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Safety first this hunting season

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sells about 600,000 hunting licenses each year so there will be a large number of hunters afield this fall in search of a variety of big and small game. The DNR says it's important that each hunter put safety first to ensure an enjoyable and successful hunting trip.

"Minnesota is a very safe place to hunt and hunting is a very safe activity," said Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR Enforcement Education Program coordinator. "The few hunting incidents we do have are almost always linked to a safety violation."

Double-digit hunting fatalities were the norm in Minnesota during the 1950s and 1960s with a high of 29 fatalities in 1961. But with the help of mandatory hunter education classes that average has been greatly lowered.

Hammer believes most hunting incidents could be prevented if hunters apply what they learned during Firearm Safety training.

Minnesota hunters born after Dec. 31, 1979 must take a DNR Hunter Education Firearms Safety Training Course and receive a certificate of completion before purchasing a license for big or small game.

The firearm safety class consists of a minimum of 12 hours of classroom and field experience in the safe handling of firearms and hunter responsibility. The field experience allows students to learn and demonstrate commonly accepted principles of safety in hunting and the handling of firearms. It includes live fire on a rifle range. Upon successful completion of this course, students receive a temporary certificate. This certificate will allow the bearer to purchase a hunting license in Minnesota and other states where certification is required.

The DNR recognizes that courses can be difficult to fit into the hectic schedules of today's fast moving lifestyles. As a result, Independent Study Course options are offered for those 16 and older to help the person who has a need for certification and has difficulty arranging participation in the traditional firearm safety course. This method is not a "short cut" to certification. Experience has shown that the Independent Study option involves a similar amount of time as the traditional firearms safety classroom course. The options include the online or workbook version and are administered through volunteer instructors around the state.

Find an upcoming class or get information on the Independent Study options online or call 888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

As a refresher, DNR offers the following hunter safety tips:

* Always point the muzzle of your firearm in a safe direction.

* Treat every firearm with the same respect you would show a loaded gun.

* Be sure of your target and what is in front of and behind your target.

* Unload and safely store firearms when not in use.

* Handle firearms and ammunition carefully.

* Never climb a fence or tree, or jump a ditch or log with a loaded firearm.

* Carry your firearm safely, keeping the safety on until ready to shoot.

* Never point a firearm at anything you do not want to shoot.

* Don't drink alcohol or take mood-altering drugs before or while handling firearms.

* Be aware of changing weather conditions.