Well, October is here at last. It is the month we hunters look forward to like kids waiting for Christmas.

The weather finally feels like fall. We can get after deer with archery gear, primitive weapons and conventional firearms as those seasons kick off around the state. Not to mention a little squirrel and rabbit fun I can't seem to resist.

It is a big month for wildlife enforcement agents, as well, as the focus changes from boating to hunting enforcement.

Agents can finally get off the water and into the woods. Believe me: They are ready for a change after the summer months.

Hunting season is always busy, and the work is not only law enforcement. On occasion, the job is search and rescue for a seriously injured hunter.

Looking back over the years, I can't help but recall some of the accidents and tragedies that seem to consistently happen year after year. This time around, let's take a look at a few things we need to do to make sure we can focus on the fun and avoid hunting-season disaster.

 

Get in shape

Think about it. We spend days and days mowing, planting, hanging stands and making repairs. But how much time do you spend getting in shape for hunting season?

I don't just mean the guys planning for high-country elk hunts and back-country walk-ins. Physical fitness should be on every hunter's checklist.

Spend some time jogging, biking or taking a brisk walk to improve wind and endurance. A little weight training and floor exercises — or just about anything that will elevate breathing and heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes a day — will go a long way toward more enjoyable and safer hunting.

If it has been awhile since exercise was part of your daily routine, get to the doctor for a checkup before getting started.

Above all, don't overdo it while hunting. More than one fatal heart attack has resulted from over-exertion caused by trying to drag a deer or hog out to the road.

Have a plan in mind for moving a heavy animal, and always get help before starting a tough drag to the nearest vehicle access. No kidding. I know of at least three men who died alone in the woods from heart attacks after pushing themselves too hard on hunts.

 

Practice ATV safety

Seems like every year, during the first weekend of October, we hear about ATV accidents related to hunting activity. The two most common scenarios are kids getting hurt while playing on ATVs and hunters flipping over or colliding with trees on unfamiliar trails.

We've all seen unsupervised kids running up and down roads and trails on motorized baby-sitters while the adults are in camp taking care of chores or watching football games after the morning hunt.

Resist the urge to turn kids loose on ATVs. Find them something else to do, or closely monitor ATV riding. Trust me on that one: You don't want to know the details of some of the child/ATV accident reports I have seen.

Adults have their share of ATV mishaps, too. Drive slowly on woods roads and trails, and use extreme caution on side hills, around deep ruts and on steep inclines. A fellow wildlife agent and good friend lost his life in an ATV accident when the four-wheeler on which he was riding overturned while he was trying to negotiate a steep ditch bank. He was an experienced rider who got a little careless on a common maneuver.

ATV rider safety courses are available through most ATV dealers, and as a former certified course instructor I recommend the course for anyone who rides.

Part of the course focuses on safety gear: gloves, leggings, helmets and eye protection. In the real world, very few riders are wearing these things while traveling to and from the deer stand or blind. But we should.

Once while in thick cover on an ATV trying to haul a big hog out, I got whacked hard in one eye by a tree branch. It hit hard. And gave me a real scare. Safety goggles from then on.

 

Elevated stand safety

OK, I admit to being a member of the age group that prefers ground blinds over tree stands. And there is nothing wrong with a nice set of steps and a handrail on a box stand overlooking the food plot.

But we all have those hot stand locations that can only be hunted from an elevated platform, and portable climbing stands are in every good deer hunter's inventory.

Whether using portable climbing stands, ladder stands or permanent box stands, check them all for rust, unusual wear or rot before using. Pay particular attention to those older box stands and ladder stands exposed to the elements.

Carefully examine steps and ladder rungs, and don't forget the floor. Replace any wood showing signs of age or rot, and check nails, screws, chains and cables.

Poorly designed deer stands are just as dangerous as old, worn-out ones. One of the more common design flaws is steep ladder angle: A ladder set at 90 degrees is a tough climb with a rifle or backpack on your back. Add wet or frost-covered rungs and we're all set for a bad fall. Reduce the angle on ladders as much as possible to avoid falling over backward should you slip or miss a rung.

Another design flaw is latch position on stand doors. Never install a door latch so high on the door that it requires reaching overhead from the top of the ladder. Such an extended reach places the climber in a position from which he can easily go over backward or fall off the side of the ladder. Door latches should be placed at the bottom of the door just above floor level, allowing the climber to reach the latch with no overhead extension.

The last word on safety for climbing stands is the safety harness. They save lives, simple as that. Climbing-stand manufacturers include them with new stands, and they are sold separately by sporting goods stores. Invest in one. Hunter Safety System offers good ones along with lifelines, straps and bow holders.

Hunter safety is not just about safe firearms handling, as you can see. Everything we have talked about in this column is directly related to accidents and fatalities that have happened right here in Louisiana.

Be safe, have fun and good luck with your October adventures.