Yesterday morning I was greeted with a cool breeze from the north as I left my house and walked to my vehicle. Yes, it was a hint of things to come and for all outdoorsmen, just a taste of our favorite time of the year.
While dove season began Sept. 1, archery season is just a few days away followed in early November by the opening of rifle season. Our state legislature has been known to recess for the opening day of Texas whitetail deer season, one of the reasonable decisions coming out of Austin.
Whether you take to the field for doves, deer, quail, ducks, geese or exotic game, hunting safety should be foremost on your mind. A hunting accident can easily claim the life of a family member or friend. But, a few hunting safety tips can keep the trip of a lifetime from becoming a nightmare. We encourage everyone handling firearms and archery equipment to follow these hunting safety rules:
● Always point the muzzle in a safe direction. Do not point a firearm or bow at anything you do not intend to shoot. Control the direction of the muzzle at all times. Never rest the muzzle of a rifle or shotgun on your toe or foot. Keep your finger out of the trigger guard until the instant you are ready to fire. Always keep the safety on until ready to fire; however, the safety should never be a substitute for safe firearm handling.
● Treat every firearm or bow with the same respect you would show a loaded gun or nocked arrow. Every time you pick up a firearm, the first thing you should do is check to see if it is loaded. Be sure the chamber and magazine are empty. If you do not understand how to determine if it is loaded, do not accept the firearm until someone has safely shown you that it is unloaded. Read your instruction manual carefully before you handle new firearms or bows.
● Be absolutely certain of your target and what is in front of and beyond your target. Before you pull the trigger you must properly identify game animals. Until your target is fully visible and in good light, do not even raise your scope to see it. Use binoculars! Determine that you have a safe backstop or background before you fire.. Since you do not know what is on the other side, never take a shot at any animals on top of ridges or hillsides. Know how far bullets, arrows and pellets can travel. Never shoot at flat, hard surfaces, such as water, rocks or steel because of the high probability of ricocheting bullets.
● Unload firearms and unstring conventional bows when not in use. Leave actions open, and store sporting arms in cases when traveling to and from shooting areas. Take bolts out or break down shotguns if necessary. Store and transport firearms and ammunition separately under lock and key. Store firearms and bows in cool, dry places. Use gun or trigger locks and guards when firearms are not in use.
● Handle the firearms, arrows and ammunition carefully. A dropped round of ammunition could explode if the primer is hit. Avoid horseplay with firearms. Never climb a fence, a tree, a deer stand, a ladder on into a duck blind with a loaded firearm or bow and arrows. Never jump a ditch or cross difficult terrain with a loaded firearm or nocked arrow. Never face or look down the barrel from the muzzle end. Be sure the only ammunition you carry correctly matches the gauge or caliber you are shooting. Always carry arrows in a protected cover or quiver. Try to use the two-hand carry method whenever possible because it affords you the best muzzle control. Always carry handguns with hammers or firing pins over an empty chamber or cylinder. If you fall, be sure to disassemble the gun and check the barrel from the breech end for obstructions. Carry a field cleaning kit to remove obstructions in the barrel.
● Know your safe zone-of-fire. Your safe zone-of-fire is that area or direction in which you can safely fire a shot. It is “down range” at a shooting facility. In the field it is that mental image you draw in your mind with every step you take. Be sure you know where your companions are at all times. Never swing your gun or bow out of your safe zone-of-fire. Know the safe carry methods when there are persons to your sides, in front of, or behind you. If in doubt, never take a shot. When hunting, wear daylight fluorescent orange so you can be seen from a distance or in heavy cover.
● Control your emotions when it comes to safety. If you have just shot an animal you probably will be excited. Remember to remove the round from the chamber prior to climbing down from a deer stand or out of a duck blind. Show discipline. Rehearse in your mind what the safe actions will be. Do not allow your daydreams to replace good judgment. Show restraint and pass up shots which have the slightest chance of being unsafe.
● Wear hearing and eye protection. While shooting at the range, you must wear hearing and eye protection at all times. Firearms are loud and can create noises which are damaging to a person’s hearing. It can be a gradual loss of hearing due to outbursts of noise over many years. The damage could be immediate, especially if your ears are next to a muzzle blast. Vibrations from the blast are enough to create loss of hearing. Wear glasses to protect your eyes from escaping gases, burnt powder (especially in black powder shooting), and other debris.
● Don’t drink alcohol or take drugs before or while handling firearms or bow and arrows. Alcohol and drugs impair normal physical and mental body functions and must not be used before or while handling firearms or archery equipment. These substances affect emotions, making it easier to lose control.
Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return. If you move from one area to another advise someone. Dress for the weather, take a compass and maps to prevent getting lost, and be alert for other sources of danger such as poisonous snakes. Carry a flashlight while walking through the hunting area before or after daylight. Keep your firearm or bow clean and in top-notch operating condition.
Following these hunting safety tips will guarantee a safe and happy hunting trip. Enjoy the great outdoors. Here in Texas we are blessed with abundant game and pleasant weather in which to pursue it. Be safe and good hunting.