January 9, 2017
Well, here’s something I didn’t expect to be doing right now. I didn’t expect to be updating the blog, and I certainly didn’t expect to be writing about waterfowl hunting safety. But here I am…
It struck me though, as I just read another piece about duck hunters dying on the water. Three hunters and a dog drowned out on Corpus Christi Bay, during a small craft advisory. This is one of those things that’s worth writing about.
Just a week ago, I was horrified to read about a young father and his 5 year-old son, drowning during a hunt in Texas. It was the child’s first hunt, and any of us who are hunters can probably imagine how excited both father and son were for this occasion. And then, for it to turn as it did… I mean, how do you even wrap your head around a tragedy like that?
There aren’t a lot of details about this, except the father and son were found in the water, near their capsized boat. Their dog had made the shore, and apparently led the searchers back to the bodies. Neither father nor son was wearing a life jacket when the bodies were recovered.
I have a morbid habit of trying to put myself into the minds of people in those situations, trying to imagine what they went through as it was happening. It’s painful, especially in a situation where you know it took some time to play out. The boat capsizes, and dumps father and son into the frigid water. There’s the terror and shock of the actual event, of course. For the child, there must have been a terrible wonder that, suddenly, the world is not safely in his dad’s control. And then, for the father, the realization that he has put his child in that situation. For all the good intentions, he knows this is his fault. I can’t help wondering if dad had a final, remorseful realization that he did not make the youngster wear a life jacket… or that he wasn’t wearing one himself so he could save the child.
Of course, I can’t know any of this. Maybe, mercifully, both the victims were instantly knocked unconscious and had no time for terror or self-recrimination. I can only project from my own experience. And I know that I almost never wear a life preserver when I’m duck hunting. This could be me.
A life jacket, by the way, isn’t a guaranteed survival tool. Waterfowl season takes place in the winter, when water and air temperatures are dangerously low. Hypothermia and cold water shock are responsible for many deaths every year, even for hunters and fishermen who are wearing proper flotation gear. In harsh conditions, the only thing a life jacket will do is make it easier for the recovery team to find your body.
But the fact is, a person weighted down with heavy clothing, ammunition, calls, and whatever else doesn’t stand much chance of surviving long enough to become hypothermic if he’s dumped in deep water. I’ve gone overboard in hip boots and in waders, and I can speak first hand to what happens when they fill with water… and the fact that I’m still speaking at all speaks to how lucky I have been. I can give some credit to self-rescue techniques I learned as a child (thanks, Boy Scouts of America!), but truthfully, there’s an awful lot of luck involved in my continued existence.
And still, knowing this, I almost never wear a personal flotation device… even in winter, when loaded down with gear, hunting frigid, rough water. What the hell is wrong with me?
That’s an open question, I guess, and there are probably lots of viable answers. But let’s not go there.
It used to be that flotation devices simply weren’t convenient to wear with hunting gear. Life jackets and vests were bulky, immobilizing, and often, orange. None of these things made for better duck hunting. They were uncomfortable. They made it hard to shoot or maneuver in the boat or blind. And, unless they were well camouflaged, they spooked birds. It’s no wonder that some of us who hunted “back in the day” chose to forego the insurance of a PFD. (I do recall a coat I once owned, called the “Float Coat” or some such, made by Stearns, that had built in flotation. It was uncomfortably bulky, but it seemed to work well, was camo, and waterproof. I wore that thing out, and haven’t seen one like it since.) I’ll also add that nobody made us wear them, when we were younger. None of the adults I learned to hunt from wore them, and they never pushed me to the habit either.
These days, though, there are all sorts of options available for the safety-conscious sportsman. Many of them are tiny and unobtrusive until you need them. Some have quick-inflation with CO2 cartridges that can be manually, or even automatically triggered. You can slip one on with a belt, or a low-profile harness that goes right over your heavy coat. Of course, some of these can be pretty pricey, but considering what most of us already spend on waterfowling gear, is that really a valid deterrent?
So, here’s where this leads…
First of all (and this isn’t new for me), any time you’ve got a kid in the boat, that kid should be wearing a PFD. This is actually law in some states, and I feel like it should be law everywhere. Kids don’t always make the best decisions for themselves, and they’re even worse when their models (grown-ups) don’t practice what we preach. The kid gets a life jacket or vest, or the kid stays ashore.
But what about us “models of appropriate behavior”?
I expect that this is not unique to me, but there’s probably a subconscious, stubborn, macho reason to resist wearing a PFD. It’s past time for me to get over that. I am not going to become a PFD evangelist or anything, but I do think wearing flotation gear on the water is something more of us should really be considering… especially when the weather and water are cold and rough. With that in mind, while I’m not willing to make this some sort of 2017 resolution, I am going to make the extra effort to use my gear (stuff I already have, by the way) more consistently… especially when I’m out on deeper water, such as the river or waterway. Want to join me?
