Hunting seasons are opening up across our country, and everyone is excited. Dogs shake with nervous excitement to get out of their kennels, and we hurry up to get back into the fields where we belong. There is no shortage of enthusiasm anywhere. You all know the drill, but it makes sense to do a quick refresh of some commonly missed safety practices.
Also See: Field Safety with Hunting Partners
- Muzzles up. Keep those muzzles up at all times and never pointed at anyone. Mechanical failures that drop a hammer on a firing pin is always a possibility, but if a shotgun accidentally discharges and the firearm is pointed towards the sky then the outcome is clean. Have your firearm under control at all times and keep those muzzles up.
- Trigger finger on the outside of the trigger guard until you're ready to shoot. Or even better, keep it on your grip. When a bird flushes there is plenty of time to slide your finger into play.
- Safeties on. Safeties stay on until you're mounting the gun at a flying bird. Taking off a safety requires only a fraction of a second and should be part of your normal mounting sequence. Be sure all safeties are cleaned annually, oiled and operational. If you're using a buddy's gun know if it's an automatic or manual safety. That latter part is where mistakes are commonly made.
- Unload shotguns until you're ready to shoot or hunt. Always unload shotguns when not engaged in hunting. If you're stopping to water the dog, to review a GPS or a topo map, or to chew the fat with your buddy be sure that actions are open and chambers are unloaded. The same holds true when climbing over rock walls or fences, when crossing streams, and in muddy areas. No leaning firearms against trees, either.
- Keep ammunition separated. Bulged or exploded barrels are the least of your worries. Flying shrapnel caused by a barrel that blows up is the issue. Hunters who change shotguns and gauges should meticulously inspect shell pockets to make sure that only the correct ammunition is loaded. Dropping a 28 gauge shell into a 20 bore is a simple mistake with major ramifications.
- Obstruction-free barrels. Muzzles can become clogged by accident. Slip on a slick riverbank, and you might accidentally clog the muzzle with mud. Trip and fall and you might focus your attention on the stock instead of the muzzle. Remove shells, open actions, and inspect your muzzles to make sure that they are free and clear before firing.
- No ground swatting. Ground swatting birds is particularly dangerous for a variety of reasons. Dogs are usually the injured party, but pellets hitting rocks in the fields can ricochet and harm hunters, too. If you're looking to fill the freezer get a doe tag, but if you're hunting birds then keep blue sky between the dogs, your hunting buddies, and the birds.
- Proper gear. There are a lot of branches in the woods and shooting glasses keep twigs at bay. Depending on your lens color you can improve your hits by brightening up the dark woods with yellow or orange lenses. Darker gray lenses reduce glare on a bright, sunny day. If your hands sweat wear a pair of thin shooting gloves. The gloves add traction and keep your hands from slipping during a gun mount. And if you're in a high volume shooting situation such as a dove shoot then ear protection makes good sense.
- Blaze orange whether it's required or not. Ball caps, shooting shirts, and vests make hunters more visible which is why the late Frank Woolner championed its adaption. If blaze orange isn't required in your state wear it anyway.
We've been waiting all year for hunting season, so keep it safe. Call me if you're finding lots of birds....