It is no accident Wisconsin is known nationally as one of the safest places to hunt deer for the whole family and friends. This state is fortunate to have thousands of volunteer hunter education instructors dedicated to keeping everyone safe while enjoying the outdoors. And you have to credit the hunters who carry on that safety priority during their own hunts and as mentors. This is what makes Wisconsin a great hunting state.

Wisconsin's culture of hunting safety started a half century ago when the department launched a six-hour course stressing firearm safety. The course was voluntary, and while the impact was not momentous, the number of firearm injuries during the gun deer hunt began to decline.

Then came more change in 1980 when hunters were required to wear blaze orange during gun-deer hunts - and the number of firearm incidents dropped more dramatically. Five years later came the expanded hunter education certification program, which also became mandatory for all hunters in Wisconsin born on or after Jan. 1, 1973. About 24,000 are trained every year - and more than 1 million since the program started.

In 1966, the hunting incident rate in Wisconsin was 44 injuries for every 100,000 hunters. Now the rate, based on a 10-year-average, is 4.04 incidents per 100,000 hunters, a reduction of more than 90 percent. Wisconsin has experienced five gun-deer seasons free of fatalities - 1972, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2016.

How does Wisconsin keep the safety trend alive? More incidents can be prevented by following these four basic principles of firearm safety known as TABK:

• Treat every firearm as if it is loaded

• Always point the muzzle in a safe direction

• Be certain of your target and what is beyond it

• Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot

For tree stand users, here are some easy tips to follow:

• Always use a full-body harness

• Always unload your firearm while climbing into or out of the stand

• Maintain three points of contact during the ascent or descent - two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand.

Each deer drive should be planned with safety as the top priority.

If you plan to participate in a deer drive:

• Review the four firearm safety principles

• Reconfirm you have positively identified your target

• Reconfirm you have a safe backstop for your bullet

• Review and stick to your hunting plan. Make sure all in the hunting party honor it.

For any questions or to report a violation, call Conservation Warden Paul Sickman at 715-684-2914 ext. 120.