KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- This past year marked the first time in four decades when no hunters were injured or killed while in the woods.
Chris Saunders, hunter education coordinator for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the state has injury and fatality records dating back to 1972 and 2012 was the first year in which no injuries of fatalities were reported. He said 2010 had formerly been the lowest on record, with only two incidents. "Vermont hunters should be proud," he wrote in a statement. "This year's record defies the common misperception that hunting is dangerous."
Saunders said the department only counts incidents under certain circumstances. A hunter's gun going off and shooting them or someone else while they are driving home would not be counted, nor would a hunter falling from a tree stand. According to Saunders, the three main injury types are when a hunter shoots someone else thinking they are game, shoots someone else while shooting at game, or shoots him-or herself or another when the gun fires unintentionally.
He said when local police respond to an incident they determine if it's a hunting related case and contact a local game warden. Saunders said decades ago this was not the case and its possible some incidents went unlogged as hunting-related. He said while there is no national standard on how to count hunting incidents, Vermont's method is in line with that of other states.
According to statistics Saunders provided to the Banner, 1981 was the worst year for hunting injuries with a total of 27 incidents, one of them being fatal. The highest number of fatalities came in 1973, with four incidents out of a total of 18. The late 1970s and 1980s had the highest number of overall incidents, being in the double didgits for much of the time.
Saunders said these days the number of incidents is so low as to make the causes statistically insignificant. He said he keeps track of the numbers purely to guide the state's hunter safety education efforts.
He said a number of things can be seen as contributing factors to the lower number of incidents. Saunders said some of it is there are less hunters in the woods, but other states have seen a rise in hunting activity and a drop in injuries as well. Hunter habits have changed, too, with more embracing the use of "hunter orange" and favoring tree stand hunting which involves sitting in one place over moving around and possibly walking to a line of fire.
"We are at the point now where almost everybody hunting has gone through under education," Saunders said.
To be licensed to hunt in Vermont, a person born after 1975 must take a hunter safety course to be able to purchase a regular license. The courses are largely run by volunteers and in recent years require a live-fire component. Saunders said there is no way the state could effectively run the courses without the help of its 380 volunteer safety instructors.
He said hunter shooting incidents are also being taken more seriously by police, courts, and hunters themselves. According to Saunders, those convicted of shooting others while hunting are no longer getting a "slap on the wrist," and many in the law enforcment and hunting communities are taking a more severe view of such incidents.