Whether you are new to hunting or have 20 seasons of experience under your belt, it is always important to know the hazards of hunting and understand how to keep yourself safe.
Regardless of whether you are on private land or public land, there are some inherent risks involved in hunting. The biggest risks, though, might be a bit of a surprise to the inexperienced hunter, and there are some additional safety hazards to be aware of when on public land.
In this article, we scoured the internet to find out just how dangerous public land hunting is, identify the biggest safety risks, and provide some tips for staying safe on your next day out in the field.
Safety Risks When Hunting on Public Land
As you might expect, that is a lower incidence than popular sports like football and baseball. Surprisingly, though, that’s even a lower injury rate than bowling, golf, and fishing!
We’ll briefly discuss some of the most common dangers when hunting on public land. Most of these are general risks associated with hunting, regardless of who owns the land, though there might be some differences or additional concerts when you are on public land.
Most people who have not hunted public land before are concerned about other hunters, who may know not your location, or worse yet, hunt recklessly.
While there are bad apples in every bunch, the truth is that most public land hunters are respectable, avid conservationists who want to enjoy time in the outdoors just like you.
The risks associated with public land hunting are the same risks associated with private land, most of which are caused by carelessness from the individual hunter. Treestand falls, or self-injury are the most common occurrences.
Falling accidents are the most common cause of injury when hunting. Spending so much time in tree stands comes with an inherent risk of falling out of the tree. That’s why it is so important to always check your equipment and anchor yourself to the tree in case something fails.
Hearing damage is an often overlooked issue among hunters who hunt with firearms. Even if you are only firing your gun a few times, the damage to your hearing can be substantial without hearing protection.
A University of Wisconsin study showed that up to 95% of hunters don’t use ear protection and that avid hunters aged 48 to 92 are significantly more likely to experience high-frequency hearing loss.
You can purchase hearing protection that only reduces sounds above 95 decibels so you can still hear most natural sounds and leave your ear protection on when you aren’t shooting.
Numerous diseases can pose a threat to hunters. Most of these diseases are the result of coming into contact with bodily fluids from an infected animal, from eating contaminated meat, or from insects in the environment.
Brucellosis is one common disease that can be carried by deer, elk, boar, and other game animals. Usually, brucellosis is transmitted from the animal’s bodily fluids getting into someone’s mouth or eyes.
Common symptoms include fever, chills, sweating, headache, low appetite, fatigue, and joint or muscle pain. It can take up to a month to start feeling sick
Lyme disease and other tick-transmitted diseases are other examples of disease risks posed to hunters. Fortunately, peak tick season often doesn’t align with peak hunting season, but it is important to be aware and to do tick checks after leaving high-risk areas.
Here is a really useful guide that goes much deeper into disease risks that hunters face and how you can protect yourself from them.
Shooting incidents are a serious risk when hunting, especially on public land where you might encounter more people and have less knowledge of where other hunters are around you.
Firearm accidents are largely preventable, as evidenced by the steady decline over the years as more states started requiring the use of blaze orange markers and investing in hunter training and education.
Always follow safe gun handling practices. If you are new, look into taking a hunter education course and do your best to let other hunters know your presence without interfering with their hunt.
This is the main added risk when hunting public land compared to private land. Especially when hunting deep, if something goes wrong it might take a long time for help to arrive, if they come at all.
There is also the risk of getting lost when you’re venturing deep into the bush on a large plot of land. The best solution for this is to practice your navigation skills over time and to avoid hunting alone until you feel confident in your ability to find your way.
It is also essential to let someone know where you are going and when you’ll be back, especially if hunting alone. If all else fails they can at least start directing emergency responders.
Finally, you should build your skills and acquire some equipment to make you as self-sufficient as possible. A satellite phone will help when you’re out of service and some first-aid knowledge can go a long way when in need.
When you go out on public land, it’s best to assume that you aren’t the only one hunting, even when you find an area to yourself.
Learn about the predators in the area you plan to hunt and the best ways to protect yourself against them. While attacks from animals like bears and cougars are rare, you’ll want to have a plan in case you do encounter one.
Safety Tips for Hunting on Public Land
A lot of the hazards of hunting on public land can be managed with the right knowledge, preparation, and best practices. Here is a list of useful safety tips and considerations to keep yourself and others safe when hunting on public land:
- Wear blaze orange
- Learn the warning signs of heart attacks and strokes
- Wear protective gear
- Know and communicate your plan to someone before you leave
- Research land boundaries and nearby private land
- Bring a satellite phone
- Check the weather ahead of time
- Learn about the local predators
- Bring emergency supplies like a first aid kit and emergency blanket
- Avoid alcohol
- Check your equipment regularly, check tree stands before use, and always anchor yourself
- Learn some first aid
- Learn and practice safe firearms handling
- Take your time when traversing difficult terrain, taking a shot, climbing a tree, etc.
What is less likely to go unreported are hunting-related deaths. There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that hunting-related deaths still occur every year in America. The good news is that rates of hunting fatalities have been steadily declining for decades, and are now quite rare.
In 2021 the New York Department of Environmental Conservation published a report on hunting-related shooting incidents. The five-year average number of incidents was 15 per year, with 1.8 fatalities per year. If you do the math, that works out to an incidence of roughly 0.07 hunting-related shooting deaths per 100,000 people with a hunting license in New York.
National-level statistics are harder to come by, but in a 10-year review of unintentional shooting deaths in America, it was estimated that there were roughly 430 unintentional firearm fatalities per year from 2005 to 2015. Hunting accidents account for a small fraction of that number.
Okay, enough with the numbers, let’s sum up this information by putting it into perspective. You are more likely to die in a fire or from poisoning than you are from a firearm while hunting.
Again, these statistics don’t necessarily tell the whole story. The only statistics we could find about hunting-related deaths involved accidental shootings. Though it is perhaps the most deadly risk, it is only one of many hazards you face when out hunting.
Public Land vs Private Land
Let’s address the titular question. How dangerous is public land hunting? We couldn’t find any research or reports comparing private to public land accident rates, but you don’t need data to know that public land hunting carries some extra risks that aren’t as prevalent on private land.
Most notable is the fact that when you are hunting on public land, you might be far out of cell service and far from any help. Public land hunting can get pretty remote, which means the consequences can be dire if something goes wrong.
Hunting on public land is a relatively safe activity, but is not without its risks. Firearm safety is essential, but so is an awareness of the other risks, many of which often get overlooked.
Always wear hunter orange, let friends and family know where you are hunting, follow basic firearm rules of safety, and closely follow hunting regulations in your area.
Your safety when hunting is largely in your own hands and when on public land it’s even more important to look out for yourself and avoid unnecessary risks. With the right knowledge, hunting on public land can be safer than bowling.
I’ve been hunting public land since I was 16 years old, and have not had any major safety issues. In fact, hunting public land is one of my favorite activities and I’m just one of the millions of hunters who use public land to hunt and fish every year.
See Also: Can You Plant Food Plots On Public Land?