February 23, 2016
I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that, when it comes to public relations, the firearms industry and lobby has sometimes been its own worst enemy. While organizations like the NRA have done a reasonably good job at recruiting a strong membership of gun owners, they’ve done so with fairly polarizing tactics and a bit of all-or-nothing rhetoric that has turned away many gun owners, not to mention alienating folks who don’t own, and don’t like firearms. (I say this, by the way, as a fully-paid Life NRA member.)
The truth is, outside of the “faithful”, most people have formed a lot of ideas about what the firearms industry is about… and to many of those people, it’s not a pretty picture. A common perception is that the firearms industry is focused only on getting as many guns into the hands of as many people as possible, and to hell with any negative consequences. So, for example, when a child gets his hands on a gun and accidentally shoots someone, a lot of folks want to lay blame for the problem at the feet of the firearms industry because, “all they care about is selling guns.”
That’s a shame, because it’s not an accurate assessment.
Despite the NRA’s prevalent place in the public eye (and public opinion), it’s fair to say that the NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) is the real face of the firearms industry in the U.S. As the trade association of the U.S. firearms industry, with the stated goal of promoting, preserving, and protecting hunting and the shooting sports, the NSSF speaks for most gun and ammo makers, and holds an influential position when it comes to driving policy and public relations for its members. In that role, the organization has done a number of things that deserve the spotlight… but due to the hyper-politicized nature of the topic, those programs have remained relatively obscure.
One of those programs is Project ChildSafe. I’ve written about, or mentioned, the project several times over the years (such as here, here, and here), but I feel like I need to keep pushing what they’re doing.
Most people I’ve spoken to, including many hunters and gun owners, have no idea what Project ChildSafe is about. The handful who have heard of it think it’s a program to give out gun locks… which is accurate enough in a small way. But that’s not all.
Here’s what the organization says about itself:
Project ChildSafe is a real solution to making our communities safer. More than 15,000 law enforcement agencies have partnered with the program to distribute more than 36 million firearms safety kits to gun owners in all 50 states and the five U.S. territories. Through vital partnerships with elected officials, community leaders, state agencies, businesses, the firearms industry and other stakeholders, Project ChildSafe has helped raise awareness about the safe and responsible ownership of firearms and the importance of securely storing firearms to help reduce accidents and access by unauthorized individuals.
In other words, what Project ChildSafe is about is safe storage, which can include gun locks, but also revolves around education and information.
I had the chance a week or so ago to chat with Bill Brassard, NSSF Director of Communications, and talk to him about the project. I hoped to get a little better understanding of Project ChildSafe, and what might help get the message out to more people.
One of the first points Brassard made is that the project relies on its partnerships with communities and local law enforcement to promote the message. “Our goal is to have community partners,” he told me.
The way this works is, the NSSF provides media kits, information, and gun locks to community organizers (usually law enforcement). The partners then manage and host gun safety events, using the materials the NSSF provided. The idea is for these partners to manage communication with local media outlets to publicize their local events. As more agencies and communities learn about the program, they can engage with NSSF to host their own events.
The challenge, he explained, is that in many cases communities wait until something happens before taking any action. Not that it’s ever too late to get the message about safe firearm storage, but the idea is to prevent shooting incidents before they happen.
The other challenge to this reactive scenario, of course, is that the story becomes about the guns and the tragedy. As Brassard pointed out in our conversation, the media (particularly the major media outlets) tend to focus on the politics of guns. To an increasingly cynical public, the NSSF coming in after the tragedy with a safe storage program seems almost disingenuous. The actual message is lost in the uproar.
What is that message?
I asked Brassard to nail it down for me.
“Secure storage is the number one way to prevent firearms deaths,” he said. “There is a safe storage solution for every circumstance, and every budget. There is no excuse for leaving a loaded firearm laying around.”
It is absolutely true, as he pointed out, that unintentional shootings have declined steadily over the years, largely as a result of improved education (hunter safety, firearms handling, etc.) and the increased accessibility of safety equipment such as locks, storage boxes, and safes. Statistics show pretty clearly that safety campaigns have been quietly succeeding, even if most people have not noticed.
But statistics don’t mean squat when it happens to you or someone you care about. This is why the message of Project ChildSafe is still important. “Own it? Respect it. Secure it.”
If you’ve bought a new gun from Winchester, Browning, Savage, or several others, you have probably seen that little badge inside the box… right there, in the package beside the cable lock. It’s a great reminder, but of course it only reaches the folks who just bought a gun.
I think, as a tagline, that’s OK. But personally, I’m more in line with Mr. Brassard’s words. “No excuse.”
There’s no excuse not to secure your guns. These days, with affordable biometric hand safes, a lock in every gun box, and even the modicum of common sense, I have a hard time believing anyone who claims they “couldn’t” lock their gun away. You could. You just chose not to.
You can’t teach a kid not to pick up a gun. You can teach a kid that it’s “bad” to play with guns, but no amount of teaching can overcome the juvenile monkey-brain. If you listen to interviews of the parents of kids who have shot themselves, or shot other kids, almost all of them “thought” their kid “knew better.” Kids do stupid things because their minds aren’t fully developed. They don’t really comprehend permanence. They don’t think Mom or Dad would leave a gun laying around if it were really that dangerous. It’s just a second… and that’s all it takes.
