Word of the season: caution

By Thursday, the Upper Peninsula’s fields and forests will be alive with blaze orange hunting gear and the sound of rifle shots.

The Michigan firearm deer hunting season starts Friday and continues through Saturday, Nov. 30. Wisconsin’s rifle season starts on Saturday, Nov. 23.

These hunting seasons are extremely popular, almost like holidays.

With all the hunters and travelers descending on the Dickinson-Iron-Florence-Marinette county area, caution is the word of the season.

Nobody plans hunting accidents, but they happen because too few hunters plan for safety.

“Hunting in Michigan is a time-honored activity, rich in tradition, when families and friends come together to enjoy our great outdoors,” said Lt. Andrew Turner, who leads the Michigan DNR’s Recreation, Safety and Enforcement Section for the Law Enforcement Division. “Making your hunt a safe and responsible experience is key to having an enjoyable and memorable time. By following these safety tips, hunters can help us all have a good season.”

Turner said the top 10 safety tips for hunters to remember are:

– Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.

– Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.

– Be certain of your target, and what’s beyond it, before firing. Know the identifying features of the game you hunt. Make sure you have an adequate backstop; don’t shoot at a flat, hard surface or water.

– Keep your finger outside the trigger guard and off the trigger until ready to shoot.

– Don’t run, jump or climb with a loaded firearm. Unload a firearm before you climb a fence or tree, or jump a ditch. Pull a firearm toward you by the butt, not the muzzle.

– Avoid alcoholic beverages before or during hunting. Also avoid mind- or behavior-altering medicines or drugs.

– All firearm deer hunters on any land during daylight hunting hours must wear a hat, cap, vest, jacket, rainwear or other outer garment of “hunter orange” visible from all sides. All hunters, including archers, must comply during gun season.

– Camouflage hunter orange is legal, provided 50 percent of the surface area is solid hunter orange. (Exceptions: waterfowl, crow and wild turkey hunters, and bow hunters for deer during bow season).

– Always let someone know where you are hunting and when you plan on returning. This information helps conservation officers and others locate you if you get lost.

– Carry your cellphone into the woods. Remember to turn your ringer off or set your phone to vibrate rather than ring. Your cellphone emits a signal that can help rescuers locate you when you are lost. If you have a smartphone, go to the settings and enable your GPS to help searchers find you if you get lost. Make sure before you leave for the woods each day that your phone is fully charged. If you have a smartphone, download a compass and flashlight app – there are many versions of these apps that are free to download in the iPhone App Store or on Google Play for Android.

“These simple, common sense tips can prevent hunting accidents and save lives,” said Turner. “We encourage all sportsmen and women to follow these guidelines when enjoying the great outdoors in our state.”

Additionally, local authorities point out some more important safety rules.

– Your hunting license and the identification used to purchase it (Michigan driver’s license, identification card, or DNR sport card) must be carried with you at all times while hunting.

– Hunting hours are approximately one-half hour before sunrise and last until approximately one-half hour after sunset.

– Safety zones are all areas within 150 yards (450 feet) of an occupied building, house, cabin, barn, or other farm building. You may not hunt in this area or shoot at any animal within this area, unless you have the written permission of the property owner.

– Never assume other hunters are acting responsibly.

– If sitting against a rock or tree, make sure it is wider than your shoulders so you are not mistaken for a target.

– If hunting in a group, each hunter must understand the lay of the land, what the other hunters will be doing, who will shoot and in which direction. Watches, compasses and sketch maps are useful and sometimes necessary. A deer drive through standing corn or a cedar swamp is no place for a hunter who wanders off course and into the line of fire. Communication must continue during the hunt. Hunters cannot guess where the other hunters are – they must know.

– Dress appropriately. Layers of clothing provide better protection than a single, heavy coat. In this manner, a single layer can be removed during the warmer part of the day.

– Be as familiar as possible with the area in which you hunt.

– Recognize your limitations. Avoid excessive fatigue, which can tend to aggravate other medical illnesses.

– Take extra caution when skinning and gutting the deer. Avoid inadvertent stab wounds.

– Be certain others know your whereabouts and when to expect your return.

– Be sure your gun works properly.

– Report lost hunters by calling 911.