This week New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos released the hunting-related shooting incident (HRSI) and tree stand or other elevated incident reports for New York’s 2020 hunting seasons. The reports are consistent with the low incident rates observed in the state over the past two decades.
“Last year, more than 600,000 New Yorkers and visitors enjoyed the abundant hunting opportunities available in New York as people headed afield in search of outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Commissioner Seggos said. “The success of our new online hunter education program and the ongoing dedication of DEC’s hunter education volunteers have helped hunting continue to be among the safest forms of outdoor recreation.”
DEC documented 22 hunting-related incidents in 2020, including three fatalities. While up slightly from the record-low 12 incidents documented in 2019, the number of incidents in the 2020 season continues the downward trend in HRSIs observed over the past 20 years. Nine of the 22 HRSIs that occurred last year were two-party firearm incidents, and 13 were self-inflicted. The three fatalities recorded in 2020 were self-inflicted and involved experienced hunters. All of these incidents could have been prevented if hunting safety rules had been followed.
Further examination of the nine, two-party firearm incidents in 2020 reveal that seven victims involved were not wearing hunter orange or pink when afield, which along with identifying the target and beyond, are two major principles of DEC’s hunter safety courses. For more information on hunter safety basics, visit DEC’s website.
All first-time hunters, bowhunters, and trappers must successfully complete a hunter, bowhunter, or trapper safety course and pass the final exam before being eligible to purchase a hunting or trapping license or bowhunting privilege in New York State. In 2020, DEC offered a completely online hunter safety course when in-person classes were cancelled just prior to the spring hunting season during the State’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of participants demonstrated huge success for the online platform in terms of certifying safe hunters. Nearly 67,000 new hunters were certified last year, compared to an average of about 24,000 in previous years. None of the 22 hunting-related incidents in 2020 involved a hunter who took the hunter safety course online.
When local public health conditions allow in-person instruction, DEC-trained and certified volunteer instructors will continue to teach in-person safe, responsible, and ethical hunting and trapping. Over more than 60 years of dedicated efforts, DEC’s Volunteer Hunter Education Program Instructors have inspired a safety-conscious generation of hunters and trappers.
New York State has recorded HRSI rates since the 1960s. For comparison, 166 incidents were recorded in 1966, 13 of which were fatal. The hunting incident rate (incidents per 100,000 hunters) continues to fall over time. Since the 1960s, the number of hunters in New York has declined about 20 percent, while the incident rate has declined almost 80 percent. The current five-year average is two incidents per 100,000 hunters, compared to 19 per 100,000 hunters in the 1960s.
For the past several years, DEC has also tracked and investigated Elevated Hunting Incidents (EHI), previously referred to as tree stand injuries. DEC now tracks all incidents from an elevated position. EHIs are under-reported and DEC is not always notified when these falls occur. In 2020, 13 EHIs were reported; one was fatal. That hunter was not wearing a safety harness and fell while descending from a ladder stand. Tree stand safety is integrated into DEC’s hunter education course for first-time hunters because these incidents have become a major cause of hunting-related injuries. The proper use of tree stands and tree stand safety equipment will help prevent these injuries and fatalities. Used correctly, a harness keeps the hunter connected from the time they leave the ground to the moment they get back down.
Many, if not all tree stand incidents could be prevented if hunters follow the “ABCs” of tree stand safety:
- Always remove and inspect the tree stand before use;
- Buckle on the full body harness securely every time;
- Connect to the tree before your feet leave the ground.
A video showing the proper way to climb into and out of a tree stand can be viewed on DEC’s YouTube channel.
DEC encourages hunters to remember that every hunting-related shooting incident is preventable. Many, if not all incidents, could have been prevented if the people involved had followed the primary rules of hunter safety:
- Treat every firearm as if it were loaded;
- Control the muzzle, keep it pointed in a safe direction;
- Identify your target and what lies beyond;
- Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire; and
- Wear hunter orange or pink.
More information, including the 2020 Hunting Safety Statistics and 2020 Tree Stand Safety Statistics, is available on DEC’s website.