Hunting and driving all-terrain vehicles are so linked in Mississippi that many people forget safety precautions when using these powerful machines.
Bradley Staton, Mississippi State University Extension Service 4-H ATV associate, offered a few tips to increase the chances that people will have a safe time in the woods on ATVs.
“Always wear protective gear,” Staton said. “That means a helmet to protect the head if you lose control and flip the ATV, and appropriate clothing, including long sleeves, a jacket and boots. And, since it’s hunting season, always wear an orange vest so others hunters in the same area can see you.”
Staton said many people object to helmets, believing they restrict the ability to scan the terrain for game. While visors can be lifted for visibility, Staton said safety is the priority.
A big safety issue when riding an ATV on a hunt is the gun itself.
“A loaded gun can easily discharge when you are bouncing around on a rough trail,” Staton said. “So, for your safety and that of those you are with, always double-check to make sure your guns are unloaded before heading out on your ATV.”
After removing the ammunition clip and emptying the magazine, secure the gun to the ATV in a hard case or scabbard.
“If you carry a sidearm, make sure the chamber is empty and the safety is on before holstering the weapon,” he said.
While ATV riders can safely carry holstered sidearms, there is no safe way to sling or shoulder carry rifles and shotguns while driving.
“The barrel can snag on low tree branches and brush, or worse, a small branch could lodge in the trigger guard, causing the gun to fire if you failed to empty the chamber,” Staton said.
It is illegal in all states to shoot from vehicles, including ATVs. Always step off the vehicle, walk to find a clean shot and then aim at the game. Never shoot across a trail, road or waterway of any sort.
“Your ATV is only a means of getting you to your hunting area; it is not a shooting platform,” Staton said.
While riding an ATV seems fun and easy, trail obstacles can present serious dangers. Slow down and carefully maneuver the ATV over large rocks, holes or streams that cross the trail.
“It is illegal to drive off the trail on public land, and besides that, you don’t know what hazards may be hidden in the tall grass or underbrush alongside the trail,” he said.
An ATV can drive farther in one hour than a person can walk in a day, so have a plan before setting out. Always carry a communication device — knowing that cell service is often lost in the backcountry — and bring a survival kit, first-aid kit and tool kit.
“Let others know where you are going and when you should be back, and then stay in the area that you say you will be in,” Staton said.
Larry Alexander, Extension 4-H Youth Development specialist, said the Consumer Product Safety Commission reports more than 8,000 ATV-related deaths in the U.S. since 1985.
“The under-16 age group has one of the highest numbers of estimated injuries,” Alexander said. “Youths riding adult ATVs, speed, unsafe driving conditions and rider inexperience can combine to form a ‘perfect storm’ for accidents.”
The MSU Extension Service has a 4-H ATV safety program that trains young people in the correct way to ride these machines to reduce the chance of injuries. Fourteen trained instructors across the state offer hands-on, riding safety training to about 100 participants annually. These young people range in age from 9 to 17.
A related program offers lectures on ATV safety to more than 3,000 other young people and adults at safety field days, day camps and special interest group meetings.