Don’t let excitement trump hunting safety

Deer hunters using tree stands should always wear a safety harness.

My brother and I were lucky. When our dad introduced us to hunting, he did it right.

His first and most repeated lesson focused on firearm safety. Always treat a gun as though it were loaded. Always point it in a safe direction. Never bring a loaded gun indoors. Never put your finger inside the trigger guard or disengage the safety until you are ready to shoot. Never shoot at anything you haven’t identified with absolute certainty, know what’s beyond the target, and so on.

I distinctly remember walking along in the woods during one of my first hunts, my dad at my side quietly critiquing how I was handling my 20-gauge. He’d circle around me as we walked to see if I was paying attention, if I’d quickly adjust to keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction.

Many years and many hunts later, firearm safety remains the No. 1 priority in the field. But hunting creates other dangers.

Now that a cold snap has finally pushed the Lowcountry’s whitetails into the peak of this year’s rut, bucks and hunters will be moving through the woods all day long. It’s an exciting time, but also a good time to revisit basic safety tips:

Wear blaze orange when required or prudent. Hunter-orange attire is mandatory when hunting deer on public lands but optional on private lands. Many folks tend to go without when hunting on private hunt clubs and with trusted companions. But it’s a good idea to always carry a blaze orange hat or vest with you. I’ll often don an orange cap if I have to get down from the stand in low light, or if I have to track a wounded deer.

Use safety harnesses when hunting from tree stands. This is probably one of the most important but most ignored safety measures.

Most hunters usually wear safety harnesses when operating a climbing tree stand or when sitting in a small, open bowstand. But many hunters (I’m guilty of this) forego a harness system when climbing into relatively large, lean-to stands. These sturdy, iron structures seem safe, but stands that have been in the woods for a while can succumb to rust. If a rung ever breaks away as you’re climbing up, you’ll quickly learn the value of a safety harness.

Use a hoist rope. Clambering up a tree stand in the dark is dangerous enough without having guns and backpacks strapped to you. Attach a rope to your gear (make sure the gun is unloaded) before you climb up, then haul up everything after you’re safely harnessed to the tree.

Stay put. Some of the most dangerous situations I’ve come across arose when people did not stay where they said they’d be. “Running and gunning” is par for the course during the spring turkey season but dicey during deer season.

Take a refresher course. Sometimes even the most seasoned hunters can lose focus on safety. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources conducts Hunter Education Programs throughout the state, including Lowcountry courses Nov. 2, 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. at the Naval Weapons Station in Goose Creek; Nov. 18, 5:30-9 p.m. then Nov. 20 5:30-9 p.m. at ATP Gun Shop in Summerville; and Nov. 23, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. at Partridge Creek Gun Club in Ridgeville.

As added incentive, DNR has joined with Hunter Safety Systems to give away one free safety harness during each course in November and December.

Kudos to the hard-working volunteers putting on this year’s Wounded Warrior hunt Nov. 4-5 at Nemours Plantation, a 10,000-acre tract inside the ACE Basin.

The hunt, now in its ninth year, requires the cooperation of several local organizations, including the Lowcountry Chapter of the Safari Club International, Nemours Wildlife Foundation, S.C. Disabled Sportsmen Association, Outdoor Dream Foundation and the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

Last year, more than 50 wounded warriors and disabled youth and adult hunters bagged 47 deer at Nemours and other nearby locations during the two-day hunt, said Richard Bennett, a member of the local SCI chapter’s board.

After providing packaged venison to those hunters, SCI gave more than 1,000 pounds of meat to local churches and food programs, Bennett said.

This year’s hunting party will include about 35 wounded military personnel, 10 disabled youth hunters and 10 non-military disabled adults. A legion of Lowcountry volunteers will help disabled hunters reach a number of sites where various landowners have donated hunting stands and blinds, most configured to support wheelchair access and operation.

To see photographs from the hunt and to learn how to support future events, go to the Lowcountry Chapter of the Safari Club International’s website,

Reach Matt Winter, manager of niche content and design and editor of Tideline magazine, at (843) 937-5568 or mwinter