Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Safe Is Hunting?

A couple days ago I wrote a post about the terrible hunting tragedy in Vermont. At the end I asked "How many well meaning, but ill-informed, mothers will not let their sons hunt after reading this (news article)?"

A reader commented with the following: "I'd argue that the well meaning mothers may be pretty well informed too. I bet more people die hunting than playing baseball."

It was a good comment. Not because it is accurate, but because it highlights a misconception even among outdoorsmen. The fact is that baseball is much more dangerous than hunting. This is not saying that baseball is dangerous, it shows how safe hunting is.

The conception is that hunters use guns. Guns are unsafe. Therefore, hunting is unsafe. Unethical organizations like this one promote this idea with little to no basis.  They use fear to promote their agenda.

This is a little off topic, but before we get into the truth I must clear something up. Guns are not inherently unsafe. Yes, they have the potential to do great harm. However, a loaded gun sitting on a table will harm no one. It is the user of the gun that can be unsafe. When a drunk driver hits and kills a family, we do not blame the car. We blame the drunk driver. When an earthquake strikes a city, causing a house to collapse and kill a child we do not blame the house. We blame the earthquake. It is unfair to blame the gun when a young child accesses a loaded firearm and shoots another kid. We should blame the gun owner for not securing the gun and for not training the child in gun safety.

This is, of course, all academic. The fact remains that hunting is perceived as dangerous. Lets look and see what the statistics say.

It is important that we use a fair comparison when using statistics. To do this we need to establish a consistent benchmark. As a silly example, we will use two make believe sports with make believe statistics. Lets compare Poodle Wrangling with Chicken Chasing. Each year 478 people are hurt while engaging in the sport of Poodle Wrangling, but only 34 people are hurt while Chicken Chasing. It sounds like Poodle Wrangling is much more dangerous, right? What if I told you that 10 million people  Poodle Wrangled each year, but only 10,000 tried Chicken Chasing?

2011 Poodle Wrangling Champion!
We need to see how many people are hurt per 1000 (or some other arbitrary number) to actually see which is more dangerous. In our fictional example the injury rate for Poodle Wrangling is .04 per 1000. The injury rate of Chicken Chasing is 3.4 per 1000. Chicken Chasing is much more dangerous.

Lets apply this to hunting and other activities.

Authors note: Math is not my strongest skill. Please correct me if my math is wrong. Also, keep in mind that these statistics were scrounged from reliable sites from the Internet. Every site had slightly different numbers. They are good at showing trends, but no one should consider them 100% accurate.

In 2007, the most current reliable data I could find, there were about 14.5 million hunting licenses sold. Also in 2007 there were 267 firearm related injuries while hunting*.  25 of these were fatal. This puts your chances of getting shot while hunting (if my math is right, please correct me) at .02 per 1000. Real low.

This is why hunting is so safe

We cannot stop here though. Every hunter knows that most hunting injuries are not firearm related. Current statistics for hunting injuries are hard to come by. The best I could come up with is a sampling of 400,000 hunters in 2010. Out of those 400,000 hunters 130 were injured bad enough to seek treatment*. That puts the injury rate for hunting at .32 per 1000. This sounds low to me. I found another web site that stated the injury rate to be .8 per 1000. Unfortunetly, they did not cite their source.

Lets look at other sports, specifically baseball. About 33 million people play baseball each year. The best data I could find on baseball injuries was for 2000. I wanted to find something more current, but could not. Finding data on child injuries is easy. Finding it for all injuries is tough. In 2000, 492,832 people were injured bad enough to seek medical help while playing baseball*. This puts the injury rate for baseball at a whopping 14.9 per 1000.

Yup. Looks safe to me!

I will concede that hunting accidents are usually more serious than sports related accidents. One child under the age of 15 was killed while hunting in 2007*. An average of three kids under the age of 15 are killed each year playing baseball*. That puts the chances of a kid dying while engaging in either sport about the same. Hunting being slightly less fatal.

Lets take this a step further. There are about 60 million children in the United States. Each year there are about 200,000 injuries requiring medical attention caused by playground equipment*. This puts the injury ratio for playgrounds (assuming all kids play on playgrounds) at 3.3 per 1000. Still much higher (10X) than hunting.

Lets sum up:

Chances of getting shot while hunting: .02 in 1000
Chances of getting hurt while hunting: .32 in 1000
Chances of getting hurt while playing baseball: 14.9 in 1000
Chances of getting hurt while playing on a playground: 3.3 per 1000

I have no problem with a parent not letting their child hunt due to safety concerns. I have two daughters. It is the parents right and responsibility to protect their kids. However, if that same parent allows their kid to play any sport, or even play on the playground, then they are ill-informed. If they are informed about the low risk of hunting and let their kids engage in other outdoor activities, then they are hypocrites.

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