Any long-time hunter or gun owner has an inherent obligation to pass on his knowledge to an upcoming hunter or firearm enthusiast — whether they are a young person such as a son, daughter, grandchild, or neighborhood acquaintance or perhaps an adult who has become interested in hunting or gun ownership. It is critical to start them out right. Suppose you are an experienced licensed hunter or are an active participant in any of the numerous shooting venues such as skeet, trap, or sporting clays or one or more of the various pistol or rifle competitions. In that case, you are in a unique position to mentor a newly interested person in the safe handling of firearms and share hunting safety tips that you have learned over the years.
Hunting and firearm safety is something that must be instilled from the beginning and then carried through throughout the years that lie ahead. There are four universal rules of gun safety that should be taught at the very beginning of a teaching experience and then stressed throughout the entire process. These four rules are words to live by for anyone entering the realm of hunting or gun ownership.
Treat any firearm as if it is loaded! This rule, if not observed, is probably the most frequently responsible for accidents involving firearms. Treating every firearm as if it is loaded develops a mindset that is a safeguard against complacency, ensuring that no matter what the situation, the firearm is always handled with the utmost caution.
Practice muzzle control! In other words, NEVER aim or ALLOW the muzzle to be pointed at anything you are not willing to kill or destroy! This rule emphasizes the importance of just how deadly any firearm can be. One must be constantly aware of the firearm’s direction and consciously direct it away from people, animals, or any valuable property. Muzzle control is vital in all situations, whether cleaning your gun, at the range, or while it is being transported.
Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger Until Ready to Fire! This means your trigger finger remains off and AWAY FROM the trigger until you are ready to fire. By following this rule, you greatly reduce the risk of accidental discharge. Involuntary trigger pull can sometimes occur when someone is startled or loses their balance. When you keep your trigger finger OUTSIDE the trigger guard, you greatly reduce the risk of unintentional shooting.
Always Be Aware of Your Target and the Area Around and Beyond It! This rule applies even if you are at an established shooting facility. Still, it is even more applicable when you are in a hunting situation or are in a self-defense situation. If hunting, POSITIVELY identify the animal or bird you are about to shoot – don’t be “satisfied” when seeing just part of your target, and make sure the area around and beyond the target is clear of any danger before you take the shot.
These four universal rules of safe gun handling are critical to enjoying a lifetime of accident-free shooting and hunting. All four need to be permanently engrained in the mind and memory of someone who will be handling a firearm of any kind. All firearms are deadly, and an accidental discharge can have catastrophic results.
I am sorry to say that over my lifetime, I have personally witnessed when each and every one of these four rules have been broken by more than one individual. Fortunately, none of the occurrences resulted in injury to a person or animal or in any property damage. But each time, it was a stark reminder of how critically important it is to always keep in mind these four rules and, if necessary, remind others who may be guilty of breaking one or more of them.
Next time, let’s look at some safety tips that can apply to various hunting situations.