How to Not Get Shot While Deer Hunting In South Dakota (and Anywhere)
This Saturday marks the beginning of the East River firearm deer season in South Dakota. It serves as a sort of state holiday for those who go each year.
As with any activity involving firearms, the number one goal is to get home at the end of the day without any new holes in your body. While actual hunting accidents can happen, many can be prevented very simply.
Follow the four rules of firearm safety
1 - Always treat every firearm as if it were loaded, even when you know it isn't.
2 - Don't point the muzzle and anything you don't want to destroy. This includes your own hands, feet, face, etc.
3 - Keep your finger off the trigger until you are aiming at your target and are ready to shoot.
4 - Know EXACTLY what your target is, and what is in front of and behind it. Noise in the trees is not necessarily a deer. It could be a squirrel, another hunter, or someone just out for a walk in the woods. Don't shoot at what you hope is a deer.
Breaking any one of these is a deadly sin.
Assume everyone else is reckless
When I go hunting I assume anyone I encounter or see off in the distance is walking around with a rifle for the first time and that I should be very wary of them. While this is rarely the case as most hunters you see have some experience or they are at least with someone who is experienced.
If I am approached or encounter anyone, I am very friendly and I am very focused on where they are pointing their rifle and where their hands are.
In my experience, hunters who only handle and shoot their guns in and around hunting season, are typically the most careless and scariest demographic of hunters to be around when they have a firearm in their hand.
Also, do not be afraid to call out careless behavior. Some people just don't get it.
When I go hunting in east river South Dakota, where things are tighter and there are fewer and smaller tracts of public land, I wear a blaze orange hat and vest.
In the Black Hills, where thick trees don't allow you to see very far, I always wear a vest and hat.
In the wide-open spaces of west river South Dakota, I always wear the orange hat but I don't always wear my vest, though I should. The only reason I don't is that the vest is a pain with a binocular harness on top and west river is where I do the most glassing. But if I want to decrease my chances of getting shot, I should be wearing it.
Hide From Orange
If at all possible I try to be in a spot where I can't see any other people wearing orange. If I can't see them it's really hard to accidentally shoot them. If they can't see me it's hard for them to shoot me.
Having said that, I was innocently and indirectly shot at a few years ago. I was in a big wide open and mildly hilly harvested cornfield trying to sneak up on a doe. I was getting close to being able to take a shot when I heard the snap of a bullet followed by the booming blast from a rifle. When you hear those noises in that order it means you are on the receiving end of gunfire.
I immediately dropped to my knees and saw the doe was no longer standing. Another hunter had entered the same field from a half-mile further down the road and we never saw each other's vehicles or each other.
I saw him a minute later as he was walking up on the deer. He was wearing orange, the same as me. We could both see the same deer, but because of the terrain, we could not see each other. What I learned that day was that if you can't see orange, orange can't shoot you and that is a good thing.
Keep your chamber empty until you NEED to load it
I don't recall ever being taught, though I may have and don't remember, to keep a loaded magazine and an empty chamber when walking with a rifle.
It was something I never even considered until watching Meateater. Steven Rinella and company can be seen running the bolt to load their rifle when it is getting close to the time when a shot will be taken. I started doing the same thing a few years ago.
If I am in my spot I will load it or if I am still hunting I will have it loaded, but if I'm just walking to my spot, the odds of getting my rifle off my shoulder and aimed before a suddenly appearing deer disappears are pretty much zero.
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