Saturday, October 8, 2011

Will Sunday Hunting Make it Unsafe to Go Outside?

"Sunday hunting will make it unsafe to go outside."

I suspect that in every state that has eased sunday hunting restrictions over the last thirty years, this argument has been made.  Interestingly, it's most often made by anti-hunting activists who never leave the couch, and by hunters who chase dogs with deer, and do not want hunters in the woods on the one day per week that their dogs rest.  But we'll ignore that, and falsely assume that the general public, as a whole, fears that sunday hunting will increase their risk of being injured or even killed on a sunday walk outdoors.  

Endless quotes are available online from animal rights activists and anti-hunters who tell of this foreboding reality - where residents of states like Virginia and Pennsylvania will have to put lead shields on their doors and windows before legal shooting time on sunday, due to the rain of bullets and arrows that will surely ensue.  Dogwalkers will perish.  Warbler watchers will be impaled by broadheads. 

Let's tackle this at two scales - statewide and nationally.  

Yes, I actually LIKE the warning sign
First, to Pennsylvania  - one of the states that reaffirmed their traditional sunday hunting restrictions just a few weeks ago.  The Commonwealth of PA keeps a very detailed website of annual hunting accidents.  Let's take a look.

Pennsylvania records about 32-33 weapon-related hunting incidents per year. 10-15 of those (let’s say 12) are self-inflicted, usually non-fatal incidents in which a hunter accidentally shoots him or herself.  That leaves about 20 hunting accidents per year involving a victim who is not the shooter.  Out of those 20 accidents involving a separate victim, an average of 17 (85%) involve another hunter or trapper. 15% (or about 3, in the entire Commonwealth, per year) involve a victim who is not hunting or trapping at the time of the accident.  On average, 0 of those 3 are fatal, which I admit, is no solace to the non-fatal victims, so let’s keep our focus there - maiming non-hunters is an unacceptable outcome unless the hunter shoots on purpose, believing his/her life to be in immediate danger.  I'll (generously) assume that none of those 3 annual cases are self-defense shootings.  But before we move on, I need you to read and agree with me that:

For the record, in an average year in Pennsylvania, 1.1 million hunters go afield for an average of 5 total days each, for 5.5 million total hunting days, resulting in 0 fatal accidents to non-hunters. 
                                                                                                                                                               Based on the state's statistics, for every hunter you encounter in the field as a non-hunter, you have a roughly 00.0003% of being non-fatally wounded.        
                                                                                                                                                       Expanding Sunday hunting for deer would raise this figure to roughly 00.0004% if we take the low-end estimate that Sunday is "just another day for hunters."  If we take the high end estimate that Sunday would be a heavy-use day for hunters (based on the fact that for some species, 50% of the game harvest is taken on saturdays, where sunday hunting is not allowed), then that figure could raise to 00.0008% likelihood of being mortally wounded by a hunter (who is not yourself), if sunday hunting becomes a reality in PA. 

Let’s compare that risk level to some other activities.  According to the PA Department of Health, any resident of Pennsylvania has a roughly 1.00% chance of dying of something other than a hunting accident this year.  

50,000 Pennsylvanian non-hunters die of heart disease every year.  0 die of hunting accidents.  

Almost 50,000 die of cancer. 0 die of hunting accidents.   

About 6,000 die of pneumonia.  0 die of hunting accidents.  

Over 1,000 die of suicide. 0 die of hunting accidents.  

About 700 die of murder. 0 die of hunting accidents.   

So, let's zoom out a bit.  

Example 2: in America, what really kills people?

Death via hunting accident, I assume, would fall under the 5-6% of deaths in the "accidental" category.  I already distilled some "odds of death" related to hunting and sunday hunting for you, based on Pennsylvania statistics, but let's look - nationwide - into this.

This shows us that of those 5% or so of accidental deaths, approximately 1.6% are firearm related.  That equates to less than 1/1000th of all annual deaths resulting from firearm injury.  So few are archery related (and many anti-hunters fear sunday bow hunters the most) that it's not even a category.   Let's dig even further - what do accidental (non-suicide, non-homicide) death statistics look like?

So, if we (falsely) accept that 100% of fatal gun accidents in the woods are perpetrated by hunters, and we (falsely) accept that 50% of gun deaths in "other" and "indeterminate" areas are perpetrated by hunters, less than two ten thousandths of American deaths are remotely possibly at the hands of hunters. 

And again - let's look at some states with sunday hunting and see how many people are accidentally killed in an average hunting season.

Florida  (200,000 hunters, 17,500,000  non-hunters) - approximately 1 annual hunting death (includes hunters falling, drowning, heart attacks, etc)

Alabama (312,000 hunters, 4,700,000 non-hunters)  - less than 1 annual hunting death (includes tree stand accidents, fatal falls)

California (180,000 hunters, 37,000,000 non-hunters)- approximately 1 annual hunting death (includes heart attacks).

While those numbers should be ZERO, it's fair to argue that they are pretty darn low.

The fact is, guns and bows are deadly.  But so are dogs. And cars. And tobacco. And french fries.  Based on these real figures, it’s safe to say that a Pennsylvania or a Virginia with legalized Sunday hunting is still not likely to experience non-hunter fatalities from hunting accidents, and likely no increase in non-hunter injuries resulting from hunting accidents.   But that doesn’t address the fear.

