Jim Dawson worries most about three types of people: the newbie, the one with buck fever and the veteran hunter.
The retired hunter safety instructor has seen all three and knows those are often where mistakes with firearms – and subsequent injuries – occur most.
“You get nervous. People new to firearms, no matter what age, get nervous and fumble and don’t handle firearms well,” he said.
It doesn’t mean someone new to guns shouldn’t use them, but it does mean they need to be extra aware of the possibility for errors.
“Another concern is a hunter in the heat of the moment,” he said. “Whether it’s buck fever or a pheasant explodes out of the grass, people lose track of themselves.”
Lastly: “… is the longtime hunter or shooter who has become cavalier,” he said.
Accidental firearm injuries to hunters are relatively rare – there are usually fewer than about 10 a year in Wyoming that result in injury or death – but Dawson said the concerns are still real.
So for those hunters this year who are new to the sport or might need a quick refresher, Dawson offered up his quick and dirty safety tips for handling firearms.
First, the National Rifle Association’s three basic rules:
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Treat every gun as if it’s loaded.
Never point your firearm in a direction you don’t intend to shoot.
Keep your finger off the trigger.
“Those are things that can’t be overly emphasized,” Dawson said. “If a firearm is treated as it’s loaded, even if it’s an accidental discharge it’s going in a safe direction.”
Beyond those basics, he also offered more specific rules he’s garnered from years of teaching firearm safety:
Take shells out of your shotgun before you get in your vehicle or cross a fence. “There’s no legal requirement to take shells out,” he said, but national statistics show most accidents happen within a 10-yard radius of vehicles and fences.
Never lean a gun against a vehicle or fence. “Antelope hunters you will see get out of the vehicle and getting organized, they will lean their rifle against the vehicle, whether to tie a shoe or button up, then the rifle slides and discharges.”
Don’t hunt with a live round in the chamber. “It’s much safer with the action closed on an empty chamber and you see something you want to stalk or harvest, then you chamber a round, and if you decide not to harvest it you unchamber the round and proceed to hunting again.”
Clearly identify your target and beyond your target before you shoot. “It’s easy to have tunnel vision.”