DARKE COUNTY — For many, autumn in the Buckeye State is a time for football, falling leaves and everything seemingly “pumpkin-spiced.”
For some, however, fall is all camouflage.
While the beginning of Ohio’s numerous hunting seasons is an exciting time for outdoors-minded men and women, it is also a time to pause and to be aware of potential dangers, both to hunters and passersby.
Bob Welch, of rural Darke County, is preparing for his 46th year of teaching hunter safety classes. When it comes to safety, and in particular handling weaponry, Welch recommends that hunters follow a set of “10 Commandments.” These safety precautions include:
• Treat every gun as if it was loaded.
• Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.
• Be sure of your target and beyond.
• Never point a gun at anything you don’t want to shoot.
• Unload guns when not in use.
• Store guns and ammunition separately.
• Be sure the barrel and action are clear of obstructions.
• Never climb a fence or tree, cross a log or stream, or jump a ditch with a loaded gun.
• Never shoot a bullet at a flat, hard surface or water.
• Never use alcoholic beverages or drugs when handling a firearm.
“If every hunter would follow these rules, there would be no hunting accidents,” Welch says.
These guidelines not only apply to hunters using rifles but to bow hunters and muzzleloaders as well, which are equally deadly if mishandled.
Welch said hunters, especially new ones, can learn much by taking a hunter education course. In fact, would-be first-time hunters, young or old, must pass an 8 to 12-hour course taught by a certified instructor as a requirement under Ohio law before purchasing a hunting license.
New hunters, however, also have the option of hunting with a so-called “apprentice hunting license” before taking a hunter education course.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), an apprentice hunting license allows new hunters, whether younger or older, to sample the experience of hunting and trapping under the mentorship of a licensed adult prior to completing a hunter or trapper education course.
Apprentice licensees must be accompanied by a licensed hunter or trapper 21 years of age or older. The licensed hunter may not accompany more than two apprentice license holders at the same time.
“It definitely gives the younger ones a better idea of if they want to hunt or not,” said Welch. “I think it’s a good thing the state’s got going.”
Regardless, Welch believes taking a hunter education course can save lives.
“Hunter education courses have made a big difference overall over the years,” he said.
To illustrate, he pointed to statistics he keeps regarding hunting accidents in Ohio over the years.
“In 1980, there were 50 incidents when someone was shot while hunting. Six of these were fatal,” he remarked.
“Though the numbers can change somewhat from year to year, there has been a decrease since 1980. In 2009, for example, that number had dropped to 20 incidents, only one of which was fatal.”
“Considering more and more people are hunting deer now than in the 1980s, I think that’s significant, and shows that hunter education courses are working,” he said.
In addition to weapon safety, ODNR encourages hunters to dress appropriately, particularly the use of “hunter orange” camouflage clothing.
“Hunter orange is effective as a safety precaution because it is a color that is not found in nature, and does not blend with any other color found in the field,” says the ODNR Hunter Education Manual. “Hunter orange also shows up well at dawn and dusk.”
Some colors should be avoided, says ODNR, including red, black, blue, and white during turkey season, or brown, tan and white during deer season.
Further, the hunting environment itself should be considered.
“Foliage, terrain, lighting conditions, the time of day must all be taken into account,” Welch says.
“Always be sure of your target before pulling the trigger — that movement in the brush may not be a deer,” he added. “It’s about awareness, and thinking. It’s really just common sense.”
For more on Ohio hunting laws and safety, go online to wildlife.ohiodnr.gov. To find a hunter education course near you, go to www1.oh.wildlifelicense.com/training_index.php.