And it’s not just kids. That gun you keep by the bed for “security” isn’t very secure while you’re at work. The shotgun in the closet… just keeping it out of sight doesn’t keep it out of reach. This is how guns make it to the streets and into the hands of criminals.
Look, if you have a carry gun (and a legal right to carry it), then carry it. Don’t leave it laying in a place where someone can walk off with it. If you don’t want to pack it, then store it. Lock it up. Do us all a favor. Do yourself a favor.
There’s no excuse not to.
Learn more about Project ChildSafe on their website at http://www.projectchildsafe.org.
March 27, 2015
There have been times when I’ve been critical of the NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation), but one thing that organization does that I think is absolutely invaluable and positive is their Project ChildSafe program. It’s designed as an outreach project to gun owners, as well as folks who don’t own guns, to provide firearms safety resources and education with a focus on youngsters. Project ChildSafe is good, solid information without any overarching political propaganda. The only agenda is to keep the kids safe, and to promote responsible firearms use and storage.
Along with resources available online, such as guides and printable documents, the Project has also released several well-produced videos. The most recent one just came out, and it’s all about talking to your kids about guns. While I couldn’t get past the parallels to sex education or drug awareness videos (it uses a similar, simplistic model), it does present some pretty good talking points. I think too many of us gun owners take these things for granted, and the video is a good reminder that kids need to be reminded. Keep the conversation going, even if you think your youngster already knows it all. Even if you’re just repeating yourself, the fact that you take the time to do so lets the kids know that you take it seriously and that you think it’s pretty important.
Anyway, check the video out, and if you’re interested, have a look at the Project ChildSafe page to find more videos and resources. And spread the word…
March 3, 2015
I’m taking the easy way out today, and I’m just going to link you to Hank Shaw’s blog. It’s not because I’m lazy, even though I am, but because what Hank has written here is really good and important stuff.
I know, I tend to pooh-pooh concerns about the risk of catching various diseases from wild game because the truth is, odds are pretty low that we’ll ever be exposed, and a bit lower that we’ll ever actually be infected. I don’t wear gloves when I’m processing, and I usually like my meat cooked red and juicy. Still, like any other safety issue, I’m not going to stand here and tell you there’s no risk at all. There’s always a chance. If you roll the dice, you should at least know the stakes.
In this piece, Hank lays out the stakes pretty clearly in regards to Trichinosis, and he does it with references to real research (not anecdotal evidence or hearsay). If you hunt and eat much wild game, this is good reading. If you hunt and eat bear, mountain lion, or wild pigs, it’s not just a good read, but an absolute must-read (unless you’ve already done your own, thorough research). So check it out.
February 26, 2015
I have a confession to make.
It’s not earthshattering, nor is it necessarily incriminating, but here it is… I almost never wear protective eyewear when I’m shooting.
I know. Shudders, right? Oh, wait, what’s that? Neither do you?
In my experience (which is certainly not global, but it isn’t exactly “limited”), most folks don’t bother with eye protection when they’re shooting, or hunting. I don’t believe most of us consider that, when we’re sighting down the barrel of a gun, we’re actually holding a potential fragmentation grenade. I just don’t think any of us see things that way, especially if we’ve never actually witnessed a catastrophic firearm failure. We all trust in the reliability and design of our guns, and we know that it’s extremely rare for a firearm to blow up… or most of us probably wouldn’t be out there shooting in the first place.
Of course, the more realistic risks are much smaller. It’s easy to take for granted the powerful process required to drive a projectile downrange, but if you stop for a second and consider all the things that are happening in and around that reaction, eye protection begins to make more sense. Besides the bullet or shot that go downrange, there are any number of small particles flying off in different directions… including everything from brass and copper shavings, to particles of dirt and dust. Sometimes, those particles are moving pretty fast. While I’ve been fortunate enough not to sustain any real injury, I’ve certainly had this stuff come back and hit my eyes. But, hey, no harm, no foul, right? So I stubbornly continue to shoot without eye protection.
The exception, of course, is at monitored shooting ranges where protective equipment isn’t just good safety practice… it’s a liability issue. Thus, it’s a rule.
When I shot at the range back in CA, this was the case. But, as strictly enforced as most of the rules were at that range, no one ever really bothered to check your eyewear for quality or suitability. I usually showed up with my old Ray Ban Aviators, glass lenses and all. These were definitely not safety glasses, and while they probably stopped any blown debris that came directly at me, they offered no protection from the sides. But I liked them because, unlike a lot of other tinted glasses, they did not distort my vision.
