Gun Safety: The First Concern
Gun safety is paramount in waterfowl hunting, and careless gun handling and shooting are two ever present concerns in this sport. When ducks or geese are dropping into decoys and the firing starts, pandemonium reigns. A lapse in safety can lead to permanent, devastating consequences.
Jim Ronquest came within an inch—literally—of becoming a victim while duck hunting in Arkansas in the mid-1990s. Ronquest runs the RNT Guide Service out of Holly Grove. On this particular morning, he was leading a party on a hunt out of a "wet blind" in a dead timber brake. The blind was just a bench in the water with a 2x4 frame and some brush surrounding it.
Ronquest narrates, "One of my customers that morning wanted to take his own retriever, but the dog needed help, so I was out of the blind picking up birds and chasing down cripples. "I was wading back to the blind, almost to the left corner, when somebody in the blind said, 'Don't move.' I froze where I was, and in a few seconds, ducks started landing behind me, straight off the corner of the blind.
"The next thing I remember was seeing a shotgun barrel about five feet away, pointing in my direction. I yelled 'Don't shoot!' just about the time the gun went off. The first shot spun my cap off. I could feel the heat and pressure from the blast on my face. I thought I was shot. I instinctively threw my hands up over my ears. The hunter shot two more times as the ducks flared out. He never knew I was there."
Ronquest stood frozen in place by the incident. A doctor in the party rushed out to examine him and found no wounds. When the traumatized guide retrieved his cap from the water, the bill was frayed from shot.
Today, Ronquest is "very adamant" about gun safety among his hunters. "Before we start hunting, we have a discussion about me calling all the shots. I tell them to keep their safeties on until they hear me say shoot and they're raising their guns to their shoulders. And I brief them to be aware of their swing area and to shoot only what's directly in front of them. I do this for seasoned hunters as well as novices. Everybody needs to be constantly aware of gun safety."