Here’s to a safe hunting season

Every year, during the transition from fall to winter, people from across the country come to West Central Illinois in hopes of bagging some of the big game that our part of the world has to offer. Hunting is one of the most enjoyed outdoor activities that the Midwest provides, and anyone who’s grown up around this area is likely to have feasted on some savory deer jerky during the months of wintry hibernation. But before setting your alarm clocks for those 4 a.m. wake up calls, understanding the various elements of danger associated with the sport is critical to having a safe and successful hunting season.

Whether you prefer the bow or the shotgun as your weapon of choice, hunting can be dangerous for even the most experienced sportsmen. First and foremost, it’s vital that all hunters follow the major rules of carrying firearms, which means treating a weapon as if it is loaded at all times, even when it is not. When hunting with others, it’s crucial that to know where everyone is located, and to use common sense in order to avoid ever shooting towards housing or property. A good rule of thumb is to never point your weapon at something that don’t intend to shoot. Having a good sense of your surroundings is important to knowing that there are only certain directions in which you can shoot.

In terms of the number one hunting accident, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), the top safety concern is hunters falling out of their tree stands. To prevent these type of accidents, experts stress that hunters use quality tree stands and safety harnesses. In addition to using high quality equipment, it’s important that hunters do not leave their tree stands out all year round, so that they do not become worn down by animals or the effects of weather. Other practical tactics include wearing a quality safety vest and securing yourself with a rope. For more information regarding this subject, hunter can take a free tree stand safety refresher course at the Treestands Manufacter’s Association site, www.TMAstands.com

Aside from the proper use of equipment, hunters are also encouraged to carry a phone on them at all times, so that it may be accessed in the case of an emergency. Along with carrying an accessible phone, it’s always a good idea for hunters to inform someone of where they are going and what time they expect to return. Also, while on the ground, hunters should wear a blaze orange hat, so that they can be easily spotted by fellow hunters. These and other safety tips can be learned and reiterated by regularly sitting in on hunting safety classes, in order to stay updated on the latest techniques.

Safety courses are available throughout Illinois and are sponsored by various conservation clubs, park districts, public service organizations and other interested groups. These safety education classes are taught by volunteer instructors certified by the state who serve as the backbone of the Safety Education Program, donating thousands of hours of personal time teaching and promoting safe hunting, trapping, boating and snowmobiling.

The traditional safety classes offered by IDNR are free and usually take place over the period of a two – four day format. A list of class locations and times can be found on IDNR’s website, and since both traditional and online courses tend to fill up fast, hunters are encouraged to register sooner rather than later.

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