Field Notes: Safety Turns 50
What do football, baseball, cycling, fishing, bowling, and badminton have in common? Statistically, they're all more risky than hunting.
According to the National Safety Council, hunters are among the least likely to suffer an injury that requires treatment in an emergency room. Aiming to keep it that way are the volunteer instructors with the DNR Firearm Safety/Hunter Education Program. This year the Minnesota program is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
With about 750,000 hunters in the woods, fields, and marshes each year, Minnesota has one of the best safety records in the nation. In the past 10 years, Minnesota has had an annual average of 30.9 nonfatal hunter injuries and 1.7 hunter fatalities--with no hunting fatalities reported in 1998 and 2004. Those numbers are dramatically lower than the 1960s, when Minnesota averaged 14 fatalities and 110 nonfatal injuries per year.
"One fatality is too many," says Colonel Mike Hamm, DNR chief conservation officer. "Our goal is to have no fatalities during small game, big game, waterfowl, wild turkey, and prairie chicken hunting seasons."
The downward trend in hunting accidents can be traced to the DNR firearms-safety program, which has certified 1 million students since it was created in 1955.
A dedicated group of about 6,000 volunteer instructors—including about 600 women—keeps the firearms-safety and hunter-education programs alive today, says Hamm. Each year they teach some 23,000 young Minnesotans about safety, conservation, and ethical behavior.
Earning a firearms-safety certificate requires taking 14 hours of instruction and passing a written test as well as a field test, where students demonstrate safe hunting principles and use of a firearm. Firearms-safety training is available to Minnesotans age 11 or older.
Anyone born after Dec. 31, 1979, must receive the training and a certificate before purchasing a Minnesota hunting license. For information on fall and spring courses go to DNR hunter education & safety classes. Or contact the DNR Information Center.
Jason Abraham, DNR staff writer