CASH Courier > 1995 Winter Issue

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The C.A.S.H. Courier

ARTICLE from 1995 Winter Issue


By Peter Muller

One of my pet peeves is reading an article in which numbers are presented without citing a source. In a recent Letter to the Editor in a local paper, a “Master Teacher of Hunting Safety,” licensed and sanctioned by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the N.R.A. states: “Hunting is 100 times safer than swimming and 50 times safer than football.” Don’t believe it? So, refute it! After hearing “Hunting is 30 times safer than tennis, 50 times safer than golf, 100 times safer than driving,” and other statements of that kind, I finally decided to investigate. I believe C.A.S.H. has now come up with a rational basis for assigning relative risks to different activities.

Even though there were 83 times as many injuries caused by swimming as there were by hunting, we have to take into consideration how many people engaged in each activity and how often.

To use a hypothetical example to make the point, let’s say there is a “sport” called “truck-nosing.” Truck-nosing consists of running out on a highway when you see a truck coming and trying to touch the front bumper with your nose. Let’s say that on 80% of all such outings an injury occurs. Let’s also say that nationwide there are 100 truck-nosers who spend an average of 2 days a year engaging in their spot (the rest of the time is spent in hospitals). We would expect a total of 160 injuries a year from the sport of truck nosing. On the other hand, and in fact, there are 24,000,000 golfers a year that spend an average of 6 days a year each year golfing and have a total of 37,556 injuries. Using hunter logic, we would conclude that hunting is 83 times safer than swimming, and truck-nosing is (37,556/160) or 235 times safer than golfing since golfing causes 235 times as many injuries as truck nosing. But when you tell mom not to worry because you’re going truck-nosing, which is 235 times safer than golfing, do you think she’ll go for your statistics?

Why not? We must take into consideration the number of people that engage in each activity and the number of days a year each participant engages in the activity. We take the total number of participants and multiply it by the average number of days that each participant engages in the activity to come up with the total activity days. The total activity days tells us how much time people engage in that activity. If there are 100 truck-nosers spending an average of two days a year in that activity, then the total annual activity days for truck-nosing is 200. Similarly, the total annual activity days for golfing is 24,000,000 times 6 or 144,000,000 activity days. Since during the 144,000,000 activity days of golf there were 37, 556 injuries, on average it took 3,834 activity days to produce one injury. Let’s call that number the mean number of days between injuries. Another way of putting it is if you decide to go out golfing one day, your chances of being injured are 1 out of 3,834. On average, you can play golf on 3,834 days before you can expect to sustain an injury. Truck-nosers obviously don’t’ do as well: since 200 activity days produce 160 injuries, the mean number of days between injuries is 200/160 or 1.25. Truck-nosers shouldn’t expect to be able to engage in their activity for more than 1.25 days without an injury. This mean number of days between injuries is what allows us to rationally compare the relative safety of different activities. Using the example above, we can say that golf is 3,834/1.25 or 3,067 times safer than truck-nosing, which is what Mom knew all along.

In applying the same analysis to hunting and some other selected activities to come up with relative risks, my first stop was the National Safety Council in Illinois. They were very helpful in furnishing some basic numbers concerning the activities. They were also helpful in furnishing their sources.

One of the first questions I tried to answer was “What is an injury?” To be counted as an “injury,” treatment in a hospital emergency room was a requirement. This may not be perfect, but at least it’s consistent among activities (the exception is hunting). The National Safety Council’s source for hunting-related injuries is The Hunter Education Association in Draper, Utah (801) 571-9461. According to them, the only injuries reported are due to weapons discharges. So, if a hunter falls down and breaks his neck or sprains an ankle, the injury is not recorded. Since the focus in hunting injuries is on weapons discharges, non weapons-related injuries go unreported. That alone invalidates the comparison with other activities. The Hunter Education Association, with which I spoke at length on several occasions, said that nobody is keeping counts of non-weapons related hunting injuries. In the absence of those numbers, we cannot meaningfully compare hunting injuries to injuries in other activities.

We have a better chance at relative risk assessment when we deal with fatal injuries. I believe that fatalities in hunting are partially due to weapons discharges, but also to a substantial extent to other causes. The same “Master Teacher,” who unwittingly motivated this investigation, told me that most hunting fatalities are due to heart attacks because many hunters are in awful physical shape.

Associated with sports injuries and fatalities are two categories: direct and indirect. A direct fatality would be a shot in the head; an indirect fatality would be a hunter who falls into a creek, catches pneumonia and dies. In football, for example, the direct fatalities are due to injuries (such as head injuries on the playing field) – an indirect fatality would be a heart attack or stroke due to over-exertion.

Death attributable to hunting in this analysis includes first of all the number furnished by the Hunter Education Association. There are numerous articles each year in the hunting literature about hunters who get lost and die of exposure, hunters dozing off and falling out of tree stands, hunters attempting to traverse rough terrain and dying from stroke, heart attack or other systems failures. When comparing hunting to other sport deaths, these should also be included. Since in all other cases, both the direct deaths and the indirect deaths are included, we have to take a reasonable guess at how many indirect fatalities there are. I am willing to defer to the alleged “Master Teacher,” who is telling me that I should at least double the number of direct fatalities.

Furthermore, since game management is deliberately causing overpopulation of game species, human traffic fatalities due to deer car collisions are also attributable to hunting. If there were no hunting, the white-tailed deer population would not be artificially pumped up to 25,000 nationally by wildlife mismanagement and, most likely, would stabilize around 500,000. Deer-car collisions would subside and fatalities due to deer-car collisions would probably disappear. We may want to include those fatalities as indirect hunting fatalities as well.

Given those procedures and methods, here is how hunting stacks up against other activities.


# of people

Avg. # of days per person

Direct & Indirect Fatalities per year

Mean days between fatalities

Safety Ratio

Max. Mdbf=1

























Our conclusion is: Hunting, when viewed logically, is more dangerous and causes more fatalities than just about anything known to mankind except for truck-nosing.

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