Children and Hunting Accidents

Grandfather and grandson hunters in camouflage bonding, walking in woods
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Childhood gun and shooting accidents are not rare. They are one of the top 10 leading causes of accidental death for children 14 and under.

How many childhood hunting accidents are there? That is hard to say, as there doesn't seem to be a national database for pediatric hunting accident statistics. However, Pediatrics did publish a study examining child firearm injuries between 2012 and 2014. During this time period, there were an average of 1,244 nonfatal gun and shooting accidents. Most of the injuries occurred in youths between 13 and 17 years old.

The same study found an average of 82 unintentional fatalities each year. Only a small proportion of these fatalities were due to hunting or target shooting. Each year, there were an average of seven hunting-related deaths in children 12 and under and five fatalities for youths ages 13-17.

In 2019, the Hunter Incident Database reported 56 hunting-related shooting accidents. Around eight of these were caused by handguns, 23 were caused by shotguns, and 25 were caused by rifles. The database no longer records the ages of those involved in accidents, but it does show that most incidents were nonfatal. To get more in-depth hunting accident statistics, you will likely have to go to each state's wildlife conservation agency and try to find them.

Hunting Accidents Involving Children

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) claims that hunting is much safer for participants than other sports. According to the NSSF, someone on a hunting trip is much less likely to get injured than a person playing golf or tennis. To put this kind of thinking into perspective, though, compared to playing golf and tennis, isn't a hunting injury that involves a shooting much more likely to be fatal? And it is these types of hunting-related shooting accidents that people are concerned about.

That doesn't mean that you shouldn't take your kids hunting. You just want to do it as safely as possible to help reduce your child's risk of getting hurt and to avoid hunting accidents and tragedies like the examples below:

  • A 14-year-old in Calaveras County, California who died in 2016 after he was unintentionally shot by a 16-year-old while they were hunting.
  • A 17-year-old in Anderson County, South Carolina who died in 2015 after she was unintentionally shot in the back by her foster father with his high-powered rifle as they hunted deer.
  • A 10-year-old in Cache County, Utah who died in 2015 after he was unintentionally shot by a hunting companion who was removing his rifle from the front of a four-wheeler when it fired.
  • A 16-year-old from Exeter, California who died in 2015 while hunting with family and friends after he was unintentionally shot when he wandered in front of the other hunters.
  • A 14-year-old from Palisade, Colorado who died in 2015 after he was shot in the chest by another hunter while in the Uncompahgre National Forest with his father.
  • A 15-year-old from Minot, North Dakota who died in 2014 while hunting with his father during the opening weekend of deer season.
  • A 12-year-old in Stephens County, Oklahoma who was hospitalized in 2014 after his 10-year-old brother unintentionally shot him in his backside after he tripped and fell with a gun in his hand while hunting.

Keep in mind that these incidents don't include the perhaps even more common scenario of when a child or teen unintentionally shoots an adult in their hunting party. This happened in 2014 near Butte, Montana when a 13-year-old was unloading his rifle and unintentionally shot an adult from his hunting party in the abdomen, sending the man to the hospital in critical condition.

Hunting and Gun Safety

Again, to help prevent these types of hunting accidents, learning about hunting safety and gun safety is important.

To protect children from hunting accidents, especially those involving guns, common hunting safety advice suggests that your child:

  • Take a formal hunter education class or at the very least, be closely supervised by someone who has taken a hunter education class.
  • Understand shooting safety rules before picking up a gun, especially that they always keep the safety on until they are ready to shoot, always point the muzzle in a safe direction, and keep their finger off the trigger until they are ready to fire.
  • Know to unload firearms when traveling to a shooting area, when climbing a tree or ladder, jumping a ditch, etc.
  • Know how to safely carry their firearm, which will hopefully prevent unintentional shootings.
  • Wear blaze orange (hat and vest), so that they can be seen easily by other hunters and don't get shot by accident.
  • Understand their safe zone-of-fire and their firearm's range of fire.
  • Know to always be sure of their target, and what is beyond the target, before firing.
  • Learn to treat all guns as if they were loaded, even if someone has told them it is unloaded.
  • Understand local and state hunting rules and regulations.

As with other types of child safety, a layers-of-protection plan is the best way to protect children from hunting accidents. For example, if your child is safely carrying their firearm with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, the safety on, and their finger off the trigger, then even if they trip while walking, the gun shouldn't fire or hit anyone. These gun safety rules apply to all adults as well.

Going hunting with the family is a rite of passage for many kids. Understanding that it can be dangerous doesn't have to mean that you don't do it. Instead, this advice should help you think about the risks and reinforce the importance of hunting safety.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Center for Health Statistics. 10 Leading Causes of Death, United States.

  2. Fowler KA, Dahlberg LL, Haileyesus T, Gutierrez C, Bacon S. Childhood firearm injuries in the United States. Pediatrics. 2017;140(1):e20163486. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-3486

  3. International Hunter Education Association U.S.A. Hunter Incident Database.

  4. National Shooting Sports Foundation. Firearms-Related Injury Statistics.

  5. Hunter Ed. Study guide for hunting education.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.