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Tips for a safe archery hunt

Archers can stay safe during this year's archery hunts by following a few, simple rules.

Hunters are excited about the start of Utah’s general buck deer and bull elk hunts. The general hunts start Aug. 16.

Hunters are excited about the start of Utah’s general buck deer and bull elk hunts. The general hunts start Aug. 16.

Photo by Scott Root

Utah's general archery buck deer and elk hunts kick off Aug. 16.

Kirk Smith, Hunter Education coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says every year, he receives reports of archery hunters injuring themselves. He says most of the accidents are caused by archers doing one of two things: not being safe in tree stands or having arrows out of their quiver, before they're ready to shoot.

To help you avoid these accidents, Smith provides the following advice:

  • If you're going to hunt from a tree stand, make sure the tree is big enough to hold your weight. "Don't climb the tree unless you're certain it will hold your weight," he says.

    To lessen the chance that you'll fall while climbing the tree, leave your bow, arrows and other equipment on the ground, and attach a haul line to them. Also, be sure to use an approved safety harness (also called a fall arrest system). Make sure to secure yourself to the tree as soon as you leave the ground.

    "Once you reach your stand," Smith says, "attach your safety harness to your final location. Then, use your haul line to lift your gear to you."

    Smith encourages you to not build a "permanent" tree stand. Instead, use a portable tree stand. "Overtime," he says, "permanent tree stands can deteriorate and become unsafe. And they clutter up the landscape. Also, you can damage or kill trees by hammering nails into them."

    If you're hunting on a national forest or on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Utah, you'll have to use a portable tree stand — permanent tree stands are illegal.

  • Until you're ready to shoot, keep your arrows in a quiver that has a hood that covers the broadheads. Smith says one of the most common accidents he sees is archers jabbing themselves or other hunters while carrying arrows in their hand or nocked on their bow string. "Until you're ready to shoot," he says, "keep your arrows in a quiver."

    State law requires that arrows be kept in a case while the arrows are in or on a vehicle.

More tips

In addition to the safety tips, Smith provides advice on preparing for the season, safety items to remember while you're in the field, and information on how to track animals and care for game meat in the field.

  • Preparation
    • Equipment checks – make sure the laminations on your bow are not flaking or separating and that the strings on your bow are not fraying. If you have a compound bow, make sure the pulleys and cables are in good shape. Also, make sure your arrow's spline (the stiffness of the arrow's shaft) matches your bow's draw weight. If your bow's draw weight produces more force than your arrow can handle, your arrow will probably fly off target.
    • Broadhead sharpening – when you sharpen your broadheads, take your time and be careful. Your broadheads need to be razor sharp. But make sure you don't cut yourself while sharpening them.
    • Practice shooting as much as possible.
    • Obtain written permission from private landowners before hunting on their property or using their property to access public land.
    • Know the boundaries of limited-entry units and other restricted areas in the area you're going to hunt.
    • Take the DWR's Bowhunter Education class.

      You can learn more about the class, and sign up to take it, online.
  • Never take a shot at a deer or an elk that is beyond the maximum range you're comfortable shooting at. Also, before you release your arrow, make sure of your target and what's beyond it.
  • After the shot
    • Watch the animal and determine the direction it took. Then, go to the spot where you last saw the animal and find your arrow. If there's blood on it, and if you have a compass, take a bearing on the direction the animal went. Then, wait 30 minutes before tracking it. If you track the animal too soon, you can spook it into running. If you wait at least 30 minutes before tracking it, most of the deer and elk you shoot will be found dead within a reasonable distance of your starting point.
    • When you track an animal, look for blood not only on the ground but on the brush too. If you begin to lose the animal's trail, tie a piece of biodegradable paper near the last blood spot. Then, search for the animal's trail by walking a circular pattern out from the paper. The paper will serve as a marker that will let you know where you started.

      Also, tying paper at the locations of the last three or four blood spots you see, and then standing away from the paper and looking at the paper trail, can help you visualize the direction the animal took.

    • Once you've found the animal, check to see if its eyes are open. If they're not, the animal probably isn't dead. If its eyes are open, touch one of the eyes with a long stick. Doing so will keep you out of harm's way if the animal is still alive. Once the animal is dead, field dress and cool its meat immediately. Temperatures are usually warm during the archery hunt. The warm temperatures can cause the meat to spoil quickly.

    Smith also provides tips for reducing conflicts with landowners and those who don't hunt:

  • Find access points to your hunting area well in advance of the season.
  • If access requires crossing private land, you must obtain written permission from the landowner. If you can't obtain written permission, find another access point.
  • Before you start hunting, make sure you're well beyond the minimum distances you must maintain from roads and dwellings. If you're going to hunt in Salt Lake County, please remember that the county's hunting restrictions are more restrictive than the rest of Utah. Read the 2014 Utah Big Game Field Regulations Guidebook closely for more information. The free guidebook is available online.
  • Avoid hunting in areas that a lot of people use. Also, whenever possible, avoid hunting near heavily used trails.

    Smith says most Utahns choose not to hunt. But they support hunting as long as hunters are legal, safe and ethical. "When hunters don't behave that way," he says, "how people feel about hunting can take a turn for the worse."

Extended archery areas

If you want to hunt the Wasatch Front, Ogden, Sanpete Valley or Uintah Basin extended archery areas, please remember the following:

  • Before hunting any of these areas, you must complete the DWR's Archery Ethics Course. The free course is available online.
  • While hunting in an extended archery area, you must carry two items with you: your 2014 general archery buck deer permit and your Archery Ethics Course certificate. If you're a member of the Dedicated Hunter program, you must also carry your Dedicated Hunter certificate of registration.

For more information, call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR's Salt Lake City office at 801-538-4700.

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