Playing ping-pong can be hazardous to your health - at least when it's compared to hunting. It seems hunters are very safe sportsmen, according to the National Safety Council's Safety Facts booklet, which reports that more people are injured playing ping pong than while hunting, with only half as many participants!

Bowlers receive more than 17 times as many injuries as hunters. In fact, in 1996 there were fewer than eight injuries per 100,000 hunters.

These low numbers may be further reduced by the use common sense in the field. Hunter education courses are free or inexpensive. A call to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will put you in touch with a hunter education instructor who can teach you how to be a better, safer hunter.

Of course, one of the first rules for handling any firearm is to know how your gun works, so read the owner's manual and familiarize yourself with the features of your firearm. And always assume that any gun is loaded. Never point a gun at any person or allow the muzzle to swing around in the direction of people. If you are carrying or holding a firearm, you must assume responsibility for it at all times, which means you must constantly be aware of where a bullet would travel, should the firearm discharge. Making sure there is not a round in the chamber until just before you are ready to fire the gun will prevent an accidental discharge.

When you are through shooting, unload your firearm and leave the action open. If you are hunting, have the magazine loaded, but don't chamber a round until you're ready to shoot.

Never rely on your gun's built-in safety device. When the opportunity for a shot comes, take a moment to figure out where the bullet will go if you miss your target. Even the humble .22 can send a bullet over a mile!

When target practicing, choose a spot with a safe background, like a dirt hillside. Take into account the fact that bullets can ricochet or pass through walls and brush.

While you have complete control over your own behavior when handling a gun, there are also measures you can take to make sure than you are safe around other hunters.

One of the best precautions you can take is to wear fluorescent orange. Statistics indicate that when hunters wear fluorescent orange, accidents are reduced by 50 percent. There are also many excellent camouflage patterns that incorporate blaze orange, so you can blend in with the habitat but still be highly visible to other hunters.

Taking your youngsters with you on a hunting trip is one of the best ways to form close bonds with them, but a hunting trip is not the time to begin to teach your child about gun safety.

All youngsters should attend hunter education courses and should be taught how to handle a firearm safely before they are ever taken into the field. Of course, even if your children have been taught gun safety, all guns should be kept under lock and key at home and separate from the ammunition.

Americans have a long tradition of safe, ethical hunting and you and your children can enjoy a lifetime of pleasurable, accident-free hunting adventures if you know and practice all gun safety rules.

Information used in this story was provided by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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