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Hunter safety is up, but the need for vigilance remains

Western Pennsylvania has some of the best deer hunting in the country and is a hotbed for all kinds of game. This means that there will be nearly a million hunters out in the woods sitting in deer stands or camping out in duck blinds once again during the 2016 hunting season. Whether going after a trophy buck, a big turkey or a flock of ducks, every hunter knows that hunter safety and caution need to be the highest priority -- just this week, a Utah sheriff was shot in the hand while hunting geese near Soda Springs, Idaho. The sheriff obviously had a lot of experience around guns, yet he was still shot.

Accident rates are way down!

The good news is that the last few years have been the safest on record for Pennsylvania hunters since the state started keeping records back to 1915. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, 552 hunters accidently shot each other in 1960 (the rate was 53.5 incidents per 100,000 hunters). The number of hunters has generally declined in recent years; but, the rate of hunting incidents (per 100,000 hunters) has actually dropped by nearly 80 percent. In 2015, there were overall 23 reported cases of hunter related shooting incidents with two fatalities. This is down from 72 deaths in 1931 when there were fewer hunters afield and in the woods. The state now averages around 900,000-plus hunters per season.

The main reasons for the dramatic decline in hunting accidents is that officials instituted a mandatory gun safety course in 1959 for all new hunters and those under age 16. We can also point to the 1982 law requiring deer and small game hunters to wear blaze orange hunting gear, which quickly cut the rate of hunting accidents by half. While these measures have helped greatly, the dangers of hunting remain very real.

The leading causes of being accidently shot while hunting are:

  • Being in another hunter's line of fire.
  • Accidental discharge of a weapon.

Who's at fault? The law recognizes two different categories:

  • Accidental discharge -- an accident occurs even when the hunter took all appropriate steps to ensure the safety of others.
  • Negligent discharge - this occurs when the shooter fails to exercise good judgment and address all safety concerns.

If you or someone you know was injured or killed in a hunting accident that wasn't self-inflicted, there will be the possibility of a personal injury claim. These claims cover medical bills, other expenses, loss of income and mental anguish. An experienced personal injury attorney can be quite helpful in helping with a major insurance claims or court cases, generally getting a substantially higher amount of money than the victim or their family would if representing themselves.

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