Hunting-related accidents in Maine remain historically low despite a 10 percent increase in licenses sold over the past five years.

There have been four hunting accidents so far in 2015, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, compared to an average of six per year between 2011 and 2014.

Moreover, there have been no hunting-related fatalities in Maine since 2012. The state has not had three consecutive calendar years without a hunting death since it started keeping records in 1940.

The numbers, which mirror trends in other states, are in stark contrast to data on hunting-related injuries and fatalities of 30 to 40 years ago.

Experts say the advent of mandatory hunter education courses and the requirement for hunters to wear blaze orange have made the woods far safer.

“Hunter safety courses are definitely a factor in making the sport more safe, that and mandatory hunter orange,” said Mike Sawyer, the state’s safety coordinator with Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.


In 1986 Maine started requiring a 12-hour hunter safety course for hunters using a firearm, and in 1989 a mandatory course for bow hunters. In the past 30 years, 260,000 hunters have graduated from the 12-hour course, according to the state.

As a result, the number of hunting accidents and deaths has plummeted:

 In the 1970s, there were 371 hunting accidents and 39 fatalities in Maine.

In the ’80s, 242 accidents and 18 fatalities.

In the ’90s, 109 accidents and five fatalities.

From 2000 to 2009, 93 accidents and six fatalities.


Since 1974, the number of hunting licenses sold in Maine has ranged from 200,000 to 235,000 annually, except for a spike of more than 273,000 in 1992 and 1993. License sales dipped during the recession of the past decade, falling as low as 203,638 in 2011. They have since rebounded to 224,039 in 2014, the most recent year for which data are available from DIF&W.

As hunting has grown safer, Maine laws have been relaxed. Now hunters can wear blaze orange in a camouflage pattern (rather than in a solid hat and vest) and they now are allowed to hunt 30 minutes after sunset during the fading light.

Since 2010, there have been 35 hunting accidents and two fatalities (one in 2011, another in 2012). Of the four hunting accidents this year in Maine, two involved a hunter’s self-inflicted wound in the foot or leg, and resulted in minor injuries. On Oct. 31 a 71-year-old grouse hunter shot himself accidentally in the left leg below the kneecap and on Nov. 11 a 16-year-old sustained a self-inflicted wound to the foot, according to the Maine Warden Service.

Across the country, fish and game officials say the mandatory hunter safety courses have made the sport safer.

In Massachusetts, where 70,000 hunters take the field, hunter safety instruction has been offered since 1954. Since the state started requiring a mandatory safety class in 2006, there have been no hunting-related fatalities, said Marion Larson, chief information officer at Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

In New Hampshire, hunter education courses became mandatory for all hunters in 1975. There have been four fatalities in the past 15 years, and just 15 accidents in the past five years, said Jane Vachon, the New Hampshire Fish and Game spokeswoman.


Meanwhile, in Wyoming, where an average of 250,000 hunting licenses are sold each year, there have been four fatalities the past five years, with only a few accidents a year.

“Overall, we implemented hunter safety in the late 1970s and have seen accidents decline over time. Accidents held pretty steady around six a year from 1980 to 1990, then we implemented digital hunter safety courses that can be taken online. It’s making a difference,” said Rebekah Fitzgerald, communications and outreach supervisor at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

And in Texas, where 1.2 million hunting licenses are sold, there have been 116 accidents and 15 hunting-related fatalities in the past five years. That’s down from 747 accidents and 157 fatalities during the 1980s.

Nationally, hunting fatalities have dropped to 0.8 per every 100,000 hunters, said Steve Hall, the hunter education program director at Texas Parks and Wildlife and the former director of the International Hunter Education Association, who ran the association from 2013 to 2015.

“It used to be between three to four (fatalities) per 100,000 hunters. It’s come down because of hunter education,” Hall said. “We’ve been a little more proactive because of the mystique of firearms and the perception that it’s dangerous, but that isn’t true. The number one type of hunting incident across the country is generally people who fell from a tree stand – it’s non-firearm-related.”

By comparison, some other outdoor activities in Maine have been far riskier.


In the past five years, 24 snowmobilers suffered fatal accidents, according to the Maine Warden Service. And since 2012, 28 recreational boaters have died in Maine waters, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The state does not require safety classes for either of those activities.

“We’ve always encouraged people to join snowmobile clubs because they are more aligned with safe and responsible riding on the trail,” said Bob Meyers, director of the Maine Snowmobile Association.

“We like to say 99.6 percent of the people hear the safety messages and act on it. The other 0.4 percent of the people think that stuff just doesn’t apply to them,” he added.


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