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One hunting "accident" per season can draw more attention than all the great accomplishments New York State hunters and hunting instructors have made this past half century.

This state's 2000 hunting season set modern-day records and enters the books as the safest year ever for the more than 700,000 hunters that were in the field this past year. A total of 43 incidents, four fatal, were reported, 17 percent lower than the previously lowest 52 injuries reported in 1994.

In recent years, state record keepers have been phasing out the word "accident," using instead "incident" when reporting injuries and fatalities that occur while hunting. Of the 43 incidents last year, 14 were self-inflicted, 11 occurring during big game season, which saw a total of 28 injuries.

Wayne Jones, Department of Environmental Conservation Sportsman Education administrator in Albany points out a marked decrease in hunting-related injuries during the past four decades.

"In the 1960s, those years averaged 137 injuries, the 1970s were reduced to 102 injuries, 1980s dropped to 85, and the 1990s fell to 66," Jones reports.

DEC Commissioner John P. Cahill noted, with pride, "of our 20,000 junior hunters between the ages of 12 and 16 who are given a 'learner's permit' to hunt small game under adult supervision . . . not a single one of them was the cause of an injury during 2000."

"New York has required new hunters to take hunter safety courses for more than 50 years and thanks largely to the efforts of the 3,000 volunteer instructors in New York's Sportsman Education Program, the hunting injury rate has fallen more than 60 percent in the four decades," said Cahill.

Frank Miskey, Sr. of Elma devotes hundreds of hours each year in DEC hunter training programs. He and son, Frank, Jr., taught 11 classes as part of the Sportsman Education program. Erie County will provide 47 gun and 27 archery certification classes, serving about 4,000 students, this coming year, Frank, Sr. said.

All instructors stress mainly the need to clearly and accurately identify a target before aiming and shooting. Wearing bright orange hunting garments is another top priority. Orange clothing items while hunting has been a key contribution to hunter safety results. One DEC survey, conducted in 1996, indicated 85 percent of New York's big game hunters wear orange while hunting. The more scary statistics are that for the remaining 15 percent, those hunters are eight times more likely to be shot and 32 times more likely to be killed.

Each year, the question is asked, "Why not make orange clothing a requirement in New York State?" Jerry Barnhart, DEC director of fish, wildlife and marine resources, said, "We are looking at a bill (No. A232) recently introduced in the state Assembly which would require hunter orange during the firearms deer season in this state." Whether this bill is passed for this coming hunting season or not, Barnhart stresses the need for hunters and all shooters to know their target and the range beyond before shooting any firearm or archery bow.

Philosopher-poet John Milton said it best in an essay on freedom and liberty. He wrote, "We are free to make the right choices." Applying this to hunters and shooters, we must look for the right target -- not something moving and not orange colored -- when using a firearm. Pennsylvania now requires 250 square inches of orange exposed during its gun hunting seasons, basically a hat and vest.

"It all goes back to the basic know-your-target rule ("shoot" or "no-shoot" situation) taught to all first-time hunters in DEC training courses offered throughout the state," said Don Davis of Kenmore, an instructor who taught 700 students in nine classes last season. Davis suggests wearing orange while going to and from turkey-hunting sites during both spring and fall seasons and taking along an orange, feed-bag sized sack to carry out a harvested turkey.

Shootings during turkey season have been a concern, but this past year's incidents saw a dramatic decline from 14 in 1999 to just five in 2000. While accurate numbers cannot be gathered on tree stand injuries, these falls still appear to be on an increase. "It's difficult to put a handle on actual injuries caused by tree stands each year," said David Kiel, DEC region 9 Sportsmen's Education Coordinator. "Only the most bizarre incidents are reported in the news, but we don't get the specific kinds of details gathered during a hunting-related shooting incident."

Tree stand safety has become another emphasis in hunter and bow training classes, according to many instructors.

To become a DEC Sportsman Education Instructor, Kiel says, requires applying, interviews and a background check, which usually takes 90 days or more, before completing training and apprenticeship phases. For an application, call (888) 486-8332.

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