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Get prepared for this year’s rifle hunt

Utah's most popular hunt—the general rifle buck deer hunt—begins Oct. 17.

If you're one of the lucky hunters who obtained a permit for the hunt, getting prepared now—by gathering materials and gaining knowledge—are the key to a safe and successful hunt. And while taking a deer is usually the highlight of any deer hunt, make sure you take advantage of all the experiences deer hunting offers.

How to hunt safely
Getting prepared now — by gathering your gear and gaining knowledge — is the key to a successful deer hunt. Utah's 2009 rifle hunt begins Oct. 17.

Photo by Kirk Gardner

"Don't be so focused on taking a deer that you miss out on everything deer hunting has to offer," says Gary Cook, hunter education coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "Camping with your family and friends and enjoying Utah's wildlife and the beautiful state we live in are all things you can enjoy during your time afield."

Cook provides the following tips for an enjoyable and safe hunt:

Personal preparation:

  • Be familiar with the area you're going to hunt. If possible, scout the area before the hunt. "Knowing the area and the habits and patterns of the deer that live in the area is vital for success," Cook says.
  • Put a survival kit together. The kit should include:
    1. A small first aid kit;
    2. Three ways to make a fire (e.g. matches, a cigarette lighter, fire starters);
    3. Quick-energy snack foods;
    4. A cord or rope;
    5. A compass;
    6. A flashlight;
    7. An extra knife and;
    8. A small pad of paper and a pencil (so if you become lost, you can leave information at your last location about yourself and the direction you’re traveling).

Preparing your firearm:

  • Be as familiar as possible with your firearm—know how to load and unload it, and where the safety is and how to operate it.
  • Make sure the barrel of your firearm doesn't have any obstructions in it.
  • Make sure you have the correct ammunition for your firearm.
  • Sight-in your firearm before the hunt.

Firearm safety:

  • Controlling your firearm's muzzle is the most important part of firearm safety. Never let the muzzle of your firearm point at anything you do not intend to shoot. That includes not pointing the muzzle at yourself.
  • Never carry a loaded firearm in your vehicle.
  • Don't put your finger on the trigger until your firearm's sights are on the target.
  • Before shooting, make sure of your target and what's beyond it.

Vehicle preparation:

  • Make sure your vehicle is in good mechanical condition.
  • Make sure you have a shovel, an ax, tire chains, jumper cables and a tow chain in your vehicle.
  • If you experience mechanical problems with your vehicle or become snowed in, stay with your vehicle—don't leave it.

Before leaving on your trip:

  • Let someone know where you're going and when you expect to return.

While in the field:

  • Never hunt alone.
  • Wear proper safety clothing: 400 square inches of hunter orange on your back, chest and head.

Field dressing your animal:

  • Use a sharp knife. A sharp knife does a better job of cutting than a dull knife does and is safer to use.
  • Cut away from you—never bring a knife blade towards you while cutting.

Your physical well-being:

  • Know your physical limitations, and don't exceed them.
  • Prepare yourself for weather changes by dressing in layers. Dressing in layers allows you to regulate your body temperature by adding or removing clothes as needed.
  • Drink plenty of water, no matter how cold it is. "You can become dehydrated, even in cold weather," Cook says.
  • Hypothermia (the loss of body temperature) can occur in temperatures as warm as 50 degrees. Be aware of the signs of hypothermia. Some of the first signs are violent shivering, stumbling or becoming disoriented. "When you notice these signs, sit down immediately and build a fire," Cook says. "Get yourself warm and dry."
  • Frostbite. If you're hunting in cold weather, watch for signs that you're getting frostbite. White spots on your skin are the first sign. Check your face, feet and hands regularly. You'll notice the first signs of frostbite on your face sooner if you're hunting with a companion who can alert you.

If you get lost:

  • Don't panic. Sit down and build a fire, even if it isn't cold. "A fire is soothing. Building a fire will help you relax and think clearly," Cook says.

After calming down, try to get your bearings and think your way out of the situation. If you think you know which direction you need to travel, get the pad of paper and pencil out of your survival kit and leave a note at your location. Indicate on the note who you are and the direction you're traveling. If you find other hunters, don't be embarrassed to ask them for directions and help.

If you don't know which direction you should travel, stay at your camp and build a shelter several hours before sundown, if possible. Build a smoky fire (this type of fire can be spotted from the air) or build three fires (a distress signal that can also be spotted from the air).

Remaining at your camp is usually a good option. "If you have to, you can live without food and water for several days," Cook says.

Alcohol and firearms don't mix!

  • Do not handle a firearm if you've been drinking alcohol.
  • Do not give alcohol to someone who's cold. Instead of warming the person, alcohol will actually make them colder.

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