GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) -- John Robinette is careful not to make any potentially deadly mistakes when hunting for white-tailed deer from the treetops of his family's western Michigan apple orchard.
Six hunters were shot to death during the state's 16-day firearm deer season -- two of them killed by self-inflicted gunshot wounds while climbing or atop elevated hunting platforms.
The platforms, which often rise 20 feet above ground, have been legal only since 1998 for Michigan hunters who use firearms, although they have been in use about 20 years by archers, said Lt. Suzanne Koppelo, a safety administrator with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Now officials are studying how to better get the word out: Don't climb a tree while holding a loaded gun.
''We've been pointing out the (safety) issues since hunting with firearms from elevated stands was legalized in '98,'' Koppelo said.
The agency cautions hunters to use safety harnesses or belts to help prevent them from falling from tree stands. To lessen the likelihood of their weapons being accidentally discharged, hunters are warned not to carry loaded weapons while climbing or descending.
''Obviously, any fatality is one too many, any injury is one too many,'' Koppelo said. ''Although there are almost three-quarters of a million hunters afield ... those are low numbers, but nevertheless they're still unacceptable.''
About 722,000 licensed hunters were expected to fan out across the state during firearm season this year and take an estimated 302,000 deer, said John Urbain, a big-game specialist with the DNR.
Robinette bagged a deer with a bow and arrow Oct. 2 but hasn't had any luck shooting from his tree stand during firearms season. He made the stand over the summer from an orchard ladder, a few 2-by-4's and some plywood.
Robinette said he uses a safety harness while climbing and during the time he spends perched in the stand. He makes sure his rifle's chamber is empty and that its bolt is pulled back before taking the weapon up onto the platform, where he loads it.
''It's just common sense,'' he said. ''You hear about an accident and you realize that's probably how it happened, bringing a loaded gun up into a tree stand, as it's probably pointing at you.''
On the Net:
Michigan Department of Natural Resources: http://www.dnr.state.mi.us/
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