In fact the study found that Pennsylvania hunters' chances of being shot depend on both what they're hunting and the hunters' ages, with the highest injury rates reported in hunters under the age of 20.
"This study examined differences in characteristics and rates of past injuries with the goal of providing information to the Pennsylvania Game Commission," said Gene Lengerich, V.M.D., associate professor of health evaluation sciences, Penn State College of Medicine. "The Game Commission can use the information to reduce the rates of future hunting-related shooting injuries and evaluate certain regulations such as wearing fluorescent orange clothing."
The study, published today (March 10, 2005) in the Journal of Trauma examined 1,345 hunting-related shooting incidents that occurred in Pennsylvania from 1987-1999. The incidents were categorized by the species hunted: white-tailed deer, turkey (fall), pheasant, grouse, rabbit, squirrel, and turkey (spring). Previous studies have examined hunting-related shooting injuries and deaths, but have not considered the type of species hunted. Previous reports also have disagreed about whether younger or older hunters were more likely to be involved in shooting incidents.
In this study, the team not only estimated recent rates of hunting-related shooting injuries in Pennsylvania, as well as their characteristics by hunted game species, but also examined how injury rates changed before and after fluorescent orange clothing regulations.
The Pennsylvania Game and Wildlife Code requires that any hunting accident involving the discharge of a rifle, shotgun or any other sporting arm that injures another person be reported to the Game Commission. The commission investigates the incident and enters data such as species being hunted, topography and distance from shooter to victim into the Hunting-Related Shooting Incidents (HRSI) database. To assess the impact of a change in regulations for fluorescent orange clothing, the pre-change to post-change ratio of injury rates for multiple-party incidents due to poor judgment was calculated.
For the seven selected game species, 1,345 hunting-related shooting incidents occurred in Pennsylvania between 1987 and 1999. There were 1,382 injuries and 77 fatalities accounting for nearly 92 percent of all hunting-related shooting injuries and 93 percent of such fatalities during this time period.
Data showed that fall turkey hunters had the highest shooting-related injury rate at 7.5 per 100,000 hunters and grouse hunters had the lowest at 1.9 per 100,000. The case-fatality ratio, or the number of fatalities per number of injuries, was highest for deer at 10.3 percent and lowest for pheasant at 1.3 percent. Over the study period, rates decreased for deer hunters, increased for spring turkey hunters and did not change for other species. For fall turkey hunters, rates changed in relation to fluorescent orange clothing regulation changes.
"Compared to other hunters, turkey hunters had the highest injury rate, were typically older and fewer had a history of hunter education," said Joseph L. Smith, M.D., M.S., study team member and former Penn State College of Medicine graduate student in health evaluation sciences. Smith is now a physician at Parkview Hospital, Fort Wayne, Ind., but at the time of this study was medical director of the adult intensive care unit at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa. "Although turkey hunters had more years of hunting experience, they had fewer years of species-specific hunting experience."
The authors suggest that the manner of turkey hunting during the study period may explain why turkey hunters have the highest injury rates. Turkey hunters commonly dress in camouflage clothing to blend into their surroundings. They attempt to lure their game within shooting distance, usually 50 yards or less, by making turkey-like sounds. In violation of hunting regulations, other turkey hunters may stalk these turkey-like sounds. The stalking hunter then shoots toward the sound, mistakenly shooting the victim. Approximately 75 percent of turkey incidents appear to have occurred in this manner.
In the early 1990s, fluorescent orange clothing was made a requirement for turkey hunters. Between 1992 and 1994, the number of fall season multiple-party, poor judgment injuries decreased. But in 1995, the regulations were relaxed and hunters in a stationary position could remove their fluorescent orange if they displayed 100 square inches of fluorescent orange material within 15 feet of their calling position. Subsequent to the regulation relaxation, the number of multiple-party, poor judgment injuries increased.
Based on the findings, the authors suggest recommendations to help prevent future hunting-related shooting injuries in Pennsylvania.
"The recommendation is that young hunters should acquire additional training, especially in firearm handling, to improve skill and judgment, and should also be better supervised," Lengerich said. "Second, turkey hunters should receive training specific to turkey hunting. And finally, the fluorescent orange clothing regulations that were in effect from 1992 through 1994 for fall turkey hunting should be re-instated and applied to fall and spring turkey hunting."
While turkey hunters claim that wearing fluorescent orange clothing interferes with their ability to harvest a bird, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's data tell another story. Harvest data from the early 1980s to early 1990s, prior to any fluorescent orange regulations, reveal that one turkey was harvested for every eight to 24 hunters. Since the clothing regulations were imposed, one turkey for every five to eight hunters has been consistently harvested.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has already begun to consider the results of this study.
"Although hunting related shooting incidents account for only a small percentage of total shooting incidents in the state, one hunting-related shooting injury is still one too many," said Keith Snyder, Pennsylvania Game Commission Hunter-Trapper Education Division chief. "Because we constantly strive for zero hunting-related shooting injuries, we were an active partner in this study. We are already implementing some of the suggestions to better our hunter education efforts."
In addition to Lengerich and Smith, G. Craig Wood, M.S., Center for Health Research and Rural Advocacy at Geisinger Health System, was a part of the study team.