Last week I wrote a post about The Boy successfully completing his hunter safety certificate and there were a few comments that invited some interesting discussion. One reader wrote,
…“As a father of two young boys, I, too, look forward to the time when they can get their hunter's safety certificate. However, I do think we have a serious problem with hunter education today. I think it needs to be an ongoing and more rigorous process. Think about it: What does it say about our hunter education system when an 8- or 9-year old child can score 90 percent on a hunter education test? What are they really learning? What will they remember when they're 14 or 18? Think about the message that sends to the nonhunting public when almost any child can earn a hunting certificate before they're done with 4th grade. It's ludicrous"...
That comment invited the following response,
…“The fact that The Boy passed with 90% isn't because the test was easy, it was because he, his father and I took a vested interest in him respecting the reason for the test, the process of studying for the test and taking the test… He passed with 90% because he put hours of his time into it…
There are two ways for the new hunter to learn, those who 1) study the guide and continue to use [it] as a resource and 2) have an incredible mentor to teachthem in the field. Unfortunately, you can't really do #2 without number #1. Forgive me if I'm on a soapbox, but I don't want anyone, for one minute, to think any 9 year old could pass that test with 90%. The Boy EARNED that score."
This healthy exchange got me wondering if there was any data to back up either of these reader’s comments. I’ve heard and read over the years that hunting – compared to other sports – is one of the safest outdoor activities.
And in fact, according to The International Hunter Education Association, 2,369 out of every 100,000 football players were injured or killed in 2001 compared to only six (6) per 100,000 hunters in all of North America. Even swimming (319), golf (173), soccer (1,262), and basketball (2,326) all experienced many more injuries and fatalities than hunting.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, “Firearms-related accidents have declined sharply even as gun ownership in America is rising. More than half of all households now own firearms, yet accidental fatalities are at an all-time low--down 60 percent over the last 20 years.”
So hunting clearly remains a safe sport.
But what about age and hunting accidents? Interestingly national incident reports filed with the International Hunter Education Association show that the average age of the shooter involved in an incident in 2007 was 37.9 years old.
Breaking down the numbers a little further shows that youth aged 13 and younger had 15 incidents, while older hunters (14-68) averaged 34 incidents per ten-year age bracket. Only once you crossed over to seniors older than 70 years did the figure drop to six incidents.
Although we don’t know the age distribution of hunters in US, these stats clearly show that youth is not an outlier in terms of the number of accidents. Even if we assume that the youngest and oldest categories have fewer hunters and adjust the accident rates by percentage accordingly, there is still no significant difference between young, prime, and older age for hunting accidents.
It is also important to remember that not all hunting accidents are due to the shooter’s mistake. Victims moving into the line of fire accounted for 6% of hunting accidents in 2007.
Back to the original reader’s comment for a moment. He believes there should be a “system where hunters have to retake the exam every five years or so -- and the test could get more difficult accordingly to require some ongoing education. The test for adults should be different than the one a 9-year-old can pass. The safety scenarios and exam questions should be more complex and demanding as should questions about wildlife biology, conservation, the philosophy of hunting, heritage, etc.”
In my professional life we deal with licensure for health care professionals and there is a similar debate about whether there should be a requirement for continued competency, which is what this reader is suggesting. The question I have, however, is seeing that hunting is already one of the safest recreational activities and knowing that the data does not show any one age bracket has statistically higher hunting accidents, would continued hunter education testing achieve the goal of safer hunters?
While re-testing hunters every five years as the reader suggests may incrementally improve the number of hunting accidents, I believe that it would have a larger detrimental effect on hunter recruitment. Is this worth a small, if any, reduction in the number of injuries or fatalities? Can we ever expect to totally eliminate the risks associated with hunting?
While I do think that the current hunter education programs need a healthy update (The Boy saw the same videos that I watched in the 70’s), the fundamental curricula appears to be sound. I would hate to sacrifice the involvement of new ranks of hunters for additional safety protocols that would have limited, if any effect.
What do you think about the state of hunter safety and education?