At this time of year, hunters' daydreams are apt to involve front-page photos of themselves with whitetail bucks whose antlers sport more points than a porcupine.
However, hunters who pursue their dreams heedless of safety or ethics risk making headlines in less pleasant ways.
Hunter stumbles, loses big toe when shotgun discharges
A 49-year-old squirrel hunter in Texas County shot his left big toe Oct. 14 when he stumbled over a log, causing his 12-gauge shotgun to go off accidentally. Lesson: Never walk with a firearm with the safety off or your finger on the trigger.
Fall from tree likely cause of hunter's death
On Oct. 8, a friend found the 30-year-old hunter on the ground beneath his tree stand in Oregon County with a broken neck. Lesson: Wear a full-body safety harness while climbing to and from tree stands, as well as when sitting in them.
Judge socks swan killers with penalties topping $13,000
Seven hunters in three different parties fired on a flock of trumpeter swans in Boone County last year. The trumpeter swan -- North America's largest waterfowl and a species of conservation concern -- is much larger than any other similar waterfowl. Lesson: Identify your target positively before raising your firearm.
Hunter injures relative in hunting incident
Some version of this occurs almost every year. The victims are parents, children, siblings, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces.
The results are awful, even when not fatal. Some of the shooters are novices, but many are experienced hunters.
The causes are diverse, including victim mistaken for game, careless swinging on game, carrying loaded firearms in vehicles and not knowing if the line of fire is clear to the target and beyond.
Most firearms-related hunting incidents involve carelessness, often coupled with excitement.
These incidents are far less frequent than in the past, thanks to thousands of volunteers who teach Missouri's mandatory hunter education classes, stressing safety and hunting ethics.
As recently as 20 years ago, Missouri often recorded more firearms deer-hunting incidents in one day than occur now during a much longer hunting season.
The worst year was 1986, with 26 incidents, including one fatality.
Opening weekend alone saw 10 firearms-related hunting incidents that year.
It is more than coincidence that Missouri's worst year for hunting accidents occurred just before hunter education became mandatory in 1988.
Since then, anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1967, must complete an approved safety and ethics course before buying hunting permits.
The results have been unmistakable.
From 1980 through 1989, Missouri averaged 16.8 firearm-related deer-hunting incidents per season. Over the past 10 years, the average has been 8.6. Last year Missouri recorded just five firearms deer-hunting incidents.
Two of those incidents involved self-inflicted injuries. None was fatal.
The contrast is even more striking when you consider that Missouri had a nine-day firearms deer season in 1986 and hunters killed 103,000 deer.
Last year firearms deer hunting, including the muzzleloader season, spanned 38 days, and the harvest topped 237,000.
Hunter education has achieved significant safety improvements in other types of hunting, too.
A study of injury rates of various sports conducted by American Sports Data, Inc., in 2005 showed hunting 29th in frequency of injuries.
Other activities not normally considered dangerous, such as cheerleading, baseball, volleyball, tennis and aerobics showed higher injury rates than hunting.
"I certainly appreciate the difference between a sprained ankle and a gunshot wound," said Tony Legg, hunter education coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation. "But the fact remains that more than 400,000 hunters spent millions of hours hunting deer in Missouri last year with only five gun-related incidents. That is a remarkable safety record."
The Conservation Department's Protection Division works to ensure that hunting is ethical, as well as safe.
Conservation agents rely on a wide range of techniques -- from old-fashioned legwork to high technology -- to accomplish the difficult task of patrolling hundreds of square miles of territory.