How Many People are Killed or Injured in Hunting Accidents?

Male hunter aiming at deer with rifle
[Klaus Vedfelt]/[Taxi]/Getty Images

According to the International Hunter Education Association, in an average year, fewer that 1,000 people in the US and Canada are accidentally shot by hunters, and of these, fewer than 75 are fatalities. In many cases, these fatalities are self-inflicted by hunters who trip, fall, or have other accidents that cause them to shoot themselves with their own weapons. Most of the other fatalities come in hunting parties, where one hunter shoots another accidentally.

Firearm Fatalities in Hunting

Fatality numbers have improved somewhat in recent years, thanks to extensive hunter education programs available in most states, but hunting does come with inherent dangers. Hunting fatalities due to firearms account for about 12 to 15 percent of all fatalities due to firearms nationally. Hunting proponents will point out that the chances of a death due to a firearm accident of any kind are roughly the same as a death from falling out of a bed, chair, or other piece of furniture—about 1 in 4888. If you compare pure numbers, roughly 20 times as many people die each year by accidental drowning than do by accidents while hunting. These statistics are slightly misleading, however, since far more people engage in recreational swimming than engage in sports hunting with firearms. 

Overall accidental death statistics from the National Safety Council can provide some context. Of all accidental deaths: 

  • 1 out of every 114 is a motor vehicle crash
  • 1 out of every 370 is an intentional assault by a firearm
  • 1 out of 1,188 is due to accidental drowning
  • 1 out of every  6,905 is an accidental firearms discharge
  • 1 out of every 161,856 is due to a lightning strike

It must be noted, however, that a great many accidental deaths by firearms do not involve hunters. When shooting-related fatalities occur in hunting, most of the victims are hunters, although non-hunters are also sometimes killed or injured. It can be said that this is a sport that does pose some danger to an entire community, not just to the willing participants. 

Hunting Related Accidents in Context

In reality, most the greatest dangers to hunters are not related to firearms, but occur for other reasons, such as car accidents traveling to and from hunting sites or heart attacks while hiking woods and hills. Particularly dangerous are fall from tree stands. Recent estimates say that there are almost 6,000 hunting accidents to hunters each year involving falls tree stands—six times as many as are wounded by firearms. A recent survey in the state of Indiana found that 55% of all hunting-related accidents in that state were related to tree stands. 

The vast majority of fatal accidental shootings while hunting involve the use of shotguns or rifles while hunting deer. This perhaps no surprise, since deer hunting is one of the most popular forms of hunting where high-powered firearms are used. 

The Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting maintains the Hunting Accidents Center site, which collects news stories about hunting accidents throughout the United States. Although the list is long, it's not comprehensive, and not every hunting accident is reported in the news. If you've seen a newspaper article about a hunting accident that is not included in the site, you can submit a report.