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Holiday Hunting Safety

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By Don Mallicoat- For hunters, opening presents and sharing family dinners are just one part of the holidays. As North Carolinians head outdoors for their annual holiday hunt, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Home From The Hunt campaign reminds hunters to follow some basic hunting safety guidelines. Not just individually but especially if hunting in a group. Particular attention should be paid if young hunters or hunters you don’t know are involved.

“Christmas is a great time for friends and family to plan hunting trips together,” said Carissa Shelton, the Commission’s western outreach manager. “It’s important to remember, particularly during the excitement of the holidays, to practice safety in the field.” Shelton advised: Take time to review hunter education training and equipment instructions; Familiarize yourself with all applicable regulations before going afield; Repair or replace faulty equipment, especially tree stands, before use; “Tree stand injuries can almost always be avoided,” said Shelton. “We recommend that all hunters wear a full-body safety harness and maintain three points of contact while climbing.”

When hunting with a firearm, Shelton advised: Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction; Treat your firearm as if it’s loaded at all times; Be certain of your target and what is beyond; Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. I would add when hunting in a group make sure everyone knows their zone of fire and is aware where other hunters are in their vicinity.

Hunters must wear blaze orange that is visible from all sides when hunting bear, feral hogs, deer, rabbit, squirrel, grouse, pheasant or quail with a firearm. Anyone hunting deer during a deer firearms season, regardless of whether a firearm or archery equipment is used, must wear hunter orange visible from all sides every day of the week, including on Sundays.

With the last split of the waterfowl season starting December 17th, and cold weather here, hunters going out on the water with frigid temperatures need to be especially safety conscious. “Most boating accidents are preventable if you’re alert and follow simple safety procedures,” said Maj. Chris Huebner, the state boating safety coordinator. “Being in cold water or wearing wet clothes in cold conditions can increase the chance of hypothermia, which accounts for more hunter deaths than drowning and gun accidents. It’s a good idea to dress for the occasion with clothing made of wool or other synthetic materials instead of cotton.”

Additional safety tips include: Wear a proper personal flotation device and insist that passengers follow suit; Be aware that small, flat-bottom vessels are prone to capsizing and swamping; Keep hunting dogs prone in the center of the boat; Store equipment properly and keep it evenly distributed; Never move about the boat with a loaded shotgun; Don’t overload the boat, especially with passengers; Always let someone know your whereabouts and an approximate return time; In the event of capsizing or swamping, stay with the boat and use it as a floatation device. This is a joyous season and a great time to be in the field. Let’s not spoil it buy being unsafe.

The regular gun deer season in the mountains ended this past Saturday, December 10th. If you are fortunate to have private land access in Polk, Rutherford, or Cleveland counties you will get extra days at the end of the month. Of course, many in the mountains belong to deer clubs down east and the season there continues until January 2, 2017. Now that mountain deer season is over, the last half of the bear season picked back up December 12th.

For the rest of us it is small game all the way! Rabbit, squirrel, quail, and grouse seasons are all open as well as dove. I have seen a few dove flying around so a trip to Sandy Mush may be in order. Woodcock season opens December 15th through January 28th. My son and I have a woodcock hunt planned right after Christmas. As mentioned, the second half of the waterfowl season opens December 17th and continues through January for ducks and mid-February for geese.

Time is flying by with just over two months remaining in the season. Let’s get out there and enjoy the holidays with a special hunt with family and friends. Stay safe. Merry Christmas!

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