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Don't overlook safety in the field

Don't overlook safety in the field

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The hunting buddies had traversed varied terrain for most of the morning and every clump of vegetation seemed to sprout pheasants. Some of the majestic birds erupted from cover at the first sign of danger while others hid under a low canopy, hoping the intruders would move on without causing trouble.

After making it to the blockers along the edge of a shelterbelt, the pair talked about the good start to their hunt.

"I can't believe how fast the birds get up and out of range," the first hunter said.

"I know. I didn't think they were that quick," his cohort retorted. "I've had my safety off since that first field because I couldn't get on them fast enough."

Even though I heard that tale from a friend years ago, I still cringe when I imagine someone carrying a loaded shotgun with its safety off while walking near me through any kind of brush that could trip them up.

In the field, there are always chances for accidents involving firearms, but most, if not all, can be avoided by erring on the side of caution and trusting your common sense. Too often hunters simply get careless with firearm safety while putting their focus on limiting out or having shooting opportunities.

During this pheasant season many hunters likely have had success in filling their limits while walking with longtime hunting companions or even complete strangers. Many hunters equate hunting safety with knowing who they're hunting with, but simply being familiar with your hunting partners won't keep mistakes from being made. Given the choice, I would rather go afield with people I know who are safety conscious, but just because you may be hunting with seasoned individuals or good buddies doesn't mean you can drop your guard or get careless.

Hunting in close proximity is part of the game when targeting any number of winged quarries, and it should cause you to study some of your hunting practices and seek to be as safe as possible.

For instance, pheasant or quail hunting can provide challenges of hiking through uneven or thick areas, and many hunters aren't careful where they point their firearms in some situations as they focus on staying upright. On my first pheasant excursion, I remember plodding through an overgrown feedlot that had tall fences with thick cables. We had to shimmy over the poles, and I wish I could say everyone either unloaded their gun or at least opened the action before they set it down or handed it to someone else, but I know that wasn't the case. The simplest creed in firearm safety is to never point a gun at anything you don't intend to shoot, but more often than not, it is the rule most violated.

When it comes to geese, ducks and cranes, the birds provide a need to spring up suddenly with a loaded weapon, and hunters can get obstructed as they attempt to shoulder and swing their firearms. For whatever reason, there are people who don't think they need to use the safety catch on their firearms when they're hunting, but it's there ultimately to curb mistakes. If you happened to get snagged on a blind or another obstruction, the safety is designed to keep the gun from going off if you inadvertently touch the trigger, preventing you, another hunter or a dog from being injured.

In close quarters, you need to keep track of where hunters and dogs are. On a recent duck trip, a seasoned hunter who has pursued waterfowl from Texas to New York was on the far right side of a wooden blind but got caught up in the heat of an incoming wave of pintails and unloaded three times at the birds to the extreme left of the structure. I know he didn't intentionally fire his 12-gauge so close to the head of the guy in the middle, but that didn't keep my ears from ringing for the next three hours.

Though most hunters don eye and ear protection at the shooting range, this step often is overlooked in the field, which certainly can have negative impacts in the event of an accident. The easiest way to remember to protect yourself is to keep these safety items in a hunting vest or whatever clothing you regularly use in the field.

In the end, adhering to safe hunting practices especially is important because you never know who is watching. Youths mimic behaviors they see in adults, so you definitely want to lead by safe example. After all, you never know who you may keep from becoming another statistic.

It could be yourself.

Will Leschper's e-mail address is wleschper@yahoo.com.

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