Safe habits lead to happy hunting

  • Published
  • By Airman Ashley J. Woolridge
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
As the leaves change from green to shades of red, orange and gold, most people's thoughts turn toward carving pumpkins and preparing for the holidays.

A select group, however, breaks out their favorite camouflage, blaze orange, and hunting boots for a different autumn activity - hunting season.

South Dakota's fall hunting seasons run from September to January, with the most popular time to hunt being mid-October to mid-November. The state offers a wide variety of terrain, from rolling hills to majestic forests, and both large and small game, ranging from pheasants, grouse and cottontail rabbits to geese, turkey, deer, elk and mountain lions. In order to take full advantage of this hunter's paradise, safety must be at the forefront of any trek outdoors.

"Hunting safely is key to the enjoyment of the sport," said Chief Master Sergeant Kevin Peterson, 28th Bomb Wing command chief and avid hunter. "If you don't do it safely, it's not a sport or an adventure anymore. It becomes a catastrophe."

Peterson, who is certified to conduct hunting safety classes, stressed that no matter where you go or how routine it may seem, every hunting trip requires everyone to play it safe.

Col. Gentry Boswell, 28th Bomb Wing vice commander and enthusiastic outdoorsman, recommends using South Dakota's Game, Fish and Parks website as a resource to verify licensing and safety requirements for each area around the state.

"Game, Fish and Parks has a fantastic website in South Dakota," Boswell explained. "It's very easy to find, and it gives you all of the rules and regulations. You can buy hunting licenses online, but they also have a list of local vendors. For some of the big game tags, you have to actually apply either online or with a paper application several months in advance."

Each state has different regulations, including the amount of blaze orange hunters are required to wear. In South Dakota, an orange hat or vest is sufficient. Requirements can also vary depending on the type of weapon being used or the type of game being hunted. Hunters using a firearm are required to wear at least one blaze orange exterior garment, except when hunting turkey - archer s, however, and individuals hunting pheasants, are not required to wear any.

"We treat hunter orange and things like that just like we would PPE (personal protective equipment) in the military," Boswell said. "Being visible is very important when hunting."

Aside from high-visibility clothing, perhaps the most important pieces of the safe hunting puzzle include being aware of the weapon you are using, staying fit before taking to the field, and being aware of your surroundings, including weather conditions.

"The number one rule in gun safety is to always control that muzzle," Peterson said, referring to the end of the gun barrel. "If everything else goes wrong, as long as you control that muzzle, you can avoid someone getting hurt."

While most hunters know the basic rules of engagement, those unfamiliar with or new to the Black Hills area may forget to take into account an important factor in any outdoor activity - the weather.

"The winter weather conditions here are an aspect you have to be prepared for," Boswell said. "Three years ago, I was deer hunting and one day it was 65 degrees and sunny, with no wind. The next morning, the high was 5 degrees, the wind was blowing 30 miles per hour, and it was snowing. Look at what the weather's doing, not just now, but in the next few days."

Peterson said he particularly enjoys archery season because of the challenge it presents. He added mentor hunts, open to young people from 10 to 15 years old, are a good option for beginners to figure out what type of game they would enjoy hunting, or what kind of weapon works best for them.

"On a mentored hunt, you can go with someone who's a qualified hunter who has done the hunter safety course," Peterson said. "It's a one-time deal and then you can decide if you want to take the course for next season."

In South Dakota, hunters who are 16 and older are not required to complete a hunting safety course in order to obtain a license. Boswell, who enjoys hunting elk and deer, added it is important for all hunters, especially beginners, to choose weapons appropriate for the type of game they are hunting and their personal skill level.

Peterson hunts with his wife and children, spending quality family time in the great outdoors. He said situational awareness and responsibly handling weapons are key to making their time together truly enjoyable.

"It's a team-building, social event, but the number one thing is safety," Peterson added. "I enjoy it - it's a family adventure."

Boswell, who also shares his passion for hunting with his family, added that an uneventful outcome is more important than bagging game.

"A safe hunt is a good hunt," Boswell said. "You may go out and not get any birds or a deer, but just being outdoors is the real experience."

For more information, including South Dakota's hunting rules and regulations, visit