5 tips from a family doctor (and avid hunter) to stay safe in the great outdoors.
Hunting season has arrived. And while competition may be on some of our brains, it’s important to think about hunting safely — not only to protect yourself but your fellow hunters, too!
No matter your level of hunting experience, there are some key safety tips to keep in mind whenever you’re preparing for a hunting trip.
We’ve enlisted Christian Shuman, MD, a family doctor at Geisinger Pottsville and avid hunter, to share his top hunting safety tips to help protect yourself and other hunters and have a safe, successful hunting trip.
Hunting since age 12
"I first started hunting when I was about 12 years old," says Dr. Shuman. "Hunting has always been a long-standing family tradition, and I was brought up with it at a young age."
Dr. Shuman started out hunting with his grandfather and uncle for small game such as rabbits, pheasants and grouse. Both were great mentors who shared their love of hunting, respect for the outdoors and the importance of safety at all times. "Of course," says Dr. Shuman, "I had to take a hunter safety course before I could begin hunting, but I had been well-prepared. My current passion is hunting whitetail deer."
Dr. Shuman enjoys spending time in the woods, especially in the fall during the archery season. "This is definitely a challenge, but I've had some good luck over the years," says Dr. Shuman. "I also hunt during rifle deer season as well (if my luck is not good during October). I even have a few secret spots where I love to hunt!"
The best deer Dr. Shuman says he harvested was a 10-point buck during archery season about a few years ago. "Many of my patients share the same love of the outdoors, and I love trading stories with them," he says. "I hope to stay healthy enough to do this for many years to come."
1. Practice firearm safety
“Whenever you’re handling a firearm, treat it like it’s loaded,” says Dr. Shuman. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction — away from anyone, including yourself — and check the chamber. Clear the firearm and always practice these safety tips until you are ready to fire.
Also, keep your finger off the trigger until it’s time to shoot. When the time does come to shoot, be aware of your surroundings. “Remember, you are responsible for everything around your target,” says Dr. Shuman. “Before you take aim, make sure there is nothing around that could get in harm’s way.”
2. Wear the right clothing
The weather can change unpredictably. Be sure to keep an eye on the forecast in the days and hours leading up to your hunting trip. Dress in warm layers and avoid cotton clothing, which can retain moisture, and wear a water-repelling outer layer.
Also, bring a well-stocked backpack filled with enough food and water for your trip. Being properly fueled and hydrated will help keep you on your game — aware of everything around you to better spot what you’re hunting for!
“Don’t forget to pack a compass to help from getting lost — no matter how well you know the woods you’ll be hunting in,” says Dr. Shuman.
Invest in supportive shoes and bring any braces with you, if you’ll need the extra support. Also, take some time to move around to warm up and loosen your joints and muscles. “Hunting can involve a lot of sitting or crouching in positions that may cause stiffness,” he adds. “Take time to stand and stretch regularly to counteract all of that sitting and waiting.”
3. Let someone know where you’ll be
Getting lost can happen to anyone — and so can getting hurt. "Always let a close friend or family member know where you’ll be hunting and when to expect you back,” says Dr. Shuman. “Bring your phone with you and consider investing in a portable charger, in case your phone dies while you’re on your trip.”
Also, make noise while you’re hunting. Let other hunters hear you and know you’re around. Whistle or talk out loud when you hear nearby gunfire until the other hunter acknowledges you. Then, be a little quieter out of courtesy to other hunters (and to up your chances of spotting game).
4. Make sure your tree stand is set up properly
“Check all your straps for wear and tear and replace anything that is damaged before you go out on your trip,” advises Dr. Shuman. Also, review how to properly wear your harness and make sure it’s a full-body harness. “This can help prevent falls, which can cause serious injury.”
Don’t install a tree stand alone and make sure you use a rope to pull up your firearm/bow. Keep your phone with you, too. You want to make sure you can grab it easily if you need to call someone for any reason while in your tree stand.
5. Wear hunter orange
Avoid dressing in all camouflage or colors that can be mistaken for an animal — such as black, tan and white. Wear hunter orange or reflective gear wherever it’s required so that other hunters can see you. Even if you think you’re a good enough hunter not to wear hunter orange, remember that you can’t account for hunters around you.
“Know your local orange requirements for hunting to practice proper safety precautions this hunting season,” adds Dr. Shuman.
With these tips, you’ll make your hunting trip a safer one for everyone in the forest.