Hunting: Be careful and stay safe

Many West Virginia and Ohio residents love to spend some time in the woods hunting as winter approaches, and the benefits to them, their families, the local economies — and the health of particularly the deer population — are apparent. But there is a dark side to this time of year, and West Virginia has already seen two hunting-related deaths after the start of the state’s deer season with firearms.

Kenneth Franklin Lafferty III, 20, died last week while hunting with a rifle near his home in New Martinsville, in what police have described as a “single subject incident,” that is still under investigation. Robert Evick, 54, suffered fatal injuries in an ATV rollover near his home in Pendleton County.

And a 12-year-old in Braxton County was treated for a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his left toes. He was riding up a hill with his brother on a utility terrain vehicle last week holding his brother’s rifle.

Hunters in West Virginia must complete a certified hunter education course before they can obtain a base hunting license. It covers gun safety, wildlife management, ethics, survival/first aid, game identification, and how to safely hunt. In fact, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources law enforcement division is so serious about hunter safety, it includes a “Ten Commandments of Gun Safety” on its website:

Treat every gun as if it were loaded. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Be sure of your target and what’s beyond it. Be sure the barrel and action are clear of obstructions. Unload firearms when not in use. Never point a firearm at anything you don’t want to shoot. Never climb a fence or tree or jump a ditch with a loaded firearm. Never shoot a bullet at a flat, hard surface or water. Store firearms and ammunition separately. Avoid alcoholic beverages and other mind altering drugs before and during shooting.

Guns are not the only cause for an extra measure of caution, of course. All-terrain/utility vehicles feature in many accidents as well. But even something as simple as a tree stand that has been bombarded by a year’s worth of weather without any maintenance can be deadly.

Enjoy yourselves; and use common sense, be smart, be cautious, and make safety your highest priority as you head out into the woods this season, folks.