Can you believe it? Hunting season has arrived. Lead will be flying and birds will be falling.
Because new and experienced hunters will be spaced in fields throughout the state waiting for the dove to fly within range, safety becomes a necessary concern. Keeping the muzzle of the shotgun pointed in a safe direction is the number one rule of firearm safety when hunting dove. In order to keep the muzzle in a safe direction, there are several techniques that can help assure a safe and memorable hunt.
Many times when there is a youth or new hunter involved, and even just under normal circumstances, two hunters will station side by side. In fact, without the completion of a hunter’s safety class, a novice or youth hunter is required to hunt beside a licensed hunter. This is so the experienced hunter can quickly correct the inexperienced hunter in case of a mistake.
Mistakes while hunting can have deadly consequences. You do not get a do-over.
The first thing to do is establish safe zones in which to fire. Sitting side by side, the left hunter takes everything from their left and straight in front of him. The right hunter takes the shot anywhere from straight in front over toward their right.
But there are other concerns to always be wary of. Whether hunting in pairs or sitting alone, if you are hunting on opening day there is likely to be other hunters all around. Because of this, there may be hunters located in the safe zone that we just established. A hunter may be somewhere in front or behind of you.
A low flying bird can make one forget about that. We always knew ‘low bird’ meant do not shoot. We shared that information with those around us. That way we knew we would be able to hunt another day.
We made sure that those around us knew not only where we were located, but where we were facing. It served two purposes. I could yell to a hunter down the way from me where a bird was located so he could both prepare to take a shot as well as be aware of where other hunters were likely to shoot from.
An experienced hunter often does the things without even thinking about it. But even experienced hunters need to take safety precautions further than just habit.
Back to the scenario where we have two hunters beside each other in the field; a new hunter and an experienced hunter. Youth hunters usually begin with shotguns in 16 or 20 gauges. Most experienced hunters rely on the 12 gauge shotgun. There is one problem with this that can easily result in a safety issue and this one particular case has nothing to do with where the muzzle is pointed.
The 12 gauge and 20 gauge shotguns share a unique feature. The 20 gauge shotgun shell is smaller in diameter than a 12 gauge shell. However, the 20 gauge shotgun shell fits perfectly into a 12 gauge shotgun. It just doesn’t fit the way you want it to. A 20 gauge shell will slide from the chamber down the barrel of a 12 gauge and lodge slightly down the barrel.
In the heat of the action when birds seem to darken the sky, an unknowing grab of a shell from the wrong box can result in catastrophe. Picture the hunter with the 12 gauge emptying the magazine and more birds are coming near. He quickly grabs a few shells, and drops one on the ground. He fumbles around trying to feel the shell while keeping an eye on the approaching birds and finds the third shell.
He quickly reloads his weapon and then fires quickly at one of the birds. As he marks one that falls, he reloads once again. After finding his downed bird, he returns to his seat and the next wave of dove come through. As he pulls the trigger there is a loud explosion. The barrel is shredded between his forward hand and his face.
The shell he picked up off the ground happened to be a 20 gauge shell and during the action he believed he had fired and ejected all the shells. After the next reload, the first shot was a 12 gauge shell which when fired had nowhere to allow the explosion to escape. So it made its own exit. Beside the hunter’s face.
Safety is the top concern when going hunting, not what time the sun comes up or where the birds may roost or what sides will be available for the pig pickin’ at lunch. Safety has a number one rule, which is keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, but it is not the only rule.
Stay safe and make opening day memorable.