Thirty years ago there were averages of 55 shooting incidents and eight fatalities per year. Now there are half as many shootings and an average of two to three deaths, the Bemidji Pioneer reported (http://bit.ly/1ahHxB1 ).
The biggest reason for the drop is that most hunters today have taken courses on firearms safety and hunter education, said Mike Hammer, who coordinates education programs for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. That's why shooting numbers are down even though the number of hunting licenses has nearly tripled since 1968, he said.
The hunter-safety program was enacted into state law in 1955. In the early 1990s the state began requiring that everyone born after Dec. 31, 1979, complete the course before they could buy a firearms hunting license, he said.
DNR statistics show that big-game hunting carries a higher risk of fatal accidents than waterfowl hunting does. That's because of the higher-caliber firearms involved, Hammer said. Accidental shootings among waterfowl hunters tend to result in injuries, not death, when someone gets struck with stray shotgun pellets.
"It's typically not a close-range accident," he said.
But that changes when waterfowl hunters are together in a boat. Their close proximity to each other raises the risk of a fatality.
That's what happened in Hubbard County last week when a duck hunter accidentally shot and killed his friend. Both had stood up in the boat to shoot a duck when the hunter lost his balance and his shotgun discharged.
It was the first duck-hunting fatality in Minnesota since a 27-year-old was killed in Douglas County in 2006.
There were 10 hunting deaths in Minnesota from 2008 to 2012. Seven happened during a deer hunt, while the other three occurred on goose, pheasant or turkey hunts, according to DNR records. At least half the deaths were attributed to self-inflicted wounds from the accidental discharge of the hunter's firearm.
The DNR has noted one unfortunate trend - a rise in situations where dogs cause accidental firearm discharges. There have been five such cases in the last five years, Hammer said.