DEC urges hunter education as two New Yorkers died from gunshot wounds last year

— Still frame from NYSDEC “Hunter Safety” video

Colleen Kimble, a sportsman education instructor, is pictured on a “Hunter Safety” video put out by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, which says accidents can be prevented with training. Of the 10 hunting injuries and two deaths last year, it says “None of the shooters were certified through the online hunter education course.”

Two New Yorkers died from gunshot wounds while hunting in 2023; those were among the 12 shooting accidents the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation documented as it released  its annual hunting safety statistics this week.

Only one of the incidents occurred in Albany County: On Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving, a 68-year-old hunter with 20 years of hunting experience “unintentionally discharged one round from their firearm and struck their left foot,” the DEC reported. No violations were noted.

The two fatalities also occurred in November.

On Nov. 18, in Wayne County, a 40-year-old shooter with 24 years of hunting experience and his hunting partner were dragging a deer from the field when the shooter’s shotgun unintentionally discharged, striking the hunting partner in the chest at close range. No violations were noted.

“After successfully harvesting a deer, all firearms should be unloaded and have the safety engaged before dragging,” said the DEC.

The second fatality occurred on Nov. 19 in Chenango County. The 57-year-old victim with 29 years of hunting experience “was pulling a loaded firearm up into a tower stand when it unintentionally discharged striking their chest, the DEC said. No violations were noted.

“Hunters are reminded to never tie a haul line through the trigger guard, never pull a loaded firearm or crossbow up into a stand, and the barrel of the firearm should always be pointed down while hauling,” the DEC said.

There were six other big-game hunting accidents —in Essex, Jefferson, Steuben, Chemung, Schoharie and Yates counties.

There were also two hunters pursuing small game who sustained gunshot wounds. A 68-year-old coyote hunter in Oneida County in a tree stand slipped while repositioning himself, and his rifle discharged, striking his abdomen. A 47-year-old rabbit hunter in Columbia County had a projectile from his game load strike his partner in the eye.

Finally, a 43-year-old from Erie County “discharged one round at a rabbit eating their garden crop. A fragment from the round struck a family member in the leg,” the report said, adding, “This incident was not associated with legal hunting.”

These hunting-related shooting incidents, known as HRSIs, “could have been prevented if the safe hunting practices taught in every hunter education course, both online and in-person, were followed,” the DEC said.

Six of the 12 were self-inflicted and six were two-party firearm incidents, the DEC noted. “None of the shooters were certified through the online hunter education course,” it reported.

The average age of the shooters involved in the incidents was 47. Their years of hunting experience ranged from 4 to 60, with 10 of the 12 shooters having more than 15 years of hunting experience.

The DEC urged, “Despite these incidents, hunting is safe and getting safer. DEC and the volunteer Hunter Education Program instructors would like to remind all hunters to always be safe and prepared while afield.”

The DEC has charted a dramatic decline in hunting-related shooting incidents in New York state since the 1960s when there were well over 100 annually.

The report included only hunting-related shooting incidents involving firearms, bows, or crossbows. It did not include all incidents and fatalities that occurred while hunting such as heart attacks.

A DEC press release concluded with this advice: Many, if not all incidents, could have been prevented if the people involved had followed the primary rules of hunter safety:

— Treat every firearm as if it were loaded;

— Control the muzzle, keep it pointed in a safe direction;

— Identify your target and what lies beyond;

— Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire; and

— Wear hunter orange or pink.

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