Have you ever tried to play baseball with inexpensive, polarized sunglasses (for that matter, even some expensive glasses)? Sure, if someone throws the ball to you, you can reach out and catch it. But try fielding a high, fly ball. How’s that depth perception work out for you? I still remember the day I sort of had this epiphany… and shortly afterward realized that my skeet shooting also seemed to suffer whenever I wore these glasses. With a little practice, you will usually adapt to the distortion, but I never liked the idea that I had to change my habits… especially when I could just take the glasses off and everything is normal.
I also hate having the glasses between my eye and the scope when I’m shooting the rifle. It feels awkward, and it throws off my eye relief. Even at that range in CA, when I got ready to sight through the scope, I’d surreptitiously slip my glasses off. If the Range Master or the safety monitors ever saw me, they never said anything.
And then there are those cheap safety glasses you can pick up for eight or nine bucks at the range, or for $2.98 (or something like that) at WalMart. Yeah, you’ve seen them. You’ve probably used them. And they’re great for a little while, until the first time you go to wipe the sweat or dust off of them and score the plastic lenses. By the end of an extended shooting session, you’ve got a raging headache and your vision is so occluded that you’re really starting to guess at shot placement. After one use, they end up in the trash with the empty ammo boxes and used cleaning rags.
The fact is, I’m not going to sit here and become an evangelist for wearing eye protection when you shoot. I just feel like that would be a little hypocritical. While I’ve personally become slightly more conscientious about it, I seldom think twice if I happen to be out in the barn and decide to grab something out of the safe and fire a few shots. On the other hand, I’m sure as hell not going to tell anyone they shouldn’t protect their eyes. Just like seatbelts and motorcycle helmets, the science is there… you’re going to be safer if you take protective measures. I say this with full self-awareness, you’re smarter to use protection than not.
So I guess that’s a long way around to get to a gear review. That’s just how I do things around here. It’s my blog.
I don’t always wear eye protection when I shoot, but when I do, I wear the Hypermask Performance, from Rudy Project.
Was that too cornball? Who cares?
Even though I don’t habitually use them, I’ve gone through a fair number of various shooting glasses over time. Many of them are pretty much purpose-built, with the features required for safety, but not a heck of a lot of fashion sense. You wouldn’t want to wear them on your next drive to town. Those are the glasses I keep in the safe for guests.
But every once in a while, I get a pair that I actually like so much I use them for other purposes. The Hypermask Performance glasses fall into that category. Sure, they’re a little nuvo-tech for my normal sense of fashion (give me jeans, t-shirts, boots, and aviator glasses), but I think they still look pretty cool. They also feel good on my face. They’re not too heavy, pushing down on my nose, and they sit at a comfortable distance from my eyes. It did take me a minute to get used to the straight temples, as I sort of like my glasses to hook behind my ear, but I found them really secure, even when I was bouncing around on the tractor.
It’s not just the looks that I liked, though. The lenses are photochromic, and I found that they reacted pretty quickly between indoors and out. The particular pair they sent me for review has their “Racing Red” lenses. According to the website, these lenses adjust to filter between 15% and 50%. In my testing so far, they’re really great when it’s overcast, or for wearing inside, but they don’t get dark enough (in my opinion) in direct sunlight. But I have always been a little sensitive to bright light.
Where I really got a kick out of these glasses was during a recent drive on a rainy, foggy trip into San Antonio. It was too dark for my Ray Bans, so I tossed these in the truck when I left the house. I was really digging the contrast and sharpness as I drove. The glare that usually makes driving in these conditions so dangerous was cut to almost nothing, allowing me to see traffic clearly, well down the road. Later, as I drove out of the storm, the lenses adjusted with the light so I never felt the need to switch back to my other sunglasses. That was cool.
Now, I know that none of that is “new”. Photochromic lenses have been around a long time, as have driving glasses that cut glare and enhance vision in foul weather. But I don’t think anyone is throwing around words like, “revolutionary,” or “ground-breaking.”
Impact-proof lenses aren’t new either. I’ve got a couple of pair of “tactical” glasses laying around, and all of them advertise indestructible lenses. Some of this stuff is designed for use in combat, so I know they’re not messing around. So while I’m not really worried about blowback from breaching doors, or flying rock and shrapnel during a firefight, I do like knowing that these glasses are designed with that kind of thing in mind. If I blow up a primer, or if a clump of dirt blows out of the cylinder of my .44, these glasses will stop it before it blinds me. And, even better, not only will my eyes be left intact, the glasses will be too!
How much did I test this? Honestly, I didn’t. I really, really wanted to set these things up on a post at about 30 or 40 yards, and have a go at them with the shotgun, but they’re just too damned nice. For the same reason, I didn’t take them out on the porch and whack them with the hammer either (I once tested a pair of Vuarnets that way, when they first came on the market. But that’s another tale for another time.). I did wear them while I was shooting the shotgun a little bit, and I still have both eyes, undamaged, so I guess they worked… right?
As with any product, testing while it’s brand new is one thing, but time will tell. I can’t speak for the durability of the Hypermask Performance glasses, because I’ve only had them for a couple of months, and they really haven’t been subjected to a lot of use. These things aren’t cheap (well, mine were because they were review samples), so I would expect them to hold up well to their intended use. In addition to shooting, these glasses are marketed to road racers (bicycle, triathlon, etc.) and that’s generally not a posh life for equipment.
