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How dangerous is hunting?

I had to listen to some crazy anti-hunting lady being interviewed on some weekend talk show a few days ago (late night weekend radio between major markets, I take what I can find) due to my insane traveling schedule. She was tirading against hunting. Cheney’s accident being in the news, I shouldn’t be surprised that the anti-hunting anti-gun people started pushing their ideology on the rest of us. Vultures.

As it was, she mentioned two statistics, fifty-three people die each year due to hunting accidents, and about 500 are injured. Raw numbers don’t prove anything. Over 40,000 people die in cars each year, but you divide that number by the total number of people driving and you get .04% of dying in a car each year (huge overestimate, the number is probably half that). So if you drive for a hundred years, there’s a 4% chance you’ll die from a car accident. Thus, it would take 2,500 years of driving before you would expect to die.

I couldn’t find any real good numbers, but I did find out there are about 19 million hunters going out into the field each year. If I take the 53 fatality number per year at face value (I couldn’t verify it), then deaths while hunting are extremely rare. How rare? Well…if it takes 2,500 years of driving before one would expect to die, it would take 40,000 years of hunting (assuming you take an average number of hunting trips per year) before you could expect to even be hurt in a hunting accident, 400,000 years before you’d expect to die.

Of course, you’d have to take the numbers I gave you and divide by the total number of hours spent driving on average versus hours hunting and compare them. I would guess driving and hunting to be about as equally dangerous.

Other numbers


Over the past four decades, the number of hunting-related firearms accidents have dropped by half and the number of fatalities by much, much more.

In 1966, the first year TPWD’s law enforcement division began investigating and maintaining records of hunting-related firearms accidents, game wardens chronicled 81 such accidents. A stunning 28 of them involved fatalities.

Two years later, that number had jumped to 105 accidents with a sobering 37 fatalities.

In 2003, game wardens investigated 42 hunting-related firearms accidents. Only one involved a fatality.

Texas has seen fewer than 10 fatal hunting-related firearms accidents each of the past 12 years.

In 1966, TPWD recorded 12.6 hunting-related firearms accidents per 100,000 hunting licenses sold, and averaged 10.92 accidents per 100,000 for the five-year period 1966-70.

This past year, the accident rate was 3.9 per 100,000 hunting licenses. For the five years 1999-2003, the average accident rate was 4.02, or not much more than a third of what it was a generation before.

Montana and beyond:

Thomas Baumeister, education bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Helena, heard the same news report. As head of both the hunter education and bowhunter education programs in Montana, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing, either.

“No. Hunting accidents certainly are not common,” Baumeister said. “This is one of the safest activities in terms of getting injured doing it.

“During an average hunting season in Montana, we have 229,000 people out there at one time or another with firearms,” he said. “It’s far more dangerous to ski or play tennis.”

And a person playing football, he said, is certainly more likely to be injured than someone hunting.

Baumeister keeps track of fatal and nonfatal hunting accidents from a variety of sources, including FWP personnel and newspaper reports. Hunting, he said, is a sport that’s getting safer each year, thanks in part to mandatory hunter education programs.

“We have record-low numbers of accidents throughout North America,” he said. “It’s a declining trend, both in fatal and nonfatal accidents. In the 1970s, on average, we had 21.7 hunting accidents per year. In the ’80s, we had 12.3. In the ’90s, it was 7.1. For the last five years, we’re down to 5.6.

“In the recently completed 2005 season, we had no fatal accidents, and I only heard about three nonfatal accidents,” Baumeister said. “People might get a pellet lodged in their skin and you wouldn’t hear about it. And I’m not saying we didn’t have any. But I am willing to say it was in that 5 to 8 range, which is where we have been over the past few years.”

Baumeister isn’t saying that there’s no potential for injuries. It’s just that they happen very, very rarely — especially when you consider the number of hunters involved and the amount of time they spend in the field each year.

Montana has the highest level of hunting participation in the nation, according to federal surveys, with 24 percent of its residents hunting each year. That includes 39 percent of all adult males in the state and 13 percent of adult females.

In deer hunting alone, the most recent statistics from the 2003 season indicate that 153,255 deer hunters spent 1.04 million days in the field. A total of 40,574 bird hunters — those shotgun shooters, like Cheney — spent 436,000 days in the field.

