More than 100,000 hunters will cross North Dakota's prairie in search of game this fall. With that in mind, the state Game and Fish Department urges hunters to take proper safety measures in the field.
Jon Hanson, hunter education coordinator, said the opening weekends of pheasant and deer are the most anticipated hunting days of the year, and thus can be the most chaotic.
"People just need to relax, slow down a little bit and use common sense," Hanson said. "It's a long hunting season, especially for bird hunters, and there is plenty of game to go around."
Since 2006, shooter swinging on game, careless handling, victim out of sight of shooter, and discharge in/around a vehicle contribute to 86 percent of all incidents in North Dakota.
Accidental discharge of a firearm in or near vehicles or along fences is also a leading statistic that shouldn't be, Hanson said, because a shotgun or rifle should always be unloaded in these situations.
"Unfortunately, there have been a few hunting-related incidents in North Dakota each year, but the seven hunting incidents involving North Dakota hunters in 2009 is half of what has occurred annually over the past decade, and three of the seven were not even hunting-related shooting incidents," Hanson said.
The number of annual incidents is consistently higher for shotgun than those with a rifle, with shooter swinging on game the number one factor. "Everything points to the shooter getting startled when a pheasant flushes, and the shooter swings and doesn't realize where the hunting partner is," Hanson said.
The majority of shotgun-related hunting incidents reported in North Dakota each year involve victims not dressed in orange. While wearing orange clothing is not required for upland hunters, Hanson strongly recommends it. "This is common sense," he added. "If you are visible most accidents can be avoided."
The surprising statistic, according to Hanson, is the age of the involved parties. "Most think it is always the younger hunter, but statistics indicate the average age of the shooter is 34 and the victim 42," he added. "It is not the young kids who are making the majority of the mistakes."
Hanson suggests mapping out the hunt so all members of the hunting party know each other's route, and to let others left behind know your destination.
"And always carry a cell phone," Hanson added. "There are not many places where you will be without reception."
Hunter education courses have wrapped up for this year, but Hanson suggests individuals or parents with children who will need to take a course in 2011, should monitor the Game and Fish website, gf.nd.gov, as classes that begin in January will be added to the online services link as soon as times and locations are finalized.