Thanks in part to increased hunter safety education and the widespread use of fluorescent orange, hunting-related shooting accidents have decreased significantly in recent decades. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, incidents have declined by almost 80% since 1959, when the state safety training program began.

However, this popular outdoor sport does carry inherent risk. Making sure to follow safe handling and storage rules for firearms and staying aware of surroundings at all times is crucial for preventing a potentially fatal accident.

The five primary safety rules

The Pennsylvania Game Commission developed the acronym S.M.A.R.T. to help remind hunters of the fundamentals of firearm safety:

  1. Safe direction: Always pay attention to the direction a firearm is pointing to prevent injury from an accidental misfire.
  2. Make sure: Never shoot at a target that you cannot clearly identify by sight.
  3. Always check: Be aware of what lies beyond your target, and do not shoot at game that is between you and another hunter.
  4. Respect firearms: Always handle a firearm as if it is loaded.
  5. Trigger caution: Keep your finger extended outside the trigger guard and off the trigger until you are ready to shoot and confident that it is safe to do so.

The two most common types of hunting-related shooting incidents are a failure to positively confirm the target by sight before firing and a failure to maintain a safe zone-of-fire. When hunting with others, make sure to remain in sight of each other and maintain a distance of 25 to 40 yards apart to ensure that you are not with in one another’s zone-of-fire.

When it comes to the potential for a firearm accident, the stakes are incredibly high. Even a moment of negligence on the part of a hunter may result in potentially life-altering trauma and overwhelming medical costs. In some cases, those injured may be eligible for financial damages that may help make the rehabilitation process easier.