Every year, millions of people head into the woods for hunting season between Missouri and other parts of the United States. As these people seek wild game, they carry with them, sometimes precariously, loaded weapons. Through woods both thick and thin, they move about, taking steps to stay safe as they traverse treacherous terrain. During this process, good intentions are simply not enough, however, and it is up to each individual hunter to learn and practice safe firearms handling, brushing up annually or more often as needed.
Photo: CBS Local
When it comes to handling a loaded gun of any kind, there are three basic rules set forth by the NRA that everyone should know. These include:
1. Always keep guns pointed in a safe direction. This means not pointing them at roadways, other people, etc.
2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Trigger discipline is essential when it comes to preventing accidental discharges.
3. Keep all guns unloaded until it is time for use. Rather than hike over rugged ground where you might slip and fall, discharging a gun, don't load it until you reach your designated hunting location. In many areas, traveling with a loaded gun is illegal, so be sure to brush up on such laws, especially where public versus private land is concerned as well as out of state travel is concerned. Whether it is in trucks, cars, boats, or ATVs, it is simply safer to unload during periods of travel even if the law allows otherwise as the movement of a vehicle can be a recipe for disaster when combined with a loaded gun. Find out more about Missouri laws here.
When on foot and not engaged in active stalking, sling your gun with the barrel pointed up and safety mechanism engaged. Keep handguns in retention holsters so they cannot fall out as you traverse harsh terrain. If you must carry something by hand, point it at the sky with your finger off the trigger.
Although some might argue that pointing it at the ground is better, just imagine the person who might be walking in front of you and how much damage a shot to the legs can cause them. Plus, if your muzzle is pointed at the ground and you fall, now you have a muzzle dangerously packed full of dirt. Bottom line, whether you are a point at the sky person, or a point at the ground advocate, keep that muzzle in a safe direction at all times.
After arriving at your shooting house and setting up inside, continue to be mindful of your actions; never bend over or step in front of a loaded gun being used by a fellow hunter and raise/lower unloaded guns to/from tree stands with rope.
Photo: NRA Blog
It may seem like a simple or obvious point, but always make sure that all members of your hunting party know how to load and unload safety. This means working together as a group to ensure things are done in a precise manner to keep everyone safe. Remember that everyone wants to go home safely at the end of the hunt via normal transportation (not an ambulance!) and free of injury.
Even if you are tired at the end of a long day, make it a point to unload before you go. Designate someone to remind members of your party and check all weapons if need be. It only takes a minute, and it will help you not only be safe on your current hunt, but also future hunts as well.
Last but not least, be aware of the area in which you are hunting. Bullets have an amazing capacity to travel and it is possible they can go on to cross roadways or puncture houses. In order to guarantee not only your safety but that of residents in the area, do not hunt near dwellings. Be certain as well that what you are shooting at is an actual prey animal as opposed to mere motion that could be another person approaching on foot.
Remember, all the above are basic tips and are not a substitute for official hunters ed training. To find a list of local and web-based Missouri Hunters Education classes, click here.
Safety in the woods during hunting season is best for all involved to ensure everyone makes it back home in one piece.
Do you have any tried and true practices or guidelines you would like to share? Let us know in the comments.