Oh, and what is “not cheap”? On the Rudy Project website, the listed regular price for the Hypermask Performance is $249.99, but it’s currently (as of this writing) marked down to $162.49. I have no idea how long that price will be good. If you’re just looking for something to wear while you shoot, this may be a little pricey. But as I learned, you can wear these glasses a lot of places besides the shooting bench.
To summarize… they’re pretty nice glasses, they fit comfortably, and I think they work well.
Would I buy them for myself?
Honestly, I probably would not, but that’s just because I have a pretty stable preference in my daily-wear sunglasses, and I don’t really use shooting glasses as much as I probably should. That said, if I were involved in competitive shooting, or if I spent a lot of time at the range, I could see kicking out the money for a pair of these. Not only do they serve their purpose for safety, I think they would look pretty danged cool on the firing line. And, of course, you can wear them on the drive home.
January 14, 2015
Concealed carry, self defense, and home defense aren’t topics you’ll often find covered on the Hog Blog. It’s not that I don’t think they are interesting or useful topics, but there are other folks covering these issues with far more knowledge and training than I. I have opinions. These guys have information.
But in the crush of emails and promotions leading up to the 2015 SHOT Show, I saw this little piece from the guys over at Concealed Carry Magazine, and actually thought it was some good, sound advice. Since I know some of you guys carry, and all of you spend at least some time in traffic, I felt like it was worth sharing.
What I like the most about this is the common sense application of, “don’t stop and shoot it out, when you can just drive on.”
August 21, 2014
The guns are already out in several states, and with September rolling around, more of us are gearing up to hit the field. But as we do, whether at the range, in the field, or even cleaning up at the house, remember… gun safety is no joke. It only takes a second to turn a wonderful day into a nightmare.
And yes, I have posted this one before… but it bears repeating.
July 21, 2014
I know. I take off without so much as a word for a week, and then come back with something this random on a Monday, no less. Blame it on the day job. Or just blame it on laziness. Matters not.
I’ve been a little short on simple content lately, and not provided with a lot of time or motivation for deep dives into any topic that requires research (or verification), so I was bouncing around social networks and YouTube hoping for something that would just feed right into the page. Absolute relevance is never a requirement at the Hog Blog, but I do try to maintain a modicum of peripheral connection to topics related to hunting. So I found the following video:
Now before anyone jumps in with the kneejerk, banal comments about stupidity or Darwin Awards, I want to ask you to hold your water. That’s not why I shared this. I just want you to watch this video, especially starting at about 00:26, and give it some thought.
As “Tex” says in the video, negligent discharges happen. It has happened to me, and I have seen it happen to my friends. I was almost killed by one (the difference between almost and actually was less than the width of a hat brim). With careful gun handling, particularly a laser focus on muzzle control, they usually don’t do much more than scare the bejesus out of you. But the fact is that sometimes, in less than a heartbeat, shit happens.
The point is, just be careful. Be safe. Do everything you can to try to make sure shit doesn’t happen… and if it does, that the outcome is little more than a raised heart rate and ringing ears.
December 2, 2013
When I started thinking about writing this post I couldn’t get past mental images from the movie, A Christmas Story. You probably know the one. All Ralphie (a juvenile Walter Mitty) wants for Christmas is a BB gun… and not just any BB gun, but the “official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot, range model, air rifle!”
His dream, however, seemed to be thwarted at every turn by the admonition, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
I hate that movie.
I just never understood the allure of fiction that seems to hit so close to home. The travails of a middle class, suburban family and the way Christmas always seems to draw such a sharp distinction between the responsibilities and realities of grown-ups and the self-absorbed fantasies of children… well, I can’t see why anyone would think that’s funny. That’s hard, dark stuff, man! Hearts are broken…. dreams shattered… the poignancy of lost innocence and the bitter resentment of adults toward the carefree joy of youngsters… it’s an ugly, ugly thing. It’s not funny. It’s mean.
I think I was about eight years old when I got my Red Ryder, and yes, it was a Christmas gift, hidden behind everything else at the back of the tree. I knew what it was. My parents knew I knew. But I didn’t get to open it until every last thing had been pulled from under the tree… the socks, underwear, and flannel shirts. It probably wasn’t even the New Year before I was hit by my first riccochet (and not my last). I don’t even remember what I shot… only that it was impermeable to BBs and rejected my shot, sending it back at my head, post-haste. Of course, the incident went unremarked in the family history. The tiny red mark faded long before I returned home to the call of the porch light. No one ever knew but me.
Do I digress? Maybe a bit, but I think not.
It’s December now, and that means time to start looking seriously at Christmas gift giving. Firearms are on the top of the list for many a hopeful recipient.
