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OUR VIEW: Road hunting is OK, but safety is key

It's now officially fall, which means hunting seasons are ramping up.

And in South Dakota, no hunting season is bigger or has a larger economic impact than pheasant hunting.

In our Saturday newspaper, we highlighted South Dakota's liberal laws compared to other nearby states to allow hunters to travel with loaded guns or hunt along or over roads. Road hunting, as it's known here, is welcomed for the most part, despite past shootings that have killed or injured others.

While we generally are OK with road hunting and recognize these open laws make our state more attractive to hunt wild game, it is rather unsafe for both people handling the firearm and landowners.

We think Ron Kolbeck, of Salem, said it best. The HuntSafe instructor for more than 20 years teaches safety over what's legal.

There's significant risk in traveling with a loaded gun. According to the report in Saturday's paper, there were 29 vehicle-related incidents leading to four deaths reported between 2003 and 2013. Of course, that's a very small percentage of all the people who road hunted during that time.

But road hunting isn't just about safety of the people in the vehicles. When a hunter exits a vehicle to chase a pheasant, there's a good chance the hunter doesn't know the area well. Perhaps there are cattle or farm implement nearby. Or, maybe there is a home behind a shelterbelt that's hidden.

The thrill of shooting a pheasant is great, but we hope people remember safety is more important than harvesting one bird.

When we hear about "hunting accidents" involving a loaded firearm in a vehicle, we question whether they truly are accidents. Most often, there was always a careless mistake made — the firearm's safety wasn't on, someone was rushing, or they had their finger on the trigger while exiting the vehicle.

Road hunting has a place in making South Dakota's pheasant hunting tradition great. Some people can't march through fields to hunt — and road hunting is a good alternative to harvest a pheasant.

But we hope people do it the right way by following the coinciding laws. Remember, it's just a bird. It's not worth harming anyone over.