2011 Spring Gobbler Hunting Safety Press Release
PA Chapter National Wild Turkey Federation
2011 Spring Turkey Hunting Safety Press Release
By: Bob Eriksen, NWTF Regional Biologist
Since the 1980s, awareness of turkey hunting safety has increased. Turkey Hunting Related Shooting Incidents (HRSIs) have declined dramatically in Pennsylvania in the past decade. Spring incident rates averaged 11.0 per year between 1990 and 1999 and 7.8 from 2000 through 2009.
Several factors are responsible for these declines. The requirement that all first-time hunters regardless of age must complete a certified hunter education course has been in place long enough that most of today’s turkey hunters have been through a course. Statistics indicate that participation in hunter education does make us safer hunters. Hunter education has made a huge difference in hunter behavior and has contributed significantly to reducing the number of shooting incidents. Other educational efforts by the Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation have played roles, too. Both the Game Commission and PA NWTF have maintained outreach and education efforts ranging from public service announcements to billboards and placement of safety reminders in the Hunting and Trapping Digests. Careful analysis of turkey hunting related shooting incidents on a nationwide basis reveals that hunter density (the number of hunters per square mile of turkey habitat) affects incident rates. It makes sense that when more people are in the woods the chances of interactions increase.
The number of spring hunters has increased over the past two decades. Since 2000, spring hunters have outnumbered fall turkey hunters here. In 1991 there were about 180,000 spring gobbler hunters. Today there are more than 220,000. Despite the increase in spring hunter numbers, incident rates have not increased, indicating that today’s spring turkey hunters are hunting smarter and safer.
The role of the media in impacting turkey HRSIs is hard to gauge. When there has been extensive media attention on turkey hunting safety the number of incidents has declined.
One shooting incident is one too many. There is still much work to do to promote safety. Every hunter needs to understand that being involved in a hunting-related shooting incident is serious. In every case, the lives of the shooter and the victim are changed forever. The injured hunter may never recover from being shot. And for the shooter, insurance claims and litigation often step from these incidents
There are other legal ramifications for the shooter. Anyone involved in a hunting related shooting incident in which someone is injured is required to report the incident to the Game Commission, or a Game Commission officer, within 72 hours. In addition, the shooter is required by law to render immediate assistance to the victim. Statutes regarding hunting related shooting incidents are covered in the Game and Wildlife Code (Title 34).
There are three ascending gradients describing the nature of the offense and penalties brought to bear on the shooter in an HRSI. The first is a summary level offense. These are incidents in which a hunter shoots at another hunter and either does not hit the victim or cause bodily injury. In other words, any incident that results in someone being frightened because another individual shot at him or any case where a hunter is hit with shot or a bullet even when injury is limited can result in prosecution. Conviction of a summary violation of the 1st degree will result in a fine of $1,000 to $1,500, imprisonment for up to 3 months and mandatory 2-year loss of hunting privileges.
An HRSI in which the victim suffers serious bodily injury is classified as a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree. Any incident causing severe and potentially life-threatening injuries caused by the shooter, whether they are permanent or long-term, moves the incident into the realm of a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree. Fines for a conviction at this level are up to $5,000, imprisonment for up to 12 months and loss of hunting privileges for 5 to 10 years.
A hunter who kills another human being while hunting is guilty of a misdemeanor of the 1st degree. Any fines imposed at this level are distributed to the victim’s next of kin. The penalty for a conviction on this count is a fine of not more than $10,000 and imprisonment for up to 18 months. The shooter faces a mandatory loss of hunting and furtaking privileges for 15 years. A hunter convicted of an HRSI at any level must complete a remedial hunter education course and provide evidence of a vision examination to prove their vision meets specific standards contained in Game Commission regulations.
The penalties described above are sobering enough, but being involved in a Hunting Related Shooting Incident is serious in another regard. Lives are profoundly impacted.
Every time you take to the woods remember the penalties associated with these incidents. Think about the impact HRSIs have on lives. Remember that more than 70 percent of turkey HRSIs are classified as “shot for game.” In those incidents, one hunter consciously points a firearm at another and pulls the trigger, all while failing to properly identify his target. Don’t think for a minute that you could not make a mistake. Be careful, hunt defensively, handle every firearm as if it were loaded, positively identify your target and make certain what is beyond. Remember: Each of us is responsible for our actions. Follow all the common sense rules of hunting safety. Think Safety, Hunt Safely!