By Aaron Fraser Pass

Facing facts squarely, we must concede that our beloved hunting guns are inherently capable of inflicting great bodily harm and even death when used carelessly or handled incorrectly. Today mandatory hunter safety programs have significantly reduced the number of shooting and hunting accidents, making them much rarer than they were during my youth, when everybody was sort of on their own to "learn by doing."

Nevertheless, accidents still happen when people become careless or inattentive while handling firearms.

There are various short lists enumerating correct and safe firearms handling and use. The 10 Commandments of Gun Safety remain an excellent guide. However, these guidelines only work if shooters read, remember, and practice them. Following is my own little list of safe gun handling rules based mainly on what seem to be the most common lapses of sound safety principles.

  • Pay attention to what you are doing. When you have a firearm in your hands, the gun and what you are doing with it are the most important things in your immediate world. But you also have to pay careful attention to the actions and positions of other people in your immediate vicinity. This would particularly apply to other hunters in duck blinds and goose pits as well as shooters at target ranges.

  • Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. The bullet or shot charge is going to go where the muzzle is pointed. If you keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, the worst consequence of an accidental discharge is a good scare.

  • Never assume a gun is unloaded until you have personally verified that the chamber is empty. If you don't know how to check the chamber, put the gun down pointed in a safe direction and find someone who does. Point of caution! In autoloading shotguns and other semiautomatic firearms, opening and viewing the chamber can set up the next round (if present) in the magazine to be loaded into the chamber. If you are not familiar with the firearm being examined, it's possible that checking the empty chamber will inadvertently and unknowingly load a cartridge into the chamber.

  • When hunting with a loaded gun, keep you finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Waterfowling often takes place in a messy and cluttered environment. Stumbles and falls are common. Better to not have your finger in firing position until your feet are planted firmly and you are mounting the gun to your shoulder. What about the safety? Short answer, don't rely on it. Safeties are mechanical devices, and as such are subject to malfunction. Few safeties on sporting guns actually lock the striker (firing pin). Most merely block the trigger, preventing it from being pulled until the safety is disengaged. The relationship between the trigger and the sear (which releases the striker) is a delicate one. Probably most safety failures and malfunctions are the result of improper after-market gun tinkering or simple wear on the parts.

Most of us know or know of someone whose side-by-side or over/under has "doubled," meaning both barrels fired after one pull of the trigger. That likely occurred as a result of worn parts. And yes, a gun with a worn sear can discharge if dropped or simply knocked over, even with the safety on. Sadly, many have, with disastrous consequences.

Fowl Fact DOWN-RANGE DANGERS Always be aware of what lies beyond your target. For shotgunners, this means anything within the extent of the pattern spread as well as distant objects that could be hit by skipping or falling pellets.