W.Va. gobbler hunters log first incident-free season

Photo courtesy National Wild Turkey Federation
Law enforcement officials credit hunter-education programs for producing the state’s first-ever incident-free spring gobbler season.

For the first time ever, West Virginia’s spring gobbler hunters have gone through an entire season without a single reported injury.

That’s right. No one got shot, no one sprained an ankle or broke a leg, and no one suffered a heart attack.

Lt. Tim Coleman, hunter safety coordinator for the state Division of Natural Resources, gave credit where credit was due.

“I think our hunters did a good job,” Coleman said. “I think we have a lot of conscientious hunters out there, hunters who have a better understanding of safety.”

This year’s incident-free season is a far cry from the shooting-marred seasons of the early 1990s, when West Virginia’s woods could aptly be described as a free-fire zone.

“[Back then] we couldn’t seem to get through a spring turkey season without having double-digit incidents and near double-digit fatalities,” Coleman said. “People were shooting at everything. It almost seemed like suicide to go out hunting.”

That was during the early years of mandatory hunter safety education, which went into effect in 1990. Coleman said that in the years since, unsafe hunters have gradually been replaced by an entire generation’s worth of sportsmen who understand how to hunt safely and responsibly.

Statistics bear him out. In the 24 seasons since 1990, the number of spring-season incidents fell slowly but steadily. The last spring-season fatality occurred in 2009. Most of the incidents reported since then have resulted from falls, from self-inflicted wounds caused by accidental firearm discharges, or from heart attacks.

This year’s season started slowly. Rains on April 28 and 29, the first two days of the four-week hunt, kept thousands of hunters out of the woods. Coleman acknowledged the sluggish start, but doesn’t believe it factored into the incident-free season.

“There was plenty of good weather after that,” he said. “The foliage came out quickly on the trees, too, which cut down on visibility [and increased the potential for accidental shootings]. I think our hunters should get full credit for staying safe throughout the season.”

Coleman said he was particularly pleased by the outcome because it came after articles in prominent hunting publications promoted “run-and-gun” hunting tactics that would not be safe if tried in West Virginia.

“Hats off to our hunters for having the good sense to stick with safe hunting methods,” he said.

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.

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