I'm dating myself, but do you remember “Hill Street Blues,” the police drama from the '80s that aired on NBC?
One of the most popular characters was Sgt. Phil Esterhaus, played by the late Michael Conrad, who would issue his trademark instruction to officers at the close of each roll call: “Let's be careful out there.”
Well, Oklahoma's deer gun season opens Saturday across the state and folks, “let's be careful out there.”
The deer gun season is the busiest hunting season of the year with more participants and more hunting accidents than any other, said Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“The emergency rooms all know when it's deer season,” Meek said.
On average, Oklahoma has about one hunting fatality each year. Firearm safety is stressed in hunter education classes, Meek said.
“The firearm safety portion of the class has one major point,” Meek said. “That point is to not aim your firearm at something that you do not intend to shoot.
“There are many different aspects of that, most importantly of which is that you should always assume a firearm is loaded and not to trust the safety to make up for unsafe handling.”
However, the most common deer hunting accident does not involve mishandling of a gun. It's falling from a tree stand.
“On pretty much equal footing with firearm safety these days is tree stand safety,” Meek said. “It boils down to always be connected to the tree with some sort of line and tether. That's when you're putting the stand up, climbing up, sitting in it, climbing down and taking it down.”
Two years ago, Bo Cocannouer of Tuttle was bow hunting out of a tree stand in Grady County when he fell asleep.
“I basically log rolled out of the tree and did not wake up until I hit the ground,” he said.
Cocannouer normally wore a safety harness, but on this day, he and his hunting partner had forgotten one.
“It was just one of them deals where I thought, honestly, I don't need one,” Cocannouer said. “I had the mentality it would never happen to me.”
Cocannouer fractured a disc in his lower back from the 19-foot fall.
“Even to this day, it hurts on a daily basis,” he said.
Cocannouer knows he was lucky. He could have landed on his head. Or he could have landed on a fence post, as he was hunting a food plot that had a fence around it.
Fortunately, his bow was hanging in the tree stand and he was not holding it during the fall or he might have landed on an arrow.
And he was hunting with a friend, another important safety tip. Had he been hunting alone, who knows when he would have been found. His cellphone had bounced out of his pocket away from his reach.
“I tried to stand up but couldn't,” he said.
Cocannouer's hunting buddy helped get him to the truck and to a hospital. Now, Cocannouer never gets in a tree stand without a safety harness.
“I make everyone I hunt with put one on,” he said.
The Wildlife Department posted a series of videos on YouTube to show hunters the proper way to use safety harnesses.
“We made our own video because the ones that we could find elsewhere would simply tell you, but not show you how to do it,” Meek said. “It's easier said than done, but worth it when you hear about some tree stand accidents.”
Oklahoma's Deer Gun Season
Dates: Nov. 17-Dec. 2
Six important safety tips
— Never point your firearm at something you do not intend to shoot.
— Assume every firearm is loaded.
— Always be sure of your target and what is on the other side of it.
— Wear a full body harness, not only when you are in a stand but also when climbing in and out of it.
— Use a haul line to lift your unloaded gun or bow into the stand or when lowering it to the ground.
— Inspect your stand before each use.