Hunting is a fun, exciting activity that is usually filled with adrenaline. However, it is inseparable from guns, facing the wilderness, and the unexpectedness of nature. Knowing all this, safety should be the top priority for every hunter. Yet, while adhering to the basic rules laid out by the governing authorities is absolutely crucial, it isn’t always enough. That’s why recently, we sat down with four hunters from Germany, Italy, Poland, and Denmark to discuss everything one needs to know about hunting safety. Keep on reading to find out the top priorities of Henrik Sproedt, Riccardo Tamburini, Agnieszka Walczak, and Jón Rúnar Guðjónsson.
To make sure your activity is as safe as possible, hunters uniformly stress the importance of adhering to the rules. “When hunting, remember about the hunting regulations. The rules were created precisely to make hunting safe – unloaded guns during transport, proper distance from buildings, not shooting animals on a hill, etc. Every rule is valid. While hunting, you have to think about what you’re doing. Don’t let emotions take over,” says Polish huntress Agnieszka Walczak.
Aside from the official hunting rules – laid out by the local governing institutions or a hunting master, if you’re out on a driven hunt – many hunters impose some personal ones, which help them feel and act more safely. For Jón Rúnar Guðjónsson, an Icelandic hunter from Denmark, this includes sharing his plans with others: “Always tell someone who knows the terrain where you are going and when you will be back. On return from the hunt, report to the person or persons that you are back and safe. If you are late, for example, because a retrieval of an animal takes longer than expected, give a note as soon as possible to those persons.”
For Riccardo Tamburini, a professional hunter from Italy who has gone on numerous fishing trips, maintaining your ability to keep contact with others is just as crucial: “If you go hunting in a remote area, don’t forget an Inreach technology device or a sat-phone and a GPS (a smartwatch is enough): remember that more than 90% of the planet’s surface (including seas and oceans) is not covered by a phone signal,” notes Riccardo, drawing on experience from his multiple fishing trips.
Of course, we cannot stress the importance of always handling your gun like it’s loaded. Riccardo has a perfect example to illustrate the importance of doing it correctly: “My friend and I were together out in the dark, waiting for the sunrise. It was raining a lot, and in these conditions, hunters put the gun barrel facing downwards. My friend forgot to put the safety on, and as he tried to put his gun away, he accidentally pulled the trigger, firing a shot 20 cm from his feet.”
Another of Riccardo’s personal must-haves is an emergency kit: “Inside it, the most important thing is a TOURNIQUET which can save a life after a serious injury.” Jón Rúnar, too, has one nearby, but he is also ready to make do with whatever he has on hand: “My belt can become a strap for an open wound, I have longer laces than needed on my boots for having a long string to work with. I always have something to create fire with. You should also keep your knife sharp and treat it with respect as all of your gear. If the knife is sharp, there is less danger because there is less force needed while using it and, therefore, less chance of making deep cuts to yourself. Having something to clean a wound with is also a plus for when you cut yourself.”
Knowing rules is a good first step towards a successful hunt, but there are many more you still need to take. One of them is preparing for the hunt well in advance, and that includes knowing your environment.
“I know the area where I hunt really well. This is especially important at night – in which direction are buildings, where are watercourses or marshes,” says Agnieszka. She then stresses the importance of ensuring the equipment she has is fully functional and her phone’s battery is fully charged.
Agnieszka’s counterpart from Germany, Henrik Sproedt, agrees and adds some reasoning behind the requirements: “Knowing your gear so that you can operate it blindly and concentrate on the situation and your environment is crucial. Take your time to check your gear and be or get familiar with your hunting grounds. Only pull the trigger if you are 100% sure what you are shooting at and that you have a sufficient backstop.”
Speaking of longer-term preparation, Riccardo also advises regularly training your body and attending a first-aid course. Then, during the hunt itself, he emphasizes remembering that “you have a rifle or a shotgun in your hands. They are made to kill. You have to know your rifle perfectly because sometimes, safety is not so safe, and an accidental shot can be fired even from a rifle with safety on.”
