilderness. It’s not going to play nice if you get yourself lost or hurt. Tread carefully, carry a first aid kit, keep a compass on you, pack food and water, and plan for the weather. Tell someone where you’re going, so they know where to look if you don’t come back on schedule. And wear a blaze orange hunting vest and cap. They’re often legally required anyway, but the last thing you want is someone mistaking your soft brown shirt for a deer. If your dog or really offbeat cat is with you, make sure they’re wearing blaze orange too. They might not be thrilled about it, but trust us, they’ll look cool.
We realize that all of this might sound overwhelming, or even alarming, but if you’re ever unfortunate enough to find yourself in an unsafe situation you’ll understand why all responsible hunters emphasize safety first. When done properly, hunting is as safe of an activity as any, but you owe it to yourself and the people who care about you to do it right. A safe hunt is one you can enjoy without worry, and ensuring your own safety will soon become second nature. It can even be satisfying to methodically prepare for a safe hunt, with each checked off box becoming part of a routine that brings you closer to a great experience and a lifetime of great stories.