(Photo from Keven Moore.)
As rifle season for deer hunting begins within the next few days, thousands of Kentuckians will be sneaking off into the woods under cover of darkness. As a once severely obsessed deer-hunter in my 20’s and 30’s, I walked away from the sport shortly after one of my best friends passed away unexpectedly in 1996. I realized that the joys of the sport were based more on being with friends than the actual killing of a deer.
So this leads me to ask the question, why do hunters really hunt?
From the outside it must sound and feel very dangerous and unnecessary. As a loss control and safety professional I must admit deer hunting possess a host of risks that could cause severe injury or even death — from driving on questionable rural roads in the early and later hours of the night, accidental discharge of a firearm, or falling while climbing in and out of deer stand to being shot by a stray bullet or by mistaken identity. According to the International Hunter Education Association, approximately 1,000 people in the U.S. and Canada are accidentally shot by hunters every year, and just under a hundred are killed.
The most common misconception though is that all hunting incidents involve firearms, but statistics show that you’re most likely to be injured or killed falling from a tree stand.
So why do people hunt? What makes them so passionate about it?
It’s because it’s an inherited instinct deeply rooted in human nature. Around the world in all cultures the urge to hunt awakens in boys everywhere. They use rocks, create make- shift weapons or even sneak BB guns out of the house to kill a bird or small mammal. In many cases the predatory instinct emerges spontaneously without experience or instruction, and in the civilized world boys often hunt despite attempts to repress the instinct. As was my case, as my father never enjoyed or liked hunting.
When I was a middle-schooler, I convinced my father to allow me and eight of my closest friends to bring along our very own BB guns down to our family farm in Anderson County for my birthday weekend outing. Yes, this had disaster written all over it, as I look back on that cold October day.
As the story goes as my father took his newly acquired Toyota 4 WD Landcruiser Jeep up the hillside and out of sight, we began to walk the creek-bed shooting at anything that moved. Ultimately after running out of potential prey, we turned our weapons on one another as the creek-bed served as simulated a border like two feuding countries. Unlike the paintball war games of today, BB’s pellets left bruises and blood and hurt a heck of a lot worse. Luckily after a crash course in survival skills and marksmanship, one side eventually retreated to the cover of our camper, and everybody still had their eyesight, but many of us were left with little red marks that looked like a ultra-severe case of acne on a teenage boy. Such lessons have served me well as I try to raise a teenage son.
After about a 14-year hiatus I recently returned to the woods for a full weekend of camping and muzzleloader-hunting with my buddy Mike Hall down on my grandmother’s farm just outside a little town called Peonia in Grayson County.
My wife simply doesn’t understand the attraction of being miserably cold, sometimes wet and hungry, while sitting completely still in the dark all alone with yourself and nature. But I must admit it is divine and refreshing — and obviously somewhat dangerous. As I sat alone in a tree-stand as the world around me came alive. I realized I was just grateful be alive and appreciative of the experience, even though I still doubted that I would even pull the trigger. I saw evidence of a lot of wildlife but the deer I observed were safely 900 yards away out of the reach of my muzzleloader.
The view from Keven Moore's tree stand. (Photo by Keven Moore.)
After two days of solitary in the woods and trying to answer this question, my buddy Guy Franklin answered it best as he said “the fundamental instinct to hunt links the spiritual side of a hunter and brings him/her closer with nature.” I realize that despite the hazards the act of hunting allows man to fall in love with nature, which I realize to non-hunters may sound perplexing. But this basic instinct links up with your spiritual side, and the end result is that the hunter draws closer to nature. This spiritual experience shows us we are participants in something far greater than ourselves.
Perhaps the most important aspects of deer hunting are safety and ethics that all hunters should abide by. If no one paid any attention to these, hunting of any kind would be too dangerous to continue. Safe hunting is the responsibility of all hunters and we all have to look out for one another and be good stewards of wildlife management.
As a result, I left the woods a few days ago deciding that such an experience was worth explaining, and worth sharing some helpful safety reminders.
Years ago, many of us would sit or stand on branches or even on 2-by-4 tacked between handily spaced trees — without a safety harness. It was part a long list of indiscretions that we all miraculously survived during our youth. But with age comes wisdom, so I’m probably not alone in admitting that safety and comfort is now the top priority in a tree-stand.
Here Are Some Helpful Safety Tips For All To Follow:
• Make sure you have permission before hunting on private property and learn where all other hunters will be located.
• Treat all firearms as if they’re loaded and ready to fire, even if the safety is on.
• Never cross a fence or gate or climb a tree or stand or jump a ditch with a loaded gun.
• Never load or carry a loaded firearm until you are ready to use it.
• Always unload firearms before riding in any vehicle, including an ATV.
• Wear hunter orange so you can be seen at all times.
• Don’t shoot unless absolutely sure of your target and what is beyond it.
• Know the range of your firearm as many rifles can travel over 1-1/2 miles.
• Always be sure your gun barrel and action are clear of obstructions.
• Avoid alcoholic beverages before and during hunts.
• If you hunt alone, be sure to still tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return.
• Dress for the weather.
• Take a GPS (built in on cellphones) or compass to prevent getting lost.
• Carry a flashlight while walking through the hunting area before or after daylight.
• Obey all the rules of safety and insist that those around you do the same.
• Abide by all game laws and quotas, and insist that those hunting with you do likewise.
• Always select the proper tree for use with your tree-stand.
• If you hunt from a homemade or permanently elevated stand, test it out the day before to ensure that it is stable, secure and safe.
• Never climb with anything in your hands or on your back and maintain 3 point contact.
• Always use a haul line to pull up your gear and unloaded firearm.
• Prior to descending, lower your equipment on the opposite side of the tree
• If elevated more that 6 feet, safely tie-off to avoid falls using a Full Body Harness in the manner and method described by the manufacturer.
• Always inspect your Fall-Arrest System for signs of wear or damage before each use.
• Carry a cellphone or a walkie-talkie to remain in contact with others in your hunting party.
• Always carry emergency signal devices such as a cell phone, walkie-talkie, whistle or signal flare.
• Do your best to acquire marksmanship and hunting skills that assure clean, sportsmanlike kills.
• Support conservation efforts that assure good hunting for future generations.
• Pass along to other hunters, especially youngsters, the attitudes and skills essential to being a true outdoor sportsman.
Be safe, my friends
Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.