Matter of choice

By John B. Milbert May 19, 2010 01:54 pm
As a hunter with nearly 50 years of experience hunting in Oregon, as well as states with mandatory hunter orange requirements, I am strongly opposed to mandatory hunter-orange statutes for a number of reasons.

First, personal safety should be a matter of choice, not government mandates. There are already far too many laws attempting to protect us from ourselves. Laws do nothing to reduce stupidity, the primary cause of so-called “accidents.” The only safety regulations that should ever be enacted are those that protect others.

Wearing hunter-orange may protect the wearer. lt does nothing to protect anyone else, and it still doesn’t eliminate stupidity. Those who wish to wear orange will do so. Those who do not should not be forced to do so by government decree.

Second, statistical data that purport to demonstrate some significant reduction in “accidents” as a result of mandatory hunter-orange requirements are suspect at best. Statistics can be manipulated to support any position. The one unquestionable statistic relating to hunter safety is that “accidents” have consistently declined since the introduction of mandatory hunter safety education courses. The mandatory requirement is defensible because it protects others. As a youth, I participated in one of Oregon’s first hunter safety courses.

The overwhelming emphasis was on my responsibility to identify my target and its surroundings, and to follow proper safety procedures. Wearing hunter-orange wasn’t even a consideration. There is no significant change in today’s hunter safety courses, and “accidents” continue to decline. The key is education.

To the extent that we should consider statistics, there should be no differentiation between minor injuries and fatalities. An incident is an incident. Notice I didn’t say “accident.” The Texas statistics are a case in point.

According to the statistics, there was a sharp reduction in overall injuries, but the fatalities rose nearly 400 percent. If one were to believe those statistics, mandatory hunter-orange requirements make it four times as likely that you will be killed.

Third, mandating hunter-orange opens the door to other restrictive statutes, and enforcement problems. Many states have mandated laws imposing a minimum number of square inches of orange to be visible. Are hunters required to carry a tape measure and calculator to be sure they aren’t in violation? Washington state mandates total hunter-orange, top and bottom, for big game hunters. Washington also has four times as many “accidents” as Oregon. Fish and wildlife officers have enough to do enforcing regulations designed to protect the resources. They shouldn’t simply become issuers of citations.

I do not oppose wearing hunter-orange. There are several benefits. It allows me to see someone wearing orange far enough away that I can easily leave undetected, if they are encroaching on the area I wished to hunt. I carry a hunter-orange hat and vest in my daypack, to be used if someone bumbles too close, and I don’t wish to leave. I also use them when I harvest an animal. I wear the hat, and hang the vest on a nearby bush or tree branch while I dress the animal. I continue to wear the hat, along with a hunter-orange drag harness, and I wrap the vest around the animal’s neck or antlers while I drag it to my vehicle.

In conclusion, ODFW should continue to concern itself with managing the resources, not legislating personal safety. A careful analysis of all available data shows no significant reduction in hunting injuries as a direct result of mandating the wearing of hunter-orange. In my years of personal hunting experience across the United States, I have witnessed several near-tragedies. All were the result of carelessness or outright stupidity. In no case was the use, or non-use, of hunter-orange a factor. Questionable data, fallacious reasoning and emotionalism should not be the basis for creating new restrictions and attendant penalties. As a nation, we have become increasingly buried under such legislation. Please don’t add to this unnecessary burden.

John B. Milbert is a La Grande resident.