Clayton: Never too early to teach gun safety
At its basal level, a shotgun or rifle is a tool designed to do one thing; push a bullet or charge of shot down its barrel. That’s it! Those of us that love shooting and hunting with firearms have all sorts of specialized uses for our "tools" and we have learned to adept them to meet our special needs. But unlike many tools, firearms have the ability to protect us from harm or to aid in putting a venison steak on our plate or possibly provide us with a big skillet of fried quail and gravy.
We cherish our firearms and become attached to them in ways that we would never feel about a chain saw or hammer, which are also "tools." A firearm we have used for many years takes on a life of its own and we look at it almost as we would a prized hunting dog. When we pick it up for a cleaning and put a light coat of oil on the barrel or stock, our mind is flooded with past memories; that brace of bull sprigs we took with our old English made over and under or possibly that 300-yard shot with our trusty .270 on whitetail that enabled us to put that big whitetail mount on the wall.
But our firearms differ greatly from other tools in one respect, they have the ability to maim or kill, which places a great responsibility on their owners. The firearms will only accomplish that one deed it was designed to do of pushing bullets or shot out its muzzle. Where that bullet or shot goes and what it does is the sole responsibility of the person that pulls the trigger. This brings us to the topic of this column: gun safety.
Some of us that have been shooting all our lives can barely remember when our gun safety training began. I grew up in rural northeast Texas and I never remember "official" lessons given by my hunting mentors. Back in the day, youngsters like me that grew up shooting and hunting just sort of absorbed the basics of gun safety by first following our mentors behind pointers and learning how to properly handle a shotgun when a covey of quail exploded underfoot.
I remember tagging along on quail hunts with my brother-in-law for a couple years before I was allowed to take my little Mossberg .410. On those first few hunts, I was the only one doing the shooting, for safety reasons. I can to this day remember that single quail flushing in front of the dog and then flying overhead and then behind us. I pointed the muzzle toward the sky so that I would not be pointing it in the direction of my "teacher" and swung around and shot at the bird, I didn’t kill it but remember being bragged on for how well I had learned to safely handle my shotgun at crunch times when adrenaline was high and birds were in the air.
Robert Raurk in his writings about the boy and old man penned a passage that pretty well sums up gun safety. It went something like this, “What you got in your hands is a dangerous weapon. It will kill you or kill me or kill a dog. You always got to remember that when the gun is loaded it makes a potential killer out of the man that is handling it. Don’t you ever forget this.”
Safety measures with a rifle or shotgun are basically the same in the immediate area of the shooter. One needs to learn to positively identify his or her target, make sure there is a clear line of sight to that target and only place their finger on the trigger when they are about ready to shoot. If shooting around companions, always indicate to them you are about to shoot.
Shooting a rifle that sends its projectile a great distance also requires thinking about not only the immediate area but where that bullet might go. That is why it’s never a good idea to shoot at a target/animal that is atop a rise or hill. You have no idea if livestock or a human is standing behind your intended target in the bullet’s path.
I am a compulsive "safety checker." Regardless of whether I am hunting upland game with a shotgun or walking through the deer woods with a rifle slung over my shoulder, I find myself occasionally stopping and fingering the safety to insure it is in the correct safe position. Looking back through the years, I remember occasionally discovering the safety had somehow mysteriously moved to the fire position. I bet if you think back, you might remember a time or two when this happened to you.
Being a safety checker is a very good thing. Keeping that muzzle always pointed in a safe direction is a very important rule. I remember when my oldest son was 11 years old and I considered him ready for his first dove hunt. We were setting on the side of a pond dam late in the afternoon, and he was positioned a few feet below me with his little 20-gauge, single-shot shotgun. He had been drilled about gun safety for several years and was doing everything he had been taught and then I was a dove whistling by from behind us. I instructed him to "get ready, here comes one!"
He mounted the shotgun but by the time he got on the bird, it was out of range. He returned his shotgun to its safe position, muzzle pointing across the pond. And then a couple of minutes later BOOM! When the bird was overhead, he had pulled the hammer back and cocked the single shot and in his excitement, forgot to ease the hammer back down to the safe position.
After years of gun safety training from a very young age, he was pretty upset about the mistake he had made. I comforted him by explaining that I should have also checked the gun’s hammer to make sure it would not fire. But he learned a couple of very valuable lesson on that pond dam more than 30 years ago. One was that keeping a firearm’s muzzle pointed in a safe direction really can help avoid serious mishaps and the other is that when adrenaline is pumping, it’s sometime hard to remember the basics.
Gun safety is not a trait that we are born with, but rather a series of habits that we must learn and then put to practice whether on the rifle range of skeet field or in actual hunting situations. We can never take the responsibility of shooting a firearm lightly, and this goes for a lifelong shooter/hunter or someone learning the basics of keeping others and himself safe.
Once that shot charge or bullet is on its way, it is totally out of the control of the one that pulled the trigger. It’s our responsibility as shooters, both newcomers and veterans alike, to keep gun safety in mind at all times. It’s far better to pass up a shot at game that might seem a bit "iffy" than to pull the trigger and make a mistake that has the potential to severely alter our lives or, worse yet, end the life of a companion. Gun safety is just that serious.
Email outdoors writer Luke Clayton via his website www.catfishradio.org