There are no accidents: Hunting incidents and safety in Oregon

by Jeff Barnard, AP environmental reporter in SW Oregon for 30+ years (now retired)

Preparing to go into the woods with a loaded rifle in my hands for the first time this fall, it is a good time to think about safety. One person has already been killed while hunting this year — and his bowhunting partner who shot him was arrested on a charge of criminally negligent homicide.

So it is worth going over the four basic safety rules that I learned in hunter education. Because as James Reed, hunter education coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife points out, these are called incidents, not accidents, because they could have been prevented by following these rules.

Reed uses a simple acronym to remember them: MATT.

M is for Muzzle, keep the muzzle of your gun pointed in a safe direction at all times.

A is for Assume, assume all firearms are loaded and treat them as such.

T is for Trigger, keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you are ready to fire.

T again is for Target, identify your target and what is in front of and beyond your target.

Follow these four basic hunter safety rules for a safe experience.

The International Hunter Education Association uses TABK to convey the same rules.

T for Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.

A for Always point the firearm in a safe direction.

B for Be sure of your target.

K for Keep you finger out of the trigger guard.

“Whether it is a bow or a firearm, if somebody violates one of the four basic safety rules, somebody could get shot,” said Reed. “That is the number one thing we are teaching in hunter education: when you leave this course, for the rest of your life you will not remember everything we teach you. Those four basic safety rules — you need to remember those every time you pick up a firearm.”

I took hunter safety online, and will be reviewing the material one more time before hunting season.

One other thing: hunter orange. Oregon is one of the few states left that does not require adult hunters to wear orange; kids under 18 must wear it. But I will be wearing an orange hat and vest, and no camo. From my reading, I believe scent, sound and movement are much more important factors than my outline when it comes to scaring off a deer.

And I sure as hell want to be detected by a hunter. When I went through the incident reports on the ODFW website ( for the past several years, time and again you see the notation, “Blaze Orange Apparel: No.” Most of the cases where someone was shot while wearing orange, the shots were self-inflicted.

Most people shot dead by hunters the past several years were misidentified as game, though they were seen clearly enough for a killing wound. The shooter thought they were an elk, deer, bear or coyote and they were not wearing blaze orange. Several of the victims were driving a deer or elk out of brush or thick timber, and wearing camo. So I won’t be doing that. People shot while wearing orange tend to shoot themselves, or get shot bird hunting when a companion swings through the target. Reed cannot remember a single fatal incident where the victim was wearing orange.

Reed notes that since hunter education has been mandatory for everyone under 18, fatalities have dropped, from around five a year in the 1950s and 1960s, to one a year now.

Oregon is one of about a half dozen states that don’t make hunter education mandatory for everyone. But fatalities persist, especially among hunters in the 45–55 age group, said Reed. With or without hunter ed, that age group seems to get complacent about the four safety rules, said Reed.

The most recent Oregon fatality is a case in point.

Two men, aged 52 and 45, were archery hunting for deer on the Deschutes National Forest outside La Pine. Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release that they were driving down a U.S. Forest Service road when they spotted a deer and got out of the rig with their bows. The 52-year-old briefly saw the deer and drew his bow, but did not shoot when the deer went out of view.

The shooter, “turned with his bow pointed toward (the victim) to tell him the deer was moving toward him, when he released the arrow,” the news release said.

Authorities did not say how the shooter released his arrow, but it struck his partner in the abdomen. The shooter called 911 and did CPR, but the victim was dead when help arrived. The shooter was arrested on a charge of criminally negligent homicide, and held on $50,000 bail.

One other thing: my friend Ben Neary in Wyoming recommends not relying on the rifle’s safety, and always hunting with the chamber empty. For my rifle, that will mean working the bolt to bring one up from the magazine into the chamber. Ben actually hunts with a single shot rifle, so carries his cartridge in his hand. There will be a sound from working the action, but I feel the safety factor outweighs the risk of spooking the deer.

That would prevent another cause of accidents, stumbling and falling with a loaded gun, which then fires and hits you or someone else.

So sorry to make this all sound so dangerous. One fatality a year out of a couple hundred thousand hunters isn’t much. But it doesn’t have to be any if everyone follows the four basic rules.

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