First-time hunters must prep for safety

As summer winds down, most parents and other relatives of young folks are preparing for the annual back-to-school ritual.

And for those who have a family member or friend who will be hunting for the first time this season, it’s time to get that new hunter registered for a Hunter-Trapper Education course. Successfully completing an HTE course is requirement for all first-time hunting license buyers in Pennsylvania, regardless of age. Youngsters must be at least 11 years old to receive their HTE certification.

The basic HTE course is offered by sportsmen’s clubs and other organizations throughout the state. This is a six-hour course presented at no charge over one or two days by trained, volunteer instructors. A relatively new alternative to the traditional HTE course is the Hunter-Trapper Education Independent Study course, which allows the student to study the course material at home and then show up for a two-hour classroom review and test to complete the course. To locate and register for an HTE course in your area, go the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s website ( Last year, more than 37,000 students completed the HTE course offered in more than 990 separate classes statewide.

“Now is the time to make sure that the first-time license buyer in your home is signed up to take the necessary first step toward purchasing a license,” said Game Commission Hunter Education and Outreach Division Chief Keith A. Snyder. “Don’t wait until closer to fall, as courses will fill up quickly and may become hard to find. Check the website regularly for a class near you or that fits your schedule, and remember more will be added.”

The Game Commission is also looking for experienced hunters who would be interested in volunteering as HTE instructors. “Becoming a volunteer instructor for the Game Commission is one way to help new hunters and trappers understand the importance of safety afield and to pass along our outdoors heritage,” Snyder said.

Potential HTE instructors should be willing to work with other volunteers and wildlife conservation officers to plan and teach at least one class per year. The Game Commission will supply all lesson plans and necessary teaching materials. In order to be certified as an HTE instructor, applicants must have completed an HTE class within 18 months prior to or after submitting their application, attend a training workshop, assist with one student-level class and pass a background check. Complete information about becoming an instructor is available on the Game Commission’s website or by calling the agency’s Hunter Education and Outreach Division at 717-787-7015.

There is no doubt that hunting-safety education has done much to make hunting in the twenty-first century a safe sport and one that continues to get even safer in terms of hunting accidents or so-called hunting-related shooting incidents.

An HRSI is defined as “any occurrence in which a person is injured as the result of a discharge from a firearm or bow during actual hunting or furtaking activities.” In Pennsylvania, formal hunter-safety efforts began around 1959, and since then, HRSIs have decreased by about 80 percent. But maybe the brightest statistic regarding hunting safety was the announcement earlier this year that during all of 2012 no fatalities occurred in Pennsylvania due to gun handling while hunting or trapping. This marks the first year with zero shooting fatalities since the Game Commission began keeping records of hunting accidents back in 1915.

Of course, even one hunting accident is too many, but there were only 33 non-fatal HRSIs in 2012, which is down from 2011. Another encouraging statistic is no HRSIs occurred during the 2012 fall turkey season. That, too, is the first time that has happened here in Pennsylvania. The two leading causes of HRSIs were “victim being in the line of fire” and “sporting arm carried in a dangerous position,” with each of those accounting for 24 percent of all accidents. Inexperienced hunters don’t appear to be involved in a disproportionate number of HRSIs, as 58 percent of all 2012 incidents with an identified offender were caused by individuals with more than 10 years of hunting experience.

The safety record of the Mentored Youth Hunting Program remains exemplary, as none of the more than 33,000 young persons in the program during 2012 were involved in any incidents.

To put the overall record of hunting safety into perspective, the number of HRSIs for 2012 works out to an incident rate of just 3.52 per 100,000 participants. Look up the number of folks injured or killed per 100,000 annually in traffic accidents, and statistically I think you’ll find the most dangerous part of a hunting trip is driving to your destination.