Employee & Community Health

Aim for safety on this year's hunt

10/16/2017 by Dr. Matthew Bernard

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Fall is the time of year when many of us head to the woods, fields and lakes to hunt. In the Midwest, hunting is often a tradition of spending time with family and friends. Unfortunately, hunting can be dangerous if you don't take proper safety measures. While hunting accidents are uncommon, they can be catastrophic. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: 

  • Approximately 800,000 hunting licenses are sold each year. 
  • From 2005-2015, there were 219 hunting accidents.
  • During that time, there were 22 fatalities, as well as spinal injuries with paralysis. 

Some general measures for a safe hunt always apply: 

  • Follow gun safety rules. 
  • Never use drugs, alcohol or sedatives while hunting. 
  • Carry a cell phone or other device to call for help if you need it. Keep it easily accessible. 

Two of the more common types of hunting accidents are tree-stand injuries and hearing loss. Following these simple steps will ensure that you'll have a safe hunting experience. 

Tree-stand safety

Tree-stand safety is as important as gun safety. Follow the same approach with a tree stand as you do with your gun. 

  • Always wear a safety harness or belt while checking or using a stand. 
  • Use a short tether between you and the tree when attaching your fall-restraint device. This is to keep you in the stand if you slip or fall, not to catch you after you have fallen. 
  • Know what you should do if you slip while using a safety device. Make a plan.
  • Check permanent tree stands each time before use. Replace any worn or weak lumber. 
  • Inspect portable stands for loose nuts and bolts before every use. 
  • Read, understand and follow the manufacturer's instructions when installing a ready-made tree stand. 
  • Choose a tree large enough to support your weight. 
  • Never hurry to set up your stand. Take your time to check it over. 
  • Make sure someone knows the location of your tree stand and when you will be there, every time. 
  • Use a haul line to raise or lower equipment. 
  • Keep firearms unloaded and arrows in a covered quiver when going up or down. Stay awake and alert. Always be aware of your position on the tree-stand platform. 

Protect your hearing

People who use guns are more likely to develop permanent hearing loss. Shooting without hearing protection practically guarantees you will suffer at least some degree of hearing loss during your lifetime. 

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that on-the-job exposure to noise of 115 decibels (dBA) not exceed 15 minutes per day. A .22 caliber rifle produces a noise level of 140 dBA; a typical deer rifle can produce noise greater than 175 dBA. You should always wear hearing protection such as ear plugs or muffs when shooting. 

On this year's hunt, aim for safety, as well as the game. 

Dr. Matthew Bernard is chair of the Department of Family Medicine and practices Family Medicine throughout Mayo Clinic sites in the Midwest. He enjoys hunting for deer, pheasant, grouse, squirrel, elk and caribou.