Safety first: Orange gear, hunter education laws making a difference

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

The blaze orange and hunter education requirements that have gradually become an accepted part of the landscape for deer hunters in Mississippi were inspired by scores of tragic accidental shootings over the years. As new generations of hunters enter the field, generations removed from first-hand memory of safety’s bad old days, stressing the reasons for orange and education becomes more important.
Eighty people shot and 34 killed sounds like a report from a war zone, but those figures come from one Mississippi deer season. Just one. According to the state, those were the totals from the 1972-1973 season. At that time, the state’s deer populations had begun to expand rapidly and hunter participation had quickly followed suit.
With more people hunting, especially those who may have spent a lifetime chasing small game but who had little or no experience with rifles, shotgun slugs or buckshot, the table was set for bad things to happen. The 1972-73 run was the worst on record, but it was no fluke by any means. The season before had seen 56 hunters shot and 23 killed. The season after, 75 shot and 15 killed.
First steps to safety
Reacting to the scope of tragedy seen in 1972-73, the legislature passed a law requiring deer hunters to wear at least an orange hat, then expanded that requirement to 500 square inches of unbroken orange a few years later, an act that met with some resistance since part of every hunter’s goal is to remain unseen by whatever they’re after. Biologists have demonstrated deer to be effectively color blind as we would think of it, though. They say deer see blaze orange as a shade of gray, and results have borne that out. During archery-only seasons still today, bow hunters must wear full camouflage because of the necessity of hiding their profile at very close ranges. Although not alarming to deer because of its hue, the solid blaze orange doesn’t hide the human outline. The trade-off for safety when gunpowder is in play was one that had to be made, and that’s when the accidental shooting numbers declined dramatically.
In 1987, the requirement that anyone hunting in Mississippi born after Jan. 1, 1972 show proof of passing an approved hunter education course before purchasing a hunting license became law.
Together, the orange and education requirements have made the deer woods much safer, reducing the annual accidental shooting incident rate to the low single digits, but it’s every hunter’s responsibility to remain vigilant still, because even one accidental shooting is far too many.