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Volunteer instructors help hunters lower state accident mark

Hunters are being safer.

The Department of Environmental Conservation recently announced that 2018 tied the lowest mark ever for hunting-related shooting incidents in the state, equaling the record mark of 13 set in 2016. With the last six years being the safest on record in New York, and nearly 600,000 hunters in the state, the accident rate is extremely low.

While the numbers of hunters in the state have been on a downward spiral, the incident rate is dropping much faster. Since the 1960s, hunting ranks have decreased by about 20 percent overall. The incident rate was roughly 19 per 100,000 hunters. The current incident rate is about 3.1 per 100,000 hunters in New York.

On one hand, it’s something we can be proud of. On the other hand, there’s room for improvement.

“Although the number of hunting-related incidents have declined dramatically in the last several decades, we believe every one of these could have been avoided if hunters follow the laws and basic rules of hunter safety,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “We encourage hunters to wear hunter orange and to be sure, beyond a doubt, of their target and what lies beyond.”

Of the 13 hunting-related shooting incidents last year, seven involved two different parties and six were self inflicted. Three of the 13 incidents resulted in fatalities – two self-inflicted and one a two-party incident that was the result of someone not properly identifying the target. All could have been prevented with common sense and safe gun-handling practices.

buffalo-hunter safety-hunting-outdoors-recreation-tree stands-2019

Tree-stand safety is stressed by hunter education instructors and the DEC now keeps track of tree-stand accidents. (Photo courtesy of Bill Hilts Jr.)

It’s interesting to note that of the seven incidents involving two-party accidents, six involved that person not wearing fluorescent orange when afield. It helps reinforce the importance of wearing hunter orange, properly identifying your target and looking beyond your intended target.

In 2017, DEC started tracking tree-stand injuries. Remember, not all tree stand accidents are reported. In 2017, there were 12 reported accidents with six fatalities. Last year, there were just five tree-stand accidents with no fatalities. In all five falls, the hunter failed to use a body harness. Tree-stand safety education is helping to create a better awareness for the do's and don’ts when hunting from an elevated perch.

New York has a proud tradition in hunter safety education. Hunter safety instructors are the unsung heroes when it comes to sharing critical information that can help all hunters, as well as the general public, feel safe.

Throughout the state, about 3,400 certified hunter-safety instructors volunteer their time to train students in safe gun-handling practices, hunting tips and general knowledge of the outdoors. Without their help, New York would not have such a stellar safety record, and the state would not be able to certify nearly 50,000 new students every year.

Scattershots (Feb. 6)

DEC Region 9 consists of Niagara, Erie, Wyoming, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties. Within this region, there are nearly 400 certified hunter-safety instructors. They teach hunter education, bowhunter education, trapper education and waterfowl education. Every year, instructors are honored with a special dinner, with special recognition given out for longevity of performing this service.

At its dinner and awards ceremony held at the Holland Willows late last year, Fred Velott Jr. was honored for 50 years of service with a glass clock, knife and framed certificate. He was joined by golden anniversary instructors Bernard Fix of Erie County in 2012, Gary Lowe of Niagara County in 2014 and James Vandyke of Chautauqua County in 2014.

Chugging along in the 40 years of service category was Frank Miskey Sr. of Eden, Mark Irlbacher of North Tonawanda, David Hryn of Erie County and Jack Ruch Jr. of Chautauqua County. Fifty-nine instructors were honored.

There were a few family ties in the mix this time around. Miskey was recognized for 40 years of service and his son, Frank Jr., earned his 25-year certificate. Randall Galyen of Niagara County collected his 30-year knife and his son, Shawn, collected his 25-year certificate.

The Fishing Beat (Feb. 6)

Now is the time to plan for taking a hunter safety training class.

“Don’t wait until the last minute,” says Dale Dunkleberger of Lockport, a master instructor. “The classes fill up quickly and preregistration is now a requirement to sign up for a course. In addition, students must now do some online homework that they must complete by the first-class session.”

To find out more about upcoming classes in your area, go to While only a few classes are listed, most become available by March 1.

“Becoming a certified instructor is a rewarding experience and it is a way for people to contribute to continuing the tradition of hunting and trapping in New York State,” said Jennifer Pettit, Region 9 hunter safety coordinator for DEC and an instructor. “It is extremely important to me to do my part to educate people in safe and ethical hunting and trapping. Additionally, I’ve made long-lasting memories with my father, husband and friends while spending quality time with them as we were hunting and trapping. I am excited to help facilitate these memories for new hunters and trappers."

If you are interested in becoming an instructor, go to For additional questions, call 1-888-HUNT ED2.

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