For various reasons, it seems like more and more parents are giving firearms to their youngsters, and the manufacturers are stepping up to provide for this market. There are the traditional, youth offerings from companies like Crickett or H&R, but the “serious” gun makers are also getting deeply involved. There are youth guns from Browning, Weatherby, Remington, and many more. Youth models on the AR platform are also available for young shooters.
I think it’s pretty cool, although I sometimes feel a twinge of jealousy when I see a 10-year old sporting his new deer rifle. I was 12 before I was allowed to have a “real” gun, and that was a shotgun. My dad was extremely safety conscious, and he didn’t believe a kid should be shooting a centerfire rifle (or even a rimfire without direct supervision). I wasn’t even allowed to shoot slugs, except when hunting from an elevated stand, and seated next to my dad or grandfather. My first handful of deer fell to 20-gauge, #3 buckshot.
When I finally got my first deer rifle at 15, it wasn’t a 30-06 or even a .243. It was a Winchester Model 94 Trapper, in .30-30… a short-range, relatively low velocity rifle. Of course, it was perfect for the coastal swamps and bays where I hunted, but all I saw was that it wasn’t the sexy, long-range piece of gunmakers’ art I’d been drooling over in the catalogs.
My dad’s justification was, again, safety related. The coastal plain of North Carolina is about as flat as any place you’ll find in the US. While the swamps and forests can be pretty thick, the truth is that there aren’t many geographic features that will reliably stop an errant bullet. This is significant enough that some counties in NC actually require centerfire rifle hunters to use elevated stands (at least 8′). Despite my solemn oaths to only use my rifle from a tree stand, my dad was savvy enough to know that a 15-year old doesn’t always have the wherewithal to pass up the occasional, unsafe shot (truth is, a lot of “adult” hunters don’t have the restraint). That .30-30 would discourage me from taking long shots, and if I did, the bullet would still be in the dirt within 400 yards.
I chafed at what I saw as overly-restrictive rules, expecially because so many of my friends didn’t seem to be so encumbered. But looking back, of course, I see the wisdom (isn’t that always the way?). I think about some of the things I witnessed or heard about, and it’s honestly a bit of a miracle that none of my friends seriously injured themselves… or anyone else.
I expect most of us think we’re pretty good about it. We consistently observe the rules ourselves, and we demand the same from the people with whom we hunt. I’m pretty certain that I could ask every hunter I meet if they consider themselves safety conscious, and every one would answer with the affirmative. Muzzle control, trigger etiquette, target identification… they all come as second nature to each of us as we spend more time afield and at the range, and become more and more familiar with our firearms.
Familiarity. We know what that breeds. Contempt… usually demonstrated through complacency.
I know it happens. I catch myself doing it, and I have observed it in others… often (but not always) directly proportional to the length of time they’ve been hunting. I think some folks just don’t know any better, some don’t realize, and many others have just begun to relax their diligence since nothing bad has ever happened to them. Personally, I may be a little more diligent (and less tolerant) than some because I have had a couple of very close calls that were only mitigated by my adherence to basic safety precepts.
It’s one thing, and bad enough, when we become complacent about firearm safety ourselves. It’s another altogether when we reflect that complacency to our kids. When we give guns to children, there is no room for lacksadaisical.
Maybe I’m a reflection of my dad, and maybe that’s a good thing or maybe not, but when it comes to kids and guns, I believe in absolutes. There is no try to be safe. You are safe or you are not, and if you are not, then you lose the privilege of using the gun. We can try again later, but until the lesson sinks in, the shooting is over the moment that muzzle covers an unintended target, or the finger goes inside the trigger guard while the gun isn’t pointed downrange. Gun safety, in my opinion, is too serious for “three warnings” or constant leniency. The potential consequences are simply too significant.
But even when we’re sure we’ve drilled safety into their young heads, we can’t stop there. It’s one thing for a kid to know better. It’s another thing altogether for them to consistently follow the rules… especially when no one is there to catch them at it. You may think you have the best-behaved kid in the world, loaded with responsibility and intelligence. But listen to the interviews of parents after some kid shoots his best friend while showing off his new rifle, or when some youngster gets into the closet and finds dad’s pistol and accidentally blows his brains all over the bedroom. Those parents thought their child knew better too.
And here’s the thing. The kid probably did know better. But that didn’t stop him from making a bad judgement call. The reason it didn’t stop him is because he’s a child. Without diving into an extended discussion of childhood development and psychology, suffice it to say that they simply don’t reason like an adult (should). Their perceptions of cause and effect aren’t really consistent, and the concept of irrevocable consequences is largely unformed. The thought of death, or especially of causing death, is abstract… it’s just not real.
An adult may think he has impressed the idea that “this is not a toy” on a kid, but the truth is, to a kid, everything is a toy. The gun, then, is merely a toy with special significance. For some kids, it’s simply impossible to resist that tabu, especially if they can use it to satisfy their own curiousity, or to increase their esteem among peers or siblings.
“Look, this is my gun I got for Christmas. It’s not a toy. It’s very dangerous. Here’s how you put the bullets in.”
Another mother sobbing for her dead baby.
