A Little Safety Note On The Way To Deer Camp

October 19, 2012

Since around the middle of September, I’ve seen a growing stream of pickup trucks, SUVs, and campers coming and going along the caliche road in front of my house.  In the backs of these vehicles, and on trailers, they’re hauling tree stands, building materials, feeders, and pallets of corn.  Rifle deer season is right around the corner, here in the Hill Country, and these folks are obviously gearing up, working on their leases, and sighting in their rifles.

It’s that last one that got my mind to working this morning, as I heard a couple of distant rifle shots down the canyon.  As the guns come out (I know they’re already out in much of the country), I just wanted to offer up a reminder to be safe.  Keep some basic, gun safety commandments in your mind:

  1. Treat every firearm as if it is loaded
  2. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot
  4. Always be sure of your target and what’s beyond it

There are a bunch more rules, and I’d wager most hunters are aware of them.  If not, I strongly recommend signing up for a hunter safety course or refresher. 

But knowing the safety rules and following them are different things, unfortunately, and every year a handful of hunters and gun owners learns this lesson the hard way… often with tragic consequences.  I tend to agree with some of the hunter ed instructors I know who say, “there are very few firearms accidents, but there are plenty of firearm incidents.” 

The implication is that almost every unintentional shooting is preventable if the individuals involved followed basic safety rules, and I think this is both a true and a fair statement.  Sure, sometimes there are just absolutely freak situations that defy explanation.  But in most cases, the problem comes from a gun that someone thought was unloaded, a muzzle pointed in an unsafe direction, or failure to consider what lay beyond a target.

This last consideration is the one that’s been on my mind lately, as folks begin to show up to their hunting camps and the hills echo with gunshots.  Target shooting is a lot of fun, whether it’s with your hunting rifles or a plinker.  But it’s also important to think about where you’re shooting, and where those bullets may end up.  Even if you’re going to a camp that’s been in the family for generations, remember that while the old place may not have changed, the area around you may have.  Someone may have built a home or put in livestock.  New camps may have been built on adjacent properties.  Stands and blinds may have been set in places where they never were before. 

Point is, just because your target range was safe last year, it may not be this season.  Check it out before you start slinging lead. 

Be safe everybody.


3 Responses to “A Little Safety Note On The Way To Deer Camp”

  1. Bruce Cherry on October 20th, 2012 10:50

    Aloha Phillip and everyone else:

    Let me tell you a little story about the very, very first time that I was allowed to go hunting without an adult supervisor. Noel Jones, Brent Hoover, and myself, all brand new high school freshmen, had our .22 rifles and were going out hunting on Noel’s family farm. We were walking down a dirt road on our way to the fields, standing abreast, when Noel stopped for a moment to do something with his rifle. I’m not sure what he was doing and Brent and I kept walking. I heard a “bang” and Brent dropped to the ground and began rolling around and moaning loudly. I turned and saw Noel, shocked expression on his face, holding his rifle.

    “It just went off!” he cried. “I didn’t even touch the trigger!”

    I turned my attention to Brent. He was on his back so I rolled him over and checked his backside for blood. Remember, I was just barely 14 and had never seen a gunshot before. I couldn’t find anything and then I saw a very small drop of bluish-red blood at the top of his blue jeans pocket. Just a tiny drop.

    “Take it easy, Brent,” I reassured him. “It’s just a graze.”

    Brent didn’t respond at all. He began moaning and wriggling and tried to crawl away from me. I grabbed him and yanked his pants down several inches. There was a very small hole in his back on his right side just below the belt line. It looked like somebody had poked him with a pencil. I assumed that a small hole and very little blood meant the wound was no big deal.

    I turned him over on his back and again tried to reassure him. He quit moaning and he just stared up at the sky and I could tell he was slipping away. I noticed a bulge beneath his shirt, on his right abdomen about even with his belly button. I pulled up his shirt and it looked like a bubble of bubblegum coming out a hole in his skin. I shoved it back into his stomach but even more popped out. This had quickly elevated to a situation far above my pay grade so I had Noel run back for help. He and his dad appeared in a pickup truck, helped me load Brent into the bed, and we sped off for the hospital, me cradling Brent’s head in my lap and trying to keep him awake. He was unconscious by the time we got to the hospital.

