WASHINGTON – Careless handling of weapons edged ahead of tree-stand accidents as the leading cause of Maryland hunting accidents in 2004, the first time in five years that tree stands were not the No. 1 danger to hunters, according to state data.
State officials could not explain the slight shift — careless weapon handling accounted for 10 of the 26 hunting accidents in fiscal 2004 and tree-stand accidents accounted for seven — but they were not surprised that those two categories were on top.
Of the 118 hunting accidents reported from 2000 to 2004 in the state, 57 occurred when hunters fell from tree stands and 29 occurred when firearms, bows or other hunting devices were mishandled.
“As a whole, usually, it’s tree stands that account for 50 percent of all hunting accidents . . . . You just really can’t explain it,” said Cpl. Ken Turner, spokesman for the Maryland Natural Resources Police, where the data originated.
But he did not see a trend emerging with the 2004 numbers.
“If we started seeing careless handling for a few years as a trend, then that would be something,” Turner said.
The Natural Resources Police data includes all accidents for fiscal years 2000 through 2004. It does not include accidents from this year, fiscal 2005, and the popular deer-hunting season that ends Saturday at sundown.
The state hunting data also showed that of the 118 incidents reported between 2000 and 2004, firearms were involved in one capacity or another in 71 percent while 75 percent of accidents were self-inflicted. Eleven of the accidents, or 9 percent, were fatal.
Three of those deaths occurred last year: Two victims were mistaken for game and the third was a 10-year-old Talbot County hunter who was hit in the chest with his crossbow while he was trying to leave a tree stand, the police data showed.
Education is the key to preventing accidents involving weapons, said advocacy and hunter education groups. When accidents do occur, they said, it often means that hunters were not properly educated or failed to take the proper precautions.
“You have to do three or four things wrong at the same time for an accident to happen,” such as pointing a gun in the wrong direction or leaving it loaded and keeping a finger on the trigger when it is not in use, said Eric Nuse. He is executive vice president of the Colorado-based International Hunter Education Association.
Larry Moreland, president of the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association, agreed that the likelihood of hunting accidents increases when hunters are not properly and consistently educated about safety.
“It’s a lack of education, lack of knowledge on their part,” Moreland said. “You just got to keep driving home the point about safety.”
But tree-stand accidents are another matter, Nuse said, and occur most often when hunters climb to and from tree stands without using a falling restraint.
“Most of the injuries occurring are when people are going up the tree, and when people are going down, so it’s not with the stand itself,” he said.
The National Rifle Association said that “even one accident is too many,” and that all measures must be taken to educate the public about hunting safety, said spokeswoman Autumn Fogg.
But Nuse said that while hunting involves risks, it is generally a safe sport.
“Hunting is extremely safe,” he said. “There’s other stuff that are problems, like tree stands . . . but we’ve been making inroads with firearms.”
-30- CNS 12-10-04