Sorry, this conversation has drifted a long way from a stupid comedy about Ralphie and the ridiculous lamp. But has it?
We all laughed, at least a little, when he bounced that BB off of the sign and cracked his Coke-bottle glasses. It had been so long foretold, it was simply inevitable.
But isn’t that how real tragedy happens? What makes it tragic isn’t always what actually happened, but what could have happened to prevent it.
Look folks, we all know better… even if we don’t always do better. But when it comes to our kids, don’t they deserve more than that?
Here are some thoughts to consider:
Supervise your children any time they’re around firearms.
- I don’t care how responsible you may think your own little “Ralphie” may be, kids should not be left alone with firearms. They sometimes do things they don’t even know they might regret, and that’s a lesson I don’t think any of us wants to teach the hard way.
- How old is “old enough”? I don’t know. I think it varies from one kid to the next, and from place to place… but seriously, at the very least think more than twice before letting a pre-teen run loose with a gun.
- Even when you do turn them loose, provide an atmosphere of supervision. Remind them of the safety considerations and then set and enforce rules. Let them know that if they violate those rules, the best they can hope for is to lose their shooting privileges. The worst is unthinkable.
Lock up those guns.
- If you honestly believe your kid would never mess with the guns just because you told him not to, you are deluded. It is as simple as that. I know from my own childhood experience, from my friends, and from my friends’ kids, prohibition simply doesn’t work… even with the real threat of a serious ass-whipping as a consequence.
- There’s simply no excuse not to lock them up. If you can’t afford a safe, use a lock. The manufacturers give away trigger and cable locks when you buy a gun, or you can pick one up from almost any sporting goods store for well under $10. Or go to the Project Childsafe website and locate a local source for a free lock and safety kit.
- If you believe you need an accessible firearm for home defense, consider one of the quick-access biometric safes. They’re not that expensive these days. If you can’t afford that, then at least lock the gun away when you’re not where you can see it… or keep it with you as you move around the house. The news archives have way too many stories about kids who died because dad’s loaded gun was unprotected in the bedside table, even while mom and dad were right in the next room.
Demonstrate and practice safe firearm handling.
- Nothing teaches a kid good or bad habits better than observing a mentor. If you model the behavior you teach, kids tend to make a positive association with those behaviors.
- Vice versa, if you are a slob with a gun, your kid will become a slob with a gun, no matter what lessons you think you’re teaching. And just because you got away without killing yourself or someone else, your youngster may not be so lucky.
- No one… neither child nor adult… respects the “do as I say, not as I do” approach.
So go on out there and get your kids that new rifle or shotgun for Christmas. Teach them to shoot and hunt, and all the things that go with the shooting sports… including woodsmanship, patience, responsibility, and respect for and appreciation of safe gun handling.
August 21, 2013
If you spend much time around folks who’ve been shooting and hunting as long as I have, you’ve probably noticed a couple of common traits. We’ll lean forward a bit when you speak to us. We’ll often ask you to repeat what you’ve said. Some of us might even cup our ears in the universal sign of, “speak up, please.”
When I started shooting, you didn’t hear much about hearing protection. I’m sure someone must have known about the risks, but no one really talked about it. You just took the gun and went out to shoot it. No one bothered to tell you to wear ear plugs. I remember in Boy Scout camp, I’d spend every available minute at the rifle range. They didn’t pass out hearing protection or safety glasses (of course, these were just .22 rifles, but still…). I’m pretty sure that if I’d shown up at the junkyard to shoot with my friends, I’d have been laughed clean out of the woods for wearing a set of “Mickey ears”. And if I ever showed up in hunting camp with a set of plugs in my ears, the old guys would have looked at my dad and wondered what sort of spoiled little pansy-ass he was raising. That’s just how things were then, and many of us are paying the price today.
In fact, it wasn’t until I was late into my teens that I first learned the importance and value of hearing protection while shooting. I think the catalyst was an article I read in Outdoor Life about how a shooter’s flinch is often a response to the noise of the firearm, rather than a response to the recoil. It made sense to me, and the next time I went out in the woods to shoot up a bunch of cans and paper plates, I took a roll of toilet paper. I stuffed a goodly wad into each ear, settled down and started shooting.
And I was amazed that there was a noticeable change in my groups, especially with my .243 which is still one of the loudest rifles I own (not counting the ones with muzzle brakes). I realized that I wasn’t anticipating the shot as much, and I was able to stay on the target right through the muzzle blast. Of course, I was noticing things I’d never paid attention to before, so maybe the change wasn’t as extreme as it seemed at the time, but there was definitely a difference. Perhaps the best thing was that I didn’t have to sit through school the next day with that infernal ringing in my ears. I was sold.
I eventually graduated from wadded up toilet paper to those orange or yellow safety plugs. I was working at paper mills at the time, and there were always jugs of plugs available for the taking and I made the best of it. A few years later when I started shooting at organized ranges, I moved up to ear muffs (Mickey ears), and then discovered electronic hearing protection at the SHOT Show.