    Long story short, the .22 lead slug entered at a downward angle at the top of his pocket, richocheted off a bone and angled upward and out thru his right abdomen, opening a hole that his intestines used to exit his body. Surgery corrected everything but Brent had to wear a plastic bag containing his wounded intestine for months.

    Do you think that made a lasting impression on a 14 year old on his first real hunt? Since then, if I’m hunting with someone else, which is the exception to the rule, if they show the slightest unsafe behavior, that’s it. I’ll politely excuse myself, hunt solo, and then never, ever hunt with them again.

    That even took place almost exactly 50 years ago to the day, but i can still remember it well. And that was back in the days of low velocity .22’s, the caliber that everyone carried. Can you imagine what the outcome would have been if a modern .223 or 7.62 had been involved?

    A second event occurred about 3 years later. I was duck hunting with a high school buddy and we were hunkered down in our blind. He pulled out a metal flask and took a long haul. I didn’t even know what he was drinking. I was naive in the ways of the world and assumed it was water or Coke. As the hunt went on, he drank about a pint of booze and could hardly stand up. I called it a day and we began walking back to my 53 Ford station wagon. My friend was wobbling and weaving and stumbling and when I turned to help him along, his 12 gauge was pointing at the ground between my legs.


    I was lying on my back and didn’t have the vaguest idea who I was or what was going on. I just lay there in shock. I couldn’t see and it felt like I had been shot in the eyes.

    Another long story short, the impact had hit the ground right between my feet [which were about 12 inches apart, thank God] and had blown debris up into my knees, wedding tackle, stomach, chest, and face. I was a bloody mess. I was in total shock, not having any idea what had happened. My buddy sobered up immediately and began cleaning me off. I came around finally and looked like I had been shotgun shot in the upper body. When I got home, my story of falling off a ledge and sliding downhill on my face seemed credible, so there were no repercussions, but I could hardly move for 2 or 3 weeks, and during that entire time, I was picking out pieces of rock and dirt and even a few pellets that had bounced back up and struck me. It looked like I had a severed case of acne from knees to forehead. Everything festered and oozed and it was awful.

    Needless to say, that was our last hunt together.

    You can’t begin to understand the amount of force that a 12 gauge has at a range of 4 feet. It’s like a grenade going off in your face.

    The use of firearms is an inherently dangerous activity. Out in the field, where there is no Range Officer to oversee every little move, the danger is ratcheted up several notches. In heavy cover, another few notches. And where the participants are cammied-up and hunkered down, a few more notches. Add booze or drugs, and the danger level is off the chart.

    Be careful out there.


  2. Phillip on October 23rd, 2012 07:11

    Harsh lessons, Bruce, but I expect they’ve stuck with you. I had a couple of close calls (one very, very close), and largely feel the same way. I’m willing to help a new hunter, but I tend to get a little anal about things like muzzle control and touching the trigger. Some people have told me I’m a little over-the-top, but those people have generally never had occasion to see first hand how quickly one little lapse can turn to disaster. The thing is, it’s not always the criminally negligent stupidity that does it either… sometimes it’s just a combination of things, like a hot chamber and a stump in the trail, or a lapse in muzzle control and a gun malfunction.

    All that said…

    Firearms are inherently dangerous, and the fact that unintentional shootings are so rare among hunters says a lot for the general level of gun safety and respect for the tool. But we have to stay that way, and continue to pass the message among the community.

    Thanks for sharing the stories.

  3. Jean on October 20th, 2012 20:52

    First. Bruce YOWZA!!! Those are awful examples of the Why of responsible gun handling.

    What I was going add is Mr. Jeff Cooper”s version of Rule 2:

    Never let the muzzle cover anything you are unwilling to destroy.