Safety Tips for Hunters
Basic Firearms Safety
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) wants to remind hunters that an enjoyable day in the woods begins with hunting safely. All hunters are encouraged to follow these three basic firearms safety rules:
- Treat every firearm as if it were loaded;
- Control the direction of your muzzle, only pointing at what you intend to shoot; and
- Before shooting, clearly identify your game and what is beyond.
Since most Virginia hunters are accustomed to using shotguns which will only hold three shells, it is important to double and triple-check to be sure that shotguns are truly unloaded. Follow these extra steps to ensure your shotgun is truly empty:
- When emptying any firearm, operate the action several times after you believe it is empty.
- Look into the chamber and magazine to make sure the firearm is empty.
- Feel inside the chamber and magazine, wherever you can, to make sure the firearm is empty.
Safe Zones of Fire
Hunters must also be aware of their safe zones of fire. These are the areas where it is safe to shoot. Hunters should talk to those they hunt with to plan zones of fire before a target appears. This is especially important with shotguns capable of holding more than three shells.
Hunter Education Classes
Safe handling of firearms is a key component of the VDGIF Hunter Education course. The classes are offered statewide free of charge. To find a course near you, visit our Hunter Education Class Locator.
Wear Blaze Orange to Be Safe, Be Seen!
Wearing blaze orange during the general firearms hunting season is not only smart–it's the law! But blaze orange is not just for hunters. If you are a landowner, jogger, hiker, or walk your dog on woodland trails, it is wise to wear a blaze orange hat, vest, or coat so you can be clearly seen by hunters.
When hunting any species during a firearms deer season and on youth/apprentice deer hunting day, every hunter (see exceptions below), or persons accompanying a hunter, shall wear a blaze orange hat or blaze orange upper body clothing that is visible from 360 degrees or display at least 100 square inches of solid blaze orange material at shoulder level within body reach and visible from 360 degrees. Hats may have a bill or brim color or design other than solid blaze orange. Hats shall not be in "camo" style, since the latter is designed to prevent visibility. A logo, which does not detract from visibility may be worn on a blaze orange hat.
Hunters using ground (pop-up, chair, box, etc.) or tree stand blinds that conceal them from view must display a minimum of 100 square inches of blaze orange, visible from 360 degrees, on the OUTSIDE of such blinds. This blaze orange is in addition to any worn on the hunter's person.
During the muzzleloader seasons for hunting deer with a muzzleloading rifle only, every muzzleloader deer hunter and every person accompanying a muzzleloader deer hunter shall wear blaze orange as specified above except when they are physically located in a tree stand or other stationary hunting location.
- Blaze orange is not required of waterfowl hunters, dove hunters, individuals participating in hunting dog field trials, and fox hunters on horseback without firearms..
- Blaze orange is not required of hunters hunting with archery tackle during an open firearms deer season, in areas where the discharge of firearms is prohibited by state law or local ordinance, are exempt from the blaze orange requirement.
- Blaze orange is not required of any hunters hunting during the muzzleloader deer seasons, other than muzzleloader deer hunters, as specified above.
Treestand Safety Harness: Take the Time
Whether you are an experienced deer hunter or this is your first time in the field, now is the time to prepare if you are going to use a treestand. Here are some tips to help.
Use a well-designed and built, sturdy treestand. Treestands built since 2006 and approved by the Treestand Manufacturers Association (TMA) are commercially designed and tested to meet recognized industry standards.
Read and understand the manufacturer's instructions on the use of your treestand before using it. You should practice using the treestand in the morning and evening hours. As the saying goes; practice makes perfect.
Carefully inspect your treestand for wear, rust, metal fatigue and cracks, loose or missing nuts or bolts, and rot and deterioration before and after each use. Tighten loose nuts and bolts and replace rusty or worn hardware. Check straps or chains or other attachment devices for wear, and replace if they are unsafe.
Check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to see if your stand has been recalled due to safety defects. In the search field type in the word "treestand", then click on the link for your stand. Contact the manufacturer if it has been recalled.
- Let other hunters in your party know where your stand is located. Leave a map on the dashboard and also the time you will return.
- Put a whistle, horn, strobe, 2-way radio or a cell phone in your pack. Make sure it is properly charged or have fresh batteries.
- Don't move seriously injured victims; treat for shock, stop the bleeding, and go for help. Mark trail out.
- Wear a full-body safety harness and maintain three points of contact at all times.
- PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE using your treestand and harness.
- Inspect for damage to a stand before the season begins and before and after each use.
- Securely attach stand to a healthy tree.
- Read the instructions that came with the stand.
- Always use a haul line for gear.
- Tie a haul line to the belt or stand when climbing to keep hands free.
- Unload gun or bow before climbing or descending stand.
- Be especially careful using tree stands during rain, snow and ice conditions.
- Don't use treestands if you're tired, sick or on medications.
- Wear blaze orange in the stand. Let other hunters in the area know where you are.
- Remember: Always Harness Up Before You Climb Up!