It’s fall and once again that means Wisconsin’s woodlands and fields will be alive with the annual fall colors — blaze orange with a smattering of blaze pink.

More than 600,000 hunters are expected to take to the woods beginning Saturday for Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer hunt. About 200,000 deer will be killed in this year’s hunt, thanks in part to a mild winter.

For many families and hunting companions, it’s a treasured tradition that goes back decades and one that is sure, once again, to yield stories that will be swapped around stoves and fireplaces for many more years to come.

We hope they’re good stories — and stories that don’t include bad endings or accounts of accidents.

As always, we’re issuing our annual reminder to hunt safely. TAB-K is the byword of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources which oversees state hunting. The acronym means this: Treat every gun as if it is loaded; Always point the muzzle in a safe direction; Be certain of your target and what’s beyond; Keep your finger out of the trigger guard until ready to shoot.

That advice has served Wisconsin well over the past several decades. Hunting has become safer with the introduction of mandatory hunter safety education classes and the institution of blaze orange. In just the past decade, the number of hunting incidents and fatalities has dropped from 31 incidents and four fatalities to just 11 incidents and one fatality last year.

That death came in a turkey hunting accident. There were no deer hunt firearm fatalities last year.

That’s a good target for this year as well.

But this year, we’ll add another safety reminder for those going afield: Buckle up.

Not just your seat belt on the drive to your favorite hunting spot — buckle up into a safety harness and use a lifeline when climbing up or down from a tree stand. Use a haul line for your unloaded weapon. Don’t hurry and don’t slip.

The fact is, as one DNR hunting education administrator put it last year, “You stand a much larger chance of being injured while using a tree stand than you would of actually being a victim of a shooting accident.”

State DNR officials say about two hunters each year are killed as the result of such falls.

One Wisconsin study found that about two-thirds of all hunting-related injuries treated at trauma centers were caused by tree-stand falls. Another study by the DNR and Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation in north central Wisconsin projected that statewide, tree stand falls could be accounting for 300 to 500 injuries a year for bow, gun and crossbow hunters.

Those falls can translate to permanent leg or hip injuries, paralysis or even death.

No one wants you to end up at the base of a tree unable to move, without cell phone service as night falls. That’s not a good hunting story.

Be careful out there. Bring home a deer and a story or two, but more importantly, bring home your own carcass in good shape.

Have a safe hunt and remember: Buckle up.

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