The thing about wearing hearing protection is that it doesn’t just reduce the noise of a gunshot, it reduces all noise. It’s difficult to have a conversation with plugs in your ears. It’s even more difficult to hunt without the ability to hear all of the sounds of the woods around you. Even most of the electronic aids that amplify normal noise but block sudden, loud noises can be a real detriment in the field. The amplification makes the slightest rustle of grass sound like an elephant charge, and if you turn them down enough to dampen the noise of your footsteps then you can’t hear much of anything. As a result, like many people, I’ve stopped wearing hearing protection while I’m in the field.
The industry has been all over the place in an effort to create hearing protection that allows you to hear and function normally while still dampening dangerous noise. The electronic solutions are the best, so far, but the quality options are all pretty expensive… generally in the range of several hundred dollars for a set of good ear buds, to over a grand for the high-end, digital systems. There are also some electronic hearing protection devices in the $25 to $50 range. These are fine for target shooting and plinking, but terribly unsuitable for hunting applications.
There have also been advances in the design of the basic ear plug. While you can certainly still get the old-fashioned, squeezable foam plugs, there are newer designs that offer baffles that create a better fit in the ear canal and block even more of the noise. I know, for example, that shooting my .325wsm with the muzzle brake is too much for the old-school plugs. They help, but I still end up with ringing ears after a couple of shots. The baffled plugs work much better. But of course these make hearing other sounds practically impossible.
BattlePlugs are, according to the manufacturer’s website, authorized hearing protectors for use by the U.S. Army… both for soldiers and civilian employees. They offer a non-electronic filter that dampens sudden, loud noises (e.g. gunfire) while allowing normal soundwaves to pass through.
How do they work?
Well, I’m not a specialist in this kind of thing so I don’t pretend to understand the science here. However, the plugs have a little cap that opens or closes. When the cap is closed, you get a pretty significant reduction in sound (about 24dB). When it’s open, the reduction is about 9dB. I’m not sure if there’s some sort of high tech thing happening in there, or if it’s just simple physics. If I open the cap and look inside, it’s just a tiny tunnel from end to end.
But they do seem to work as advertised.
I received a sample pair last week, and had a little time to mess around with them. They were a little uncomfortable to put in, but once they were in place they filled my ear canal very snugly (I got the medium size. They come in three sizes.) and were quite comfortable. With the cap closed, they really dampen all the sound like a super-effective ear plug would be expected to. You can still hear, but not much. With the cap open, I was able to watch TV… although the sound was somewhat muffled. Carrying on a conversation was possible, but not optimal. 9dB of sound reduction is a lot more than it may seem.
I did have some trouble opening and closing the cap without removing the plugs from my ears, but the literature that accompanies the plugs indicated that I should expect this until I got used to using them. That’s probably true enough, and I also think they just need to be opened and closed a few times until they loosen up. Overall, I didn’t find this to be much of an issue.
I took the BattlePlugs out behind the barn this weekend to test them under fire. I started out with the .22 pistol, which is really not much of an ear ringer without protection. It wasn’t much of a test. After emptying a few mags with the .22, I moved up to 9mm which was still pretty much nothing, and then to the .44 mag. Now, my .44 is loud, even with the 7.5″ barrel on it. I don’t like shooting it without hearing protection. With the BattlePlugs in and the little cap closed, the report of the .44 was nicely muffled. That wasn’t really a surprise, based on how completely they fill my ear canal. With the cap open, the report was not unpleasant at all, and it was still muffled enough that I didn’t get any ringing in my ears. That’s not very scientific, but it was a good practical experience.
Unfortunately, I didn’t try them with any of the braked rifles (.270, 30-06, .325wsm). Sorry, but with temps in the low 100s, I just didn’t feel like sitting out in the sun any longer. Based on the results with the .44, I feel confident that the BattlePlugs would be plenty sufficient for shooting a braked gun. They’re miles and miles better than the old, orange squeezables. I think they also outperform my cheap, Outers ear muffs.
BattlePlugs retail for around $12.75. That’s about $10 more than the old-fashioned plugs ($2.95/pkg at WalMart), but about half the price of low-end electronic muffs. The plugs are washable, so if you take care of them you should get a bunch of uses out of them. I expect that the baffles will eventually start to wear and tear, but of course I haven’t had these long enough to see any sort of wear. You can also order additional tips for about $3, in the event that the originals do finally wear out.
Overall, if you’re looking for something relatively inexpensive but effective, and don’t want the bulk of a pair of muffs, the BattlePlugs are certainly a good option. I’ve used other baffled plugs in the past, and the BattlePlugs are at least as good as any of those. The option of opening the cap to allow for better hearing is a nice feature, I suppose, although honestly; I find it’s just as easy to remove the plugs so that’s not much of a selling point.
BattlePlugs are currently available online, from National Safety, Inc. I found them at a few other industrial safety equipment sites as well. I haven’t seen them at any of the major outdoors distributors yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them start showing up soon.