That’s a lot of people spending a lot of time out hunting with very few accidents to report

Gun accidents in general are down:

About .5 people per 100,000 population (1400 total, all ages) die from accidental gunshot wounds and about 33 per 100,000 (100,000 total) are injured accidentally with gunshots (per US Centers for Disease Control/prevention) per year recently. The rate has been dropping steadily for years.

Facts versus emotions, I choose facts. Hunting is safe, gun deaths are in decline, hunting accidents are in decline. The focus on gun safety has done wonders, and Americans have shown themselves to be responsible with their right to bear arms. American’s have become more responsible every year.


5 Responses

  1. Finally, something we completely agree on…

  2. I’m fairly certain more people die of heart attacks while hunting than they do from being shot by a fellow hunter.

    I don’t have stats to prove it, and I’m not sure anyone has kept track of heart attacks by hunters.

    But it seems like every year I hear about a hunter suffering a heart attack and rarely do I hear about a serious hunting accident.

  3. But it is not Mohamed

  4. Interesting article. I’m considering taking up hunting and am concerned about the danger … I would like to find out if it is all being blown out of proportion by the media or if it is actually a dangerous hobby.

    I find it strange that you hugely overestimate the percentage of people dying in cars I agree with you that the percentage dying is probably about half what you say.

    So after deliberately overestimating the percentage of deaths you go on to use the inflated figure to demonstrate a point.

    But even without inflating the figure there is a big difference between 0.02% of drivers dying and 0.0002% of hunters.

    Looking at it in this simplistic fashion it appears that you are 100 times more likely to dye while driving a car than hunting.

    Problem is we haven’t considered that car drivers probably do a lot more driving than hunters do hunting. Here in New Zealand people drive an average of around 20,000km per year. If this were done at 60km/h that would equal 333 hours of driving per year. These are only rough guesses to give an idea. I’m guessing (let me know if you think otherwise) that on average people would hunt a lot less than 333 hours per year.

    To even things up so that hunting and driving were equally dangerous on a per hour basis the hunters would have to be averaging only 3 hours a year. It seems unlikely that it would be this low.

    So even after accounting for (or attemping to) the difference in time spent per person hunting still looks like it might be safer than driving.

    Another thing to consider is that driving is more essential in today’s world than hunting (let me know if you think otherwise). So fatalaties while driving are more acceptable than those caused by hunting. I mean no-one would consider playing checkers if there was a one in a million chance of dying. But you might consider taking on the same or even a much higher level of risk to do something more important such as stopping another country from invading America. So we can see that the level of risk which is acceptable varies according to the importance of the task being carried out. This is pretty much impossible to quantify in any meaningful manner.

    So in the end the question of whether the level of risk in hunting is acceptable is a personal question which depends to a large extent on how important hunting is to you.

    This makes things tricky for me as I don’t actually know how good hunting would be for me. What makes hunting an important aspect of your life??

  5. I’ve always been told hunting is only as dangerous as you make it. Taking the proper precautions make the sport very safe, and as I mentioned in this post hunting is already a safe activity.

    We can split hairs as to actually how safe but it’s probably about as safe as driving a car.

    I don’t know about the US at large but in my state of Minnesota more hunting deaths are caused by drownings than by gun discharges.

    (I am not familiar with any New Zealand statistics as far as hunting safety goes; I suggest you do some reserach)

    I also don’t know much about New Zealand so what compels people in your country to hunt will differ from why people in my area hunt.

    In Minnesota and in the rest of the “pioneer states” hunting has a long tradition. On top of tradition the other reason people hunt is because it’s legal.

    Sure, we probably don’t need to hunt. We can get our food elsewhere. Sure, hunting helps control certain animal populations but that’s important only if you think being killed by a hunter is better than being killed by starvation.

    The meat taken by hunting wild animals is normally healthier than meat from beef or pork.

    In the end, I enjoy hunting because I enjoy the outdoors. It’s a sport that takes skills, time, patience and it’s a test of survival. It links me with my ancestors. Others can probably put their passion for hunting more eloquently.

    In fact, that’s what I suggest, talk to someone in your country about hunting. I did a quick search and found out you do have hunting magazines you can read, I suggest reading a few. Those magazines almost always include erudite essays about what draws people to participate in the sport. The magazines will also give you an idea about the specifics of hunting and the options you’ll have.

    Find someone to take you hunting, someone experienced and safety conscious. If you don’t like the experience no big deal.

    I hope I’ve been helpful.

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