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Frye: Safety record belies worries

| Saturday, June 8, 2013, 10:27 p.m.

Gun owners know what it means to deal with misconceptions.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, you're more likely to die in a vehicle accident or from poisoning than you are by being shot. Yet there are no lawmakers trying to tell you how many SUVs or cans of Drano you can own.

Sadly, that's expected these days.

What's just as unfortunate is that sometimes, as sportsmen, we don't trust one another.

Remember a decade ago, when the Pennsylvania Game Commission instituted concurrent buck and doe seasons? Some hunters predicted mayhem. “If it's brown, it's down” was their fear. Overeager hunters would rush to pull the trigger before safely identifying their target, leaving bodies to litter the woods.

It didn't happen.

So why do some game commissioners still think we're such a danger to ourselves?

I got to wondering that recently when the commission released its latest report on hunting accidents. It turns out last year was the safest on record in Pennsylvania. There were just 33 accidents, none of them fatal. That's the first time that's been true since they began keeping records in 1915.

That's also reflective of a long-term trend. Accidents have declined by 80 percent since hunter education became mandatory in 1959.

Yet when given the chance earlier this year to open squirrel hunting season in mid-September — as does every state that touches Pennsylvania, mainly to create opportunity for young hunters — the majority of commissioners balked. The chance of a squirrel hunter shooting a camouflaged archer in a treestand when there are leaves on trees was too great, they said.

Really?

According to the commission's own statistics, not one archer was shot by a squirrel hunter between 2003-12, said agency spokesman Travis Lau.

Moving opening day of the squirrel season to mid-September would not change that, based on the experiences of other states. Ohio, New York, Maryland and West Virginia all have squirrel and archery seasons that overlap, starting as early as Sept. 7 in Maryland and before the end of September in the others. None has experienced a single case of a squirrel hunter shooting an archer, according to spokesmen.

“I've been on here for 24 years, and I can't recall any incidents like that,” said Sgt. Brian Albert, public information officer with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

“We have no record of any bowhunter being shot by a squirrel hunter at any point in time that we have memory of,” said Vicki Ervin, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

So why the unreasonable fear that hunters couldn't replicate that kind of safety record here? There are no statistics to support such a worry.

It's too late for commissioners to change their decision for this fall. But for the sake of future generations of hunters, let's hope they do the right thing and craft an earlier season in time for next year.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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