By Daniel Lovering
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Vermont reported no hunting-related shooting incidents last year for the first time in at least four decades, helped by educational programs that have made the sport safer, authorities said on Tuesday.
Shooting injuries and fatalities among hunters have fallen sharply since the 1960s, when the state sometimes saw as many as 20 to 30 incidents per year, said Chris Saunders, hunter education coordinator for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.
"It's safer than badminton," he said. "The biggest danger you have is getting there and coming home, because you're driving."
Several factors have contributed to the overall decline, including hunter education programs that became mandatory in 1975, the growing acceptance of highly visible orange attire, and the dwindling number of hunters in the woods, Saunders said.
Changing hunting methods also have lowered the rate of shooting incidents, Saunders said. Hunters tend to stay in fixed positions such as tree stands rather than move through the woods in groups, he said.
Shooting incidents include those that are self-inflicted - when a hunter fails to follow firearm safety rules and injures themself or another person - but those incidents have become less common, Saunders said.
Other types of shootings occur when a hunter mistakes a person for game or accidentally shoots someone in the path of their target, he said.
In the past decade, the number of incidents has dropped significantly, and in 2010 - previously the lowest year - officials recorded just two minor ones, Saunders said.
The department has records dating to the 1950s, Saunders said, but those from before 1972 are less reliable because investigations were not necessarily conducted by state game wardens.
(Editing by Paul Thomasch and Marguerita Choy)