VERSAILLES — Young hunters and hunters-to-be were invited with their parents to a hunter safety program presented by the Versailles FFA Safety Committee Tuesday evening in advance of this weekend’s whitetail deer youth gun season.
Jeff Wenning, state wildlife officer with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, told the group that the key components of hunter safety are knowledge, skills and attitude. Knowledge can be taught. Skills can be developed with practice. But the hardest of the three to change is attitude.
Wenning told the children some key points to remember in staying safe while hunting, including knowing the implement they are using and understanding its actions to prevent accidental discharge.
He noted the importance of using the correct ammunition and practicing how to load and unload before going out into the field.
Safety equipment, such as ear and eye protection are important to use even while practicing, and he reminded the youth to always use the safety harness when using a tree stand. He said that one-third of all hunters will fall from a tree stand at some point, and the safety harness protects hunters from injury.
Wenning told the youth that it is always vital to ensure that the muzzle of a gun is pointed in a safe direction, and he told them to be sure of their target and what lies beyond.
When using bows, Wenning reminded the children to keep the arrows in a quiver to protect from injury caused by the sharp edges, be sure of the target, don’t draw the bow until ready to shoot and don’t draw the bow without an arrow to prevent injury.
“Hunter safety is an attitude we have to practice daily,” Wenning said.
Wenning told the youth to carry a flashlight and a gps or compass in case they become lost. He said if they became lost, they should remember the acronym “STOP”: Sit, Think, Observe and Plan.
“Hunting’s an extremely safe sport,” Wenning said, for those who follow the safety guidelines. He said that hunting with a firearm is statistically the third safest recreational activity, in terms of injuries sustained, behind camping and billiards.
He said in 2013 there were a total of 23 reported hunting incidents, with five of those fatal, and fatal incidents, he said, “typically involve an illegal act.”
Weather also is a major contributer to safety, Wenning said, and hunters should use good judgment about the weather even during legal hunting times.
Most injuries during hunting occur to participants 40 and older, Wenning said, because they become complacent and careless.
Wenning also reviewed the hunting regulations, which were available in booklets from the ODNR passed out to participants in the program.
Doug Hessen, a certified hunter safety instructor, reviewed the parts of a gun and how to handle and carry it safely.
He also passed along safety tips such as always unloading the gun before crossing a fence and being aware of the color of clothing to wear while hunting to avoid being mistaken for game.
Hessen reminded youth to be aware of the safe shooting zones that are clear of houses, roads and other people.
“Injuries are the result of carelessness or disregard for safety,” Hessen said.
Todd Barga, president of the local Pheasants Forever chapter, told the youth about the services available through his organization, as well as more details of the youth hunt this weekend.
He talked about hunting for pheasants and reminded the youth, “Harvesting a bird, that’s really great, but the most important thing is coming home safe.”
Barga also told attendees about the annual banquet for Pheasants Forever, which will be held Feb. 25 at Eldora Speedway. The event is the main fundraiser for the organization, and helps support habitat and hunting events in Darke County.
John Kaiser, assistant wildlife management supervisor with ODNR, told the kids about various habitats in the state and the kind of game to be found there. He also shared some tips on how to maintain those habitats for landowners.
Kaiser quizzed the kids on various types of game available in the state, including types of waterfowl, game birds, squirrel, deer and coyote.
Danielle Hessen, president of the Versailles FFA, joined with the co-chairs of the safety committee to say, “We have this event to educate the youth so they can go out and have a safe hunting season.”
The co-chairs of the Versailles FFA Safety Committee are Emily Kramer, Ashley Petitjean and Makayla Berger.
The event is in its third year and alternates annually with fire and emergency medical services program, according to Versailles FFA Adviser Dena Wuebker.
Also at the event, winners of the recent hunter safety poster contest were announced. Winners were: first, Xavier Grilliot; second, Mackenna Hensley; and third, Trevor Huber.