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Cook: Gun safety should be top priority for hunters

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 10:23 a.m. CDT

DULUTH, Minn. (MCT) — In the pitch black of a November morning, three of us were getting ready to go deer hunting. I was still inside when I heard the unmistakable sound of a rifle report just outside the house.

One of the other hunters had accidentally discharged a rifle while loading up. Nobody was injured, but I had no idea where the bullet went.

Sobering.

Many of us have heard such stories. Some of us have been part of similar stories. Most of us who hunt, I would venture, have been in uncomfortable situations from time to time.

Firearms safety classes have greatly reduced the number of hunting accidents and fatalities. But it never hurts to fine-tune our safety practices in the field.

Through the years, my hunting partners and I have become safer hunters, I think. We’ve talked about safe gun handling, and we communicate better in the field. And I’ve hunted with groups that put safety first.

Here are some tips from those experiences:

I always like it, especially when hunting with people I may not know well, when someone in the group offers a few basic safety tenets before the group goes afield. I’ve seen it in deer camps and on bird hunts. It doesn’t take much, just a quick reminder about what kind of shots are OK and what are not. It tells everyone that safety is the most important aspect of the hunt.

When I’m upland game hunting in the proximity of others, I continuously ask myself, “If a bird got up right now, could I safely shoot?” If I don’t know exactly where my hunting partners are, the answer is “no.”

My hunting partners and I check in with each other often. If one of us momentarily loses sight of the other, one of us will call out. The other will answer. Then we all know where we are, and we can continue the hunt. This is especially important in the grouse woods, where hunters momentarily lose sight of each other in the trees.

Sometimes, especially while hunting pheasants, one of us might veer away from the group to pursue a bird. Perhaps the others will go on. When one of us rejoins the group later, we always announce our presence with a wave or a shout, making sure our partners acknowledge us.

One of the highest-risk situations is when hunters are at their vehicle, preparing to hunt. Guns are being uncased and loaded. Dogs are being released from the pickup or their travel kennels. In short, a lot is happening. Training dogs to stay until released is one way to reduce the chance of an accident. In our group, we try to uncase guns out of the truck and facing away from other hunters, then return the cases to the vehicle before loading up.

Another higher-risk situation is when hunters gather in the field at the conclusion of a hunt to plan the next move. With several hunters milling in a small area, muzzle control is of paramount importance. If you rest your gun on your shoulder, then pivot to respond to something, your muzzle may point at another hunter. In those situations, we typically unload and make sure our guns are never swung or pointed at others.

If you feel someone has taken an unsafe shot in a hunting situation, speak up. It’s an awkward thing to do, but for the continued safety of the group, someone needs to say something.

Get out there. Have fun. Take care of each other. Come home.

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