It is just as crucial to remember that different situations call for different precautions. Whether it’s the season or the location that changed, you have to be prepared and can’t necessarily rely solely on the experience of your previous adventures. For example, if you’re going to the mountains, Jón Rúnar curiously advises to have a condom with you: “If you can’t get through to the top while in an avalanche and you survive but are buried alive, being able to relieve yourself in a matter that does not make you cold can extend your life long enough for someone to find you.”
“The main things you need to know about different areas, seasons and environments are which danger is the biggest and how far to get help to work with an injury that needs treatment. If you are close to water, you need blankets and fire to heat up if all your clothes get wet. If you are hiking, you need something to fix a broken leg or arm if you fall. If you are in a cold environment, multiple ways of getting warm is good and getting gear that can get you warm while your body is in shock, not in a normal state. There is a big difference between being able to heat up a body that is in shock and a body that is in a normal state.
During winter hikes and hunts in the snow, I always have a snow ax, and something to shuffle the snow. The snow ax is good for getting down from a mountain if wet snow suddenly turns to clean ice, and it’s good to fixate a broken lower leg. Something to shuffle snow is for you to dig a hole to sleep in if a storm hits. But again, multipurpose gear is the best. A metal plate for eating your dinner can be used as a shuffle,” summarizes the Icelandic expert on hunting in harsh, often dangerous environments.
Riccardo also reminds us of a seemingly obvious but nevertheless important step – checking the weather forecast: “it is a basic rule to prevent many issues.”
Henrik notes that having the proper clothing, food, and drink isn’t just a matter of comfort – while it’s important, it’s also what makes conscious and safe acting possible. “Freezing, being wet or dehydrated is, at best, distracting and, in the worst case, limiting your ability to think and act safely. Frost is dangerous because frozen ground and water can lead to ricochets and pose a deathly threat to people and animals even at larger distances.”
Sounds dramatic, but we do agree with Jón Rúnar, who says that the “correct gear is the difference between life and death. Plus, the correct gear is often much better, lighter and more comfortable. Often, also, much more expensive.”
Henrik goes on to explain this notion in a little more detail: “If gear fits the purpose of the hunt, it contributes to safety because it reduces the hunter’s stress level. Generally speaking, everything that maintains or increases the hunter’s ability to stay aware of the environment, recognize threats and dangers, and stay physically and mentally fit is contributing. Depending on the context of the hunt, exemplary gear can be a simple bottle of water, a chocolate bar, a banana, a warm blanket or, on the technical side, the right optics/caliber or rifle for the job, a radio, a torch light, and a night vision or a thermal camera to identify obstacles or dangers. If used correctly, it helps to reduce unnecessary disturbances, hunt effectively and avoid dangerous situations. This is especially true during the night or when hunting in areas with a lot of vegetation where it is actually very difficult to see what is behind the target.”
Agnieszka, too, distinguishes the benefits of thermal imaging: “It is certainly helpful when it comes to security. It helps to accurately determine the target (e.g., the sex of the wild boar), check the area where we hunt, and find out whether there are any walkers or farmers in the fields at night. Is the wild boar we spotted really a male, or what we think a fox really is one? Of course, we never shoot at an unrecognized target, but thermal imaging allows us to accurately determine the target faster. In the summer, at night, it happens that we can meet people in the field (e.g., couples in love or party people). Thermal imaging will immediately make sure that we are alone in a given area.”
Agreeing, Jón Rúnar also uses thermal for a safer game retrieval: “For normal European hunts, where there often is higher vegetation, trees and bushes, going for a wounded wild boar or another animal is dangerous. Having a thermal spotter to find the wounded animal fast and see where it is makes a huge difference, and the approach is much much safer.”
Well, according to Riccardo, with many more challenges: “Thermal vision changed the hunter’s life when it comes to safety. A torch, or also an old analog night vision device has a low depth of field: you can see an animal 100 meters far from you, but you are not able to see if there is another hunter 300 meters farther in the woods, maybe even on your line of fire behind your target… The thermal device allows you to glass every warm body within a radius of 1.5 km and more clearly.”
