Hunting is a dynamic activity. By that we mean that at any moment, a small change in a situation can turn a perfect day into a disaster. One proven way to maintain a high level of safety is to practice and then adhere to a disciplined set of best practices. Note the word “practice” in the last sentence. In hunting as in life, the way you practice is the way you perform. Hunting safety doesn’t happen by accident. It’s learned, practiced, drilled and committed to habit. Hunting safety is a “no excuses” responsibility.
Take a course
If you have never handled firearms or archery equipment, the best way to form good habits from the outset is by participating in a hunting safety training course. Hunter-Ed.com, Bowhunter-ed.com and HunterCourse.com offer courses in many states and are designed to make students familiar with best practices and ethics of hunting. Students learn the correct way to handle, use and maintain their weapon. It is helpful for a student to identify a mentor or point of contact as a reference. Ideally, this is someone who will be a part of any hunts that the student will go on.
The training organizations mentioned here all follow a similar curriculum. Below is a sample from Hunter-Ed.com.
- Introduction to Hunter Education
- Know Your Firearm Equipment
- Basic Shooting Skills
- Basic Hunting Skills
- Be a Safe Hunter
- Be a Responsible and Ethical Hunter
- Preparation and Survival Skills (including Medical Emergency Procedures)
This is a beginner course. If this seems excessive, it is important to remember that a complete beginner could be totally unfamiliar with the consequences of making the wrong mistake on a hunt. Even seasoned veterans agree that it is impossible to over emphasize safety.
It is not realistic to believe that taking a single hunting safety course is all a person needs to develop good habits. Making good habits second nature comes from repeating proper procedure until you don’t have to think about it anymore. Attitude is important as well. Familiarity with proper safety procedures needs to be approached as a responsible adult.
Crucial Areas of Proficiency
- Gun handling
You must be completely comfortable carrying, shooting and maintaining safe muzzle orientation with any weapon that you hunt with. A shooter develops this skill by carrying, shooting and safely orienting his or her weapon repeatedly. You can practice this at a shooting range or, if you live in rural areas with sufficient distance buffer, by walking in the field. A mentor figure can encourage the student with reminders to refocus attention when the observe carelessness.
- Achieving and then maintaining excellent marksmanship
Excellent marksmanship means making your weapon do what you intend it to. By developing the ability to consistently place shots exactly where we want to, we are able to kill the quarry quickly and cleanly. This is an ethical responsibility for any hunter. A side benefit of this type of practice is a heightened sense of awareness and focus. The best place to drill the mechanical aspects of marksmanship is the shooting range. It is a controlled environment where environmental distractions can be minimized so you can clean execution.
- Keep your weapons properly maintained
This can be practiced anywhere. Learn to disassemble and reassemble your guns and clean them properly. There was a point in my life when I could break down a Model 1911 .45 semi-automatic pistol and put it back together blind folded. Respect and care for you weapons.
- Expand your sense of awareness
In general, heightening our awareness of our surroundings and of others lowers the chances of careless mistakes in the field and on the range.
There is much more that can be honed but this is a good start. If we pay proper attention to safety skills, we will enjoy many great outings.