Hunter carrying rifle practicing hunting safety.

Hunter Safety Tips

Updated April 6, 2016 . AmFam Team

Whether hunting deer, duck, turkey or other game, here’s how to keep safety in mind to protect yourself while in the woods.

Are you someone who counts down the days until hunting season? Who wakes up on crisp, fall mornings to be the very first person to greet the new day? Hunting season’s opening day is an exciting time for enthusiasts and it’s approach is a perfect time to review hunter safety guidelines. And if you’re going to be storing your weapons in your home, you’ll need to know how to secure them and keep your family safe. So before you head to the woods, be sure to prepare for another safe hunting season.

Why Hunter Safety Courses Are Important

Owning a weapon and keeping it near your family is a big responsibility. Well-designed hunter safety courses cover more than just handling your gun in the field. Equally important, you’ll learn about best practices when locking your weapon up at home. From storing it unloaded and securely locking ammunition in a different location, you’ll learn about ways to improve the overall safety of those in your home when weapons are present.

Consider storing your weapons and ammunition in a secure off-site location to further prevent accidents. Most states require new hunters to complete a hunter safety course, especially if they’re under 16. In some states, the hunter must be at least 11 or 12 to take the course, so check your state’s laws for specifics.

These courses — covering topics such as how to correctly use and clean hunting weapons, dressing game and hunting safety rules — can last between 10 and 15 hours but are packed with amazingly helpful information to help you on the hunt.

How to Target Practice and Train With a Hunting Rifle

Working with your gun before you get into the wild will help you to operate it more predictably. You’ll also be able to understand how making small adjustments in the field can help improve your performance. With these tips, you head out onto the trail with greater know how and that can help you and your friends hunt more safely.

Learn all about your rifle before hunting

It’s important to not only practice shooting before hunting, but that you know everything about how your weapon operates. This is key to preventing the accidental discharging of a loaded weapon. As much as it’s important to know how to accurately aim it, you need to be sure that you’re very familiar with each component of the weapon.

Be mindful of your muzzle

Never point your muzzle at anything you don’t want to shoot. In other words, always point your firearm in a safe direction – down isn’t recommended when you’re with others or if the ground is rocky. Safe handling should be second nature before you head out on the hunt.

Contain your shots to an agreed-upon range before you hunt

Your hunting range is the 45-degree angle directly in front of you. If you’re hunting in a group, discuss your approach to these rules well in advance of getting into the field — to make sure you’re a safe distance from each other.

Be deliberate and focused when taking aim

In addition to controlling your breath and preparing for the gun’s recoil, be sure that you’re aware of the shot’s exit behind the target. Never shoot until you’re certain it’s a safe shot. You need to think about what you’re shooting at — and more importantly, what’s beyond it.

Manage your emotions by anticipating adrenaline

When that big game turns on profile, and the shot’s lining up neatly, it can be easy to get excited. But by staying calm, you’ll control more than just your breathing. You may find you’re better able to assess the shot and verify a safe perimeter. When target practicing, work with the idea that you’ll be a bit nervous and excited. When the time comes to pull the trigger on the hunt, you can be better prepared for that moment.

Always assume your gun’s loaded

Unload your gun or rifle whenever it’s not in use. But remember the adage, “There’s no such thing as an unloaded gun,” and treat every gun as if it’s loaded, even if you’re certain that it’s not.

Build safe routines into gun handling

Keep your finger outside the trigger area unless you’re shooting. When you’re practicing key safety protocols all the time, hunting is safer for you and everyone out there with you.

Mind the safety

Engage the safety but handle the gun as if you didn’t have it on. Be sure you understand how the safety operates both visually and tactically.

Purchase environmentally friendly ammunition

As U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service data continues to find lead in wild game due to coal-fired power plant emissions and other sources, do your part decrease lead in the natural world. Use wildlife-safe ammunition and do your best to pick up the bullet’s jackets after discharging the weapon once they’ve cooled.

What Safety Gear Do You Need When Hunting?

Hunting safety is in large part about being seen and recognized as a hunter by others nearby. In many states, you’re required to wear a certain amount of blaze orange — not camouflage with orange on it — during most hunting seasons. Don that blaze orange above your waist and on your head so you’re readily visible, even if not required by law. You don’t have to worry about the deer seeing you — they don’t see orange the same way humans do.

Protect your hunting canines

If you take a dog with you, make sure they’re also wearing blaze orange as an added layer of protection.

Learn about your hunting grounds and escape routes before you go

Put a map of your hunting area on your smart phone or in your pocket. Scout it before hunting season so you know it well. And consider prevailing winds when scouting. Look at the terrain and have a plan for each position that accounts for varying wind scenarios.

Leave word of your hunting plans before heading out

Tell someone where you’ll be hunting, and when you’ll return. By leaving them a map for them as well, you’ll also give them the information they need to help you if something happens when you’re away.

Carry a waterproof trauma safety kit

Pick up a well-stocked first aid kit and refresh your CPR skills before heading out. If you’ll be camping for a few days, consider going with a more robust supply of first aid supplies.

Scope out your tree stand options prior to hunting day

Look for a few good spots to perch your tree stand, and be sure to secure it before getting in. To help avoid injuries, remember to use a lanyard and harness yourself in the stand in case you fall asleep or slip.

Practice gun safety on rough terrain

Never carry your weapon while climbing. Use a haul line to raise or lower the unloaded weapon. Remember to position the haul line so that the gun is pointing down when it’s being moved.

Stay sober in the field

Leave the celebratory drinks for enjoying later at camp or at home. Like driving or operating heavy machinery, working with a loaded weapon is serious business and requires all your faculties, all the time. Don’t drink while hunting and don’t allow others to drink when hunting with you.

Mind local hunting laws

Familiarize yourself with state and local hunting code so you’re only hunting during legal hours. And be sure to have your hunting license and tags up-to-date if the local warden should approach you when hunting.

Contact Your Agent to Review Your Homeowners Policy

And there you have it, a quick refresher in keeping safe, no matter what game you’re out hunting for. As hunting season gets underway, take a little time and reach out to your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab). You’ll have an opportunity to review your policy and update your itemized personal property coverage to help protect your valuables and everything else that matters most to you. Best of luck this season, hunters!

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