While it may be easy to make mistakes such as the one being illustrated here, think of shotgun safety as common etiquette; consider others as you would have them think of you.
Accident-free gun handling is the responsibility of every shooter, but here are some gentle reminders! There’s really nothing new to safety, but there are always new shooters and youngsters who don't know the rules and a few others who don't practice them. So, a little repetition can do no harm and hopefully, some good - especially at a time when there is the specter of further gun controls. Sadly, there are always plenty of stories about hunters shooting