Most deer hunters dream of adding their names to the Nebraska record books for a monster buck. But as the firearms deer season opens Saturday, there is one list no one wants to be on: the Nebraska Hunting Incident Report.
In the past 10 years, there have been 10 hunting deaths and 114 injuries reported. Two people died last year in Nebraska hunting accidents.
Among the 10 injuries reported in 2011:
» A 15-year-old was shot by a pheasant hunter who thought he was far enough away from the victim to take a shot.
» A hunter carrying a loaded .22 on an ATV shot himself while crossing rough terrain.
» A hunter fell 15 feet while trying to install a tree stand without a harness.
» An 11-year-old shot his friend with a shotgun, maiming his hand, while illegally hunting without adult supervision.
Two hunters died last year. In one incident a man shot his hunting companion while walking through tall grass in the predawn darkness. Another hunter died after his gun discharged when he lost his footing while duck hunting.
“When someone gets shot, it makes the news,” said Kit Hams, big game program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “But it’s not the biggest danger to hunters.”
Tree stand accidents. They kill and maim more hunters than shooting accidents, Hams said.
“Everyone wears hunter orange, but not everyone wears a harness,” Hams said.
The greatest danger is transitioning from the ladder to the platform. Fatigue can also take a toll.
“They’ll fall asleep and fall out of the stand,” Hams said.
That’s not the only way a lack of sleep can affect hunters.
Many hunters will work on Friday and get very little sleep the night before opening morning. Some get into accidents while driving to the woods.
“Hunters are usually more worried about snakes and mountain lions than the drive,” Hams said.
Of course, many have their radar up over shooting accidents. That doesn’t stop them from happening.
Most shooting accidents happen at close range, Hams said.
“Accidents usually happen while getting in or out of the truck or while unloading the gun,” he said.
Greg Wagner also offers this rule hunters should remember before taking a shot.
“If people remember just one thing: Is that a legitimate target, and what am I going to hit if I miss?” said Wagner, public information officer for Game and Parks.
Wagner also suggests that hunters buy a cap light or head lamp to make them more visible. The lights also help them spot dangers, such as low hanging branches.
“It’s important to see and be seen,” Wagner said. “Who would have thought that a $15 to $30 item could save your life?”
Another benefit of a head lamp is that it frees up hands for hunters field dressing or following a blood trail.
Injuries and fatalities have been steadily dropping since records were first kept in 1958.
Mike Streeter, hunter safety program manager for Game and Parks, thinks he knows why. “It’s thanks to our 1,100 volunteer hunter safety educators.”
Hunters between the ages of 12 and 29 are required to carry proof of completion of the state’s hunter education program.
While many have worried about this year’s deer harvest, it should be a good year for most hunters, despite the challenges of disease and this year’s drought.
There could be localized areas that see as much as a 30 percent drop in whitetail harvests, but overall whitetail harvests should help rank 2012 as one of the top five in Nebraska history, Hams said.
Drought and epizootic hemorrhagic disease are the two most common reasons for drops in the population.
“I expect drought to have more of an impact in deer populations than EHD,” Hams said.
Areas with the highest reported suspected EHD losses are the Missouri, Wahoo, Elkhorn and Keya Paha management units, according to Hams.
The statewide archery harvest is down 5 percent so far this season compared with the same time last season, which was one of the top two harvests in Nebraska history.
“Whitetail harvests have been steadily increasing for the last 50 years,” Hams said. “If there are fewer deer in an area, hunters and landowners can manage the herds by cutting back on doe harvests.”
The mule deer harvest may also be down from last year’s harvest due in part to meningeal brain worm disease.
There are approximately 300,000 whitetail and 75,000 mule deer in Nebraska.
Hunters are purchasing permits at the same rate as the 2011 season, Hams said. More than 90,000 hunters will hunt deer in Nebraska this season.
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