Eagle County Sheriff: Preparing for hunting season, stay safe and be aware of fire restrictions (column) | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Sheriff: Preparing for hunting season, stay safe and be aware of fire restrictions (column)

James van Beek
Valley Voices

After an unusual winter season and a summer gone ablaze, the hunt has now begun. Before reviewing some basic safety tips, I wanted to remind everyone that fire danger is still ever-present.

I realize that part of the hunting experience includes camping, but at Stage 1, charcoal grills, wood stoves and campfires are all prohibited; there are a few exceptions, such as permanent fire pits at recreational sites. In addition, smoking is prohibited and if you desire to blow things up, explosives are not allowed. Welding must take place indoors or within a 10-foot diameter clearing.

Re-enactments of the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" will also have to wait. Of course, there are special exceptions, such as those who possess U.S. Forest Service permits, generally granted for very specific purposes, and first-responders in the course of their duties.

Now, to the exciting part … hunting.

Although, you may have been hunting for some alone time for quite a while, when heading out for an actual hunt, it's best to go with others and be sure to let people know where you are going. This is vital in case of an accident.

In case of emergency, be sure to leave a note in the truck/car with your hunting plan and a map. Also, give loved ones an estimated time of return, where your camp is located and, if possible, the names of your hunting team partners. Should anything occur, this information could be lifesaving for search and rescue.

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Get into the habit of treating each weapon as if it were loaded all the time. It trains you to not even touch the trigger unless you are prepared to fire. Keep muzzles pointed in a safe direction, which is not always toward the ground; this is particularly critical in case you trip and fall.

Check all hunting equipment and camping gear prior to departure; mechanical failures can create critical situations. Treat a misfire as if it could fire at any time. Make sure you have the proper ammunition for the gun you are using. Mistakes can happen when you own multiple guns, and the result of a 20-gauge shell in a 12-gauge shotgun cannot only ruin your gun but can cause serious bodily injury.

Wear the proper clothes. Color is important for others to notice you; wear hunter's orange (including your dog) on any hunting property, whether hunting or just walking through. Waterproof will help protect against potential hypothermia. Layers will allow for the 30-degree variance morning to night. Boots with non-skid soles will provide stability for possible patches of ice.

Just as at a shooting range, always wear eye and ear protection. Being a safe hunter requires accuracy. If you cannot hit the target at the range, do not attempt to shoot in the field; it places everyone in danger.

Spend sufficient time at the shooting range, prior to heading out on a hunt, to check rifle sights and to sharpen your skills. It is not acceptable to wound an animal; precision is essential.

Check the stability of tree stands and climbing equipment before beginning the hunt. Use a full-body safety harness when climbing a tree stand; using just a belt is insufficient and a falling accident will certainly ruin your trip.

Be aware of what is beyond the target. If you cannot see it, then don't shoot. Never fire your gun outside of your zone-of-fire, which is the 45-degree line of sight directly in front of you, keeping in mind that it will change with each step. And, be aware of your hunting partner's location.

Keep the partying to afterward. No beer or other substances while handling firearms. Even if you think you feel fine, you are handling a deadly weapon; even the slightest impairment can be deadly.

Upon returning to camp, be aware of fire restrictions, and if a campfire is allowed, make certain to carry a waterproof fire-starting kit, in case of wet conditions.

Remember to pack first-aid and survival gear, as well as personal medication for several days beyond the trip, in case of unexpected weather or other delays. Be sure to include a compass or GPS to keep from becoming disoriented.

Be sure to unload firearms before riding in a vehicle.

Part of the Colorado lifestyle includes many outdoor sports, and hunting is one that is inherent in our culture. We see young people training endlessly at gun ranges across the state to improve their precision and increase safety while venturing into the wilderness. The agencies thank you for helping to thin out some of our overpopulated herds. The alternative to wildlife is quite sad. Continue to be responsible and safe.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.