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Hunting is one of Australia's safest sports, resulting in significantly fewer deaths than many high-profile activities including water sports, bicycling and horse riding, according to a new report that reveals less than 1% of sports-based fatalities are caused by firearms.

In the 10 years to August 2010, 22 people died while hunting, and only 13 of those deaths were caused by a firearm, says the report produced by the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine for the NSW Game Council.

None of those deaths occurred on public land in NSW under the Game Council's licensed hunting system, a fact the shooting lobby will use to allay safety fears as the state prepares to open some national parks to regulated hunting.

The report used data from the National Coroners Information System and showed almost 900 Australians died in the water during that time while swimming, fishing, surfing, diving or taking part in similar activities. A further 111 people died in boating (including canoes etc) accidents.

Motor sports were the second most deadly sport, claiming the lives of between 170 and 173 people during the 10-year period, while other wheeled sports (cycling, rollerblading, skateboarding, etc) killed 111.

Adventure sports such as rock climbing – and including hiking – were around 50% more deadly than hunting, resulting in 34 fatalities, while other land-based sports such as athletics and orienteering were slightly worse with 36 death. Equestrian events claimed 35.

The report parallels a US study that found hunting accounted for one of the lowest injury rates of all sports, as a percentage of participants.

A brief summary of each shooting-related death was included in the report. In one case, police said a faulty safety catch was involved in the firearm's discharge, while in another the gun's trigger was reportedly very light.

Regardless of mechanical problems, all the deaths caused by a firearm appear to involve some degree of unsafe handling practice.

Only one shooting death was the result of the shooter not identifying his target, when a hunter dressed in camouflage in thick bushland was shot in the head. However, another fatality occurred when a hunter shot a fox and also hit a hunter on the other side of bushes behind the animal.

Eight hunting-related deaths were vehicle crashes and one was the result of a self-inflicted knife wound.

The report said another 12 fatalities resulted from an "unintended shooting event" but these were not factored into the study because they did not occur during a sporting activity.

The Game Council is expected later today to put these figures into context with its management of hunting on public land in NSW, under which no deaths have occurred.

Safety is one of the biggest issues aired by the media, national parks staff and the public in the lead-up to the introduction of regulated hunting in NSW national parks.

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