While 75% of American support “legal hunting,” 62% of Americans express a “negative view” towards hunters as a whole.  This tells me that the ongoing efforts of hunters to “clean up” our ethics (and image) are not working everywhere.  I’m proud that I almost never see a deer strapped to the roof or trunk of a car.   I’m proud that in over a decade of hunting on public land, I’ve only seen one buck wasted (head removed for trophy, meat left behind).  I’m proud that I rarely run into hunters who have been drinking – and it’s a practice that is completely prohibited where I hunt.   But we need to be working more actively to engage the non-hunting public who want to support us but feel like they just can’t.   Want to know why Sunday hunting bans are most likely to remain in place in some states? It’s that 62% figure.  

If you are a hunter, I challenge you to practice safety in the field as your #1 - #10 priorities.  You owe it to yourself, your family, and to the public.   If you are a non-hunter who opposes the expansion of sunday hunting on the basis of "decreased safety to outdoors non-hunters," I challenge you to read the information above and make an honest assessment of whether your personal safety will be impacted by an additional 3, or 6, or 10 days of hunting per year. 

If you're a landowner who allows the public to walk onto your land to hunt (this is not legal anywhere south of the PA-MD border), you have a lot more options than "allow everybody in 7 days a week" and "post my property 'no trespassing,'" even though the Farm Bureau would like you to believe you have only those two options.

My point here is not to say that allowing Sunday hunting in new states would be without consequence or negative/positive impacts.  My point is to show you that the biggest fear raised - that of public safety - is nothing but a straw man. A red herring. Histrionics.

Even if we assume that poachers don't kill deer on sundays already (funny, I know), I challenge anyone to prove that expanded sunday hunting has actually increased the occurrence of hunting accidents or hunter/non-hunter conflicts. 

If you're a hunter who opposes Sunday hunting, let me remind of who else opposes sunday hunting (and all hunting).


Coy Hill said...

You build a good case for the safety aspect and no doubt Sunday hunting would be every bit as safe as hunting on Saturday. However landowners in Pa have a problem that many other states have addressed and that is the case of trespass. A few years ago the Pa legislature tried to place trespass while hunting under the umbrella of PGC enforcement. The PGC was opposed and the legislation that finally passed only allows the PGC to enforce trespass law when another hunting violation is committed along with trespass. Perhaps if this situation were remedied landowners/ members of the Farm Bureau would be more open to the change. At this point we are left with the State Police who at least in our area have very little interest in a case of trespass. In short landowners are on their own.
Again, great post!

Bill Howard said...

Nicely done. Here in North Carolina, the Wildlife Commission looked back over 30 years for bowhunting incidents involving a hunter and non-hunter (bowhunting only on Sundays in NC). During those 30 years, only 1 non hunter was injured from a bowhunter. The bowhunter fell out of the stand onto the non-hunter. When teaching IBEP and Hunter Ed here, I go over that section very carefully. You have more chance of a bowhunter raining from above than getting shot by an arrow...

Kirk Mantay said...

Coy - trespass/poaching is one area of the debate that it's just hard (impossible) to get a read on, and so I really appreciate your comment.

You're right, this is a landowner perception issue that has to be dealt with, likely PRIOR to sunday hunting gaining full acceptance. Trespass is trespass, and I could probably cite statistics that say that lawbreaking wouldn't increase....however....landowners need to be convinced that it won't increase, and if it did, that they are protected!

In states to the south, where walk-on hunting is not legal (on private land not owned by the hunter), police and wardens aggressively ticket with "hunting without permission" (usually a ticket, if property is not posted) and "trespass" (a ticket or arrest, if property is posted).

This gives the police a few options of how to process the violation, which cops always appreciate. Local police frequently cite for trespass, but never for "without permission." It's unimaginable that PGC is unwilling to take this responsibility. I's poaching state resources! Right?

I wish I had an answer to the obstacle you describe - but it's a compelling issue that PA will have to address, regardless of sunday hunting. Anywhere from 75-90% of hunting land is in private hands - losing landowners' support for the sport is not optional.

Mike said...

Hunting on Sunday makes baby Jesus cry.. Plus, what kinda commie isn't home watching football??

Coy Hill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coy Hill said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response. I very much agree on with you on all points. Hunting is not a particularly dangerous activity if proper safety precautions are taken; much safer than most other activities we pursue every day including simply driving to work.
Pa is very regressive when it comes to protecting landowner rights in connection with hunting. As I’m sure you know I served as a Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer for over two decades. The PGC’s excuse for avoiding trespass law was that they are not staffed to handle the number of complaints. I well remember a regional meeting shortly after the current trespass law was passed where we were told of how dispatchers were to question complainants to determine if indeed another game law was broken and if not no officer would be dispatched.
I do apologize for going off topic on your excellent safety post and again I am looking forward to your next Sunday hunting post.

Kirk Mantay said...

Coy, although it will not likely come in the realm of hunting enforcement, in this era of government downsizing (incl. law enforcement), I'm eagerly awaiting the first 14th amendment (equal protection) lawsuit against a law enforcement agency.

That's the problem with just "passing laws." You (government) then have to enforce them. ALL OF THEM. Sure, you can migrate to complaint-based service (response calls only), but you have to protect all groups of the citizenry equally against crimes.

I would theorize that local police are available and willing to enforce trespass laws on government property.......but "not so much" on private property. Especially if it's written policy. There's your basis for a class suit right there.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Tim Borkert said...

Powerful statistics, thanks for the well thought out post!

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