According to the National Safety Council there are close to 1,000 reported hunting related injuries and 100 hunting fatalities every year. Relative to other activities the numbers are very low. According to recent studies there are close to 100 people killed daily from automobile accidents.
Accidents result in injuries and death in every area of life, every activity and every sport. For many, hunting is not a sport but is a means of providing food for their family. Coming home after a day in the woods empty handed may mean an empty table that night. Hunting safety is critical to ensuring hunters are safe in the woods and can continue to provide for their families. One mistake, one violation of the safety rules can however have dire consequences.
1. Assume every firearm is loaded and handle accordingly.
2. Never load your weapons and then transport by any type of vehicle for any distance. This is a violation of most states’ laws and it is dangerous. This includes four wheelers. 3. Once in the woods always keep the weapon pointed in a safe direction with the safety on. Inexperienced hunters think that walking around with the safety off allows them to take advantage of a deer or pheasant that may get flushed from the brush. First, sweeping the weapon around to take a shot is dangerous. Swinging around is common in bird hunting, much like skeet shooting where you follow the target, but normally you and other hunters have set up the area and each hunter should be positioned correctly. Having one hunter that thinks the faster shot takes home the prize is dangerous.
4. Unload your weapon when handing it off to another person for any reason and always verify a weapon is unloaded if it is handed off to you.
5. If you are alone and must cross a fence unload your weapon and place in on the side of the fence you want to be on. If in a group, unload and hand it off to others that have crossed over.
6. Never carry a loaded weapon while moving up or down from a tree stand.
7. Know your weapon’s range and know what ammunition you have loaded. A slug will travel much farther than birdshot and can pose a risk to others.
8. Keep yourself in check and pay attention to new hunters. Inexperienced hunters may act erratic when they fist spot game and may very well get so excited that they point the weapon in all directions while gesturing to you and others. New hunters also tend to shoot before they have verified downrange is clear of humans.
9. Do not run with a loaded weapon. People have fallen and have discharged their weapon causing injuries to others or even to themselves. Unless your life or someone else’s life is at risk, there is no reason to run in the woods with a loaded firearm. Hunting requires patience and running down game to get a shot is not showing any patience.
10. Make sure you have eye and ear protection. Quality ear protection will allow you to hear normal sounds while deadening loud sounds. You can still hear game and other hunters with the protection on. If nothing, else at least protect the ear closest to the weapon such as the right ear for right-handed shooters.
As you can see most of the safety, rules are common sense, and yet there are still accidents. It is difficult for non-hunters to understand how a hunter would mistake another hunter for a deer. It is not that a hunter sees a human and says there is a deer, but rather they see movement and the hunter may be camouflaged and all the shooter sees is a splash of brown or white and fires.
It is important you know what you are shooting at. If you cannot identify the target do not shoot, pretty simply and yet, you all know what happens sometimes. The mind sees what it wants to see. You expect a deer to be there and if you see movement you automatically “see” a deer there whether it is a deer or not.
Comprehensive Safety Rules
1. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction This is by far the most important safety rule when it comes to handling a firearm. You cannot accidentally injure someone if the barrel is always pointed in a safe direction. You will be asked to leave the firing range if you do not keep your weapon pointed downrange. It does not matter if the weapon is loaded or not, sweeping the range is a serious violation.
2. Always assume every weapon is loaded and treat it accordingly Far too many have stated after accidentally shooting himself or herself or someone else, that they thought the weapon was unloaded. It takes just seconds to verify it and if you always assume it is loaded and follow rule number one you will not have an accident.
3. Finger away from the trigger The only time you have your finger on the trigger is when you have sight alignment, that means you have verified your target, and know what is downrange, and you know where fellow, shooters and hunters are. Otherwise, there is no reason to have your finger on the trigger. You cannot have an accidental shooting if your finger is not on the trigger. Do not depress the trigger to test the safety or test the pressure needed to operate a double action revolver unless you are sighted on a target downrange.
4. Know where others are, and never shoot from behind anyone Before firing know what is downrange, even on a firing range an animal or human can wander on to the firing range. Always double check and this is particularly important in a hunting situation where you are with a group. Even if hunting alone, there may be other hunters near your target. Every season hunters are shot because they wandered into the sight picture as someone fired or they were mistaken for game. Accidents like this can be avoided by paying attention to your surroundings.
5. Keep the firearm unloaded when not in use First, never transport a weapon loaded in any type of vehicle and most states have laws against transporting a loaded weapon. Never hand off a weapon to someone else if it is loaded. Unload using the proper procedures and then have the person you are handing it to load the weapon. Never accept a loaded weapon and when handed one immediately verify it is unloaded. Lock the bolt or slide back and open the cylinder so everyone can see the firearm is unloaded.
6. Never let someone else load your weapon To some this may not be a hard-set rule and difficult for some to understand, but to the military and law enforcement personnel it may mean the difference between surviving and not. If someone cannot or will not load their own firearm because they do not know how or because they feel uncomfortable, that person is not ready to use a firearm. Allowing someone else to load may result in you getting the wrong ammunition in the weapon. Some firing ranges only allow one type of ammunition at the bench or firing line for this reason and others. Having the wrong ammunition can cause serious injuries to the shooter and others around them.
7. Hold position if the weapon misfires Keep the muzzle downrange if you misfire for up to 20 seconds. Then keeping it downrange, remove the magazine or eject the shells and inspect the barrel for a round that did not fire or one that jammed in the barrel. Do not attempt to leave the firing line until the problem has been resolved.
8. Always wear eye and ear protection.
9. Know the rules of whatever range you are on Do not assume the rules are all the same, each range master can have a different set of rules. While in general they are all the same, some may differ or there can be a rule you have never experienced. Learn the rules before entering the range, so you do not inadvertently make a mistake that will result in you being asked to leave.
10. Learn how to properly maintain your firearm and keep it well maintained There have been some myths on the Internet about whether it is necessary to clean your weapon after shooting or at all for that matter. This will be left up to you to decide. However, dirt and grit along with friction will prematurely wear metal down and can cause malfunctions. Bolts left to gum up will not work as well and dirt lodged in moving parts never enhances a weapons performance. If measures are not taken to keep moisture at bay you will see pitting and rust on metal surfaces of your firearm.