HARRISBURG - For the second year in a row, Pennsylvania hunters have rewritten history in regard to safe hunting.
According to a newly released report from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, there were 27 hunting-related shooting incidents in 2013. That total not only represents a decrease from the previous year, it's a record low.
The Game Commission has been tracking such incidents since 1915, and there never before had been fewer than 33 incidents reported in a year. Decades ago, hundreds of incidents occurred each year.
Requirements for hunters to wear orange in many seasons and ongoing hunter-education efforts are essential to the upward safety trend, the report states.
In 2013, 40,971 students received their Basic Hunter-Trapper Education certification in Pennsylvania.
Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said the latest report is something about which those student graduates, their volunteer hunter-education instructors and the hunting public at large all can be proud.
"There's still work to do," Hough said. "Even one incident is too many and, as the record shows, we do not take hunter safety lightly. That said, we continue to be encouraged by record-low numbers of incidents and the continuing trend of safer hunting in Pennsylvania."
In Pennsylvania, hunting-related shooting incidents have declined by nearly 80 percent since hunter-education training began in 1959.
The latest numbers build upon the previous year, during which 33 incidents were reported, tying the previous record-low.
Two of the 27 incidents reported in 2013 were fatal. Except for 2012 - the first year without a single reported fatality related to gun handling in hunting and trapping in Pennsylvania - at least one fatality has been reported each year. The number of fatal incidents has declined sharply over the years.
In 2013, nine of the 27 incidents with an identified offender resulted from individuals with 10 or fewer years of hunting experience.
It is important to note, however, that no incidents during 2013 involved youth participating in the Mentored Youth Hunting Program - a program whereby hunters under the age of 12 are permitted to harvest certain wildlife species, if they are accompanied by a licensed adult. Nearly 34,000 Mentored Youth Permits were issued during this timeframe.
In its annual reports on hunting-related shooting incidents, the Game Commission establishes an incident rate by computing the number of accidents per 100,000 participants. The 2.85 incident rate reported for 2013 is 20 percent lower than the 2012 rate of 3.52.
An analysis of offender ages revealed individuals ages 16 and younger had an incident rate of 3.26 per 100,000 participants.
The leading causes of hunting-related shooting incidents in 2013 were unintentional discharge and a victim being in the line of fire, each accounting for one-third of the total. It should be noted that incidents resulting from a sporting arm carried in a dangerous position decreased substantially from the previous year (two incidents in 2013 compared to eight in 2012).
Game Commissioner Timothy Layton, of Windber, said hunter education is instrumental in reducing the number of incidents. He thanked the dedicated corps of 2,280 volunteer instructors for the crucial role they play, and the hunters in the field for continuing to put safety first.
"If there's one thing these numbers make clear it's that hunting in Pennsylvania is safe and getting safer," said Layton, who chairs the commissioners' Information & Education committee. "As hunters, I'm sure we all can appreciate how far we've come and look forward to many more safe seasons ahead."