Learning from mistakes is arguably the best way to improve yourself; however, it’s always better when those mistakes aren’t yours. Jón Rúnar tells us that many people still ignore hunt safety. “Sometimes, novice hunters get the hunting license with a group of friends. Then it can be hard to understand that gun safety is very important. The group needs to break up a filter of trust and move it to another level. It’s not that friends should not trust each other, but they need to know that every gun should be treated as loaded at all times and should under no circumstances point at a person. Then, every gun should be checked to make sure it is empty and secure by another group member before entering a vehicle. I always empty my gun and show it to another person before putting it in if I am riding with multiple people.”
Riccardo also speaks of gun safety, and to him, the most important mistake to avoid is learning NOT to shoot before actually firing a shot. “It seems a stupid suggestion, but I think that it’s the most important thing you have to follow when you go hunting: to place the best shot possible on your targets, avoiding any pain and also preventing tragedies. For example, you never shoot at an animal on the ridge of a mountain or a hill, and you never shoot from low to high without having something behind your target: your bullet has a 5 km (and more) range, and you can’t control it. Never.”
Gun safety aside, emotions can also influence our performance in the field, and Agnieszka identifies “acting under the influence of emotions” as something to avoid. “When the game appears, the adrenaline takes over. And we don’t always have to take advantage of the situation and take a shot. It’s important to be sure it’s safe before you pull the trigger,” says she.
Finally, Henrik notes the importance of good old skills. “Technology can mislead some people to think that it can replace experience and the good craft of hunting. What I mean by this is that they neglect some very important basics because they think technology compensates for them. That is wrong. Many hunters do not know their hunting grounds well enough and/or underestimate the ballistics of a fired bullet once it hits the target. Also, many do not understand the different limitations of different technologies.”
But of course, no matter how well-read, experienced, and careful a hunter is, no one is immune from making mistakes. And we really appreciate that our ambassadors aren’t afraid to share theirs.
“Thermal vision is certainly helpful when it comes to security. It helps to accurately determine the target (e.g., the sex of the wild boar), check the area where we hunt, and find out whether there are any walkers or farmers in the fields at night.” Agnieszka Walczak
“I have broken ALL the rules and made all the mistakes and keep making mistakes I regret. There were multiple times when I wasn’t sure if I would get home. I have also trained for many scenarios. For instance, I had a yearly trip where I had to get totally wet because a special place by a river could not be reached without getting totally wet as there was an inaccessible cliff. There, I learned how to get warm again. For the first times, I always got sick afterwards, but my equipment got better and my knowledge – more prudent. But it was a daring challenge only young people do.
I learned a lot from trips like that. I have been buried down in snowstorms a couple of times without having told anyone where I was or that I was out hiking. The most important rule I have is to admit your failures and try to figure out a way for them never to happen again or be better prepared if it does. Prepare in a stable environment if possible. Never spend too little on the right equipment. Never be afraid of trying new paths in life, and keep learning. The biggest mistake is believing you know it all – you don’t. Nature is a harsh teacher when it shows its teeth, but a beautiful lover when it gives you treats,” tells Jón Rúnar of a few of his experiences in the harsh nature of Northern Europe.
A little further south, Henrik also isn’t afraid to admit his mistakes: “Once, I was invited to hunt in an area that was new to me. I thought I had made myself familiar enough with the hunting grounds, but it turned out I mixed something up when we ended up in a stressful situation. The result was that I thought there was a backstop, but there wasn’t. Luckily, nothing happened, but after that experience, I never let myself be pushed to action again. I take my time. If that means I miss the opportunity to shoot, that is fine.
Another thing I learned, especially with regard to thermal vision, is that estimating distance is very difficult. A rangefinder is really helpful when the weather is clear, but you have to be careful. Always.”
“Be careful. Always.” are perhaps the best words to finish this article. Because being careful at every step when out in the field is the best way to ensure that hunting is as pleasing as it is safe.
“Knowing your gear so that you can operate it blindly and concentrate on the situation and your environment is crucial. Take your time to check your gear and be or get familiar with your hunting grounds. Only pull the trigger if you are 100% sure what you are shooting at and that you have a sufficient backstop." Henrik Sproedt
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