WASHINGTON – Maryland hunters who have not taken the state’s hunting safety course might want to consider enrolling: The life they save may be their own.
Both shooters and victims in Maryland hunting accidents were more likely than not to lack formal safety training, according to a database analysis of those incidents reported between 1985 and 1998.
The Capital News Service analysis looked separately at accidents involving two parties and those that were self-inflicted: 70 percent of shooters in two- party accidents had not taken a safety course while slightly fewer of their victims, 66 percent, had not passed a course. Only a handful of victims were not hunters.
Self-inflicted accidents made up the largest share of reported accidents: 204 out of a total of 368 accidents reported over the 14-year period. Of those, 126 victims, or 62 percent, had not graduated from a hunter education course.
“We’re making a difference. Just look at the numbers. [Those are] incredible statistics,” said Vic Maccallum, safety education division supervisor for the Maryland Natural Resources Police.
Any hunter licensed after July 1, 1977, in Maryland has had to complete a state-run hunter safety course. Because many Maryland hunters entered the sport as children or adolescents, however, a sizeable number of them have never had to take the course.
No license is required for those who hunt only on their own property.
Of the 368 hunting accidents reported in the state from 1985 to 1998, 24 were fatal. Hunters involved in accidents came from every county in Maryland. The rate of accidents was highest in Allegany and Kent counties, followed by Garrett, Frederick and Washington counties.
Shooters in two-party accidents who had not taken the training course most often mistook the victim for game or accidentally shot someone out of their line of vision.
Victims in self-inflicted accidents who had not taken the course most often injured themselves while using tree stands.
“What we teach is safe hunting,” Maccallum said. “We’re trying to keep them from getting hurt as well as them hurting someone else.”
To graduate from the 12- to 14-hour course, students must pass a 50- question written test and demonstrate proper gun handling and other skills. They also must display a proper attitude toward hunter safety.
“The instructor has the option of failing a kid based on their attitude,” Maccallum said.
Maryland encourages young people to take up hunting, holding an annual youth hunt and waiving one-year license fees for hunters under 16 who pass the safety course.
The volunteer instructors who teach the courses often require students under 16 to be accompanied by a parent. Many times, the parent is an experienced hunter who never had to undergo formal training. Those parents “absolutely” benefit from the course, Maccallum said.
“They will pick up some tips on how to hunt safely and ethically,” he said. “And those experienced hunters who have been through the course have stated they have learned some things that will make them safer hunters.”
Hunters interested in a safety course should call the Maryland Natural Resources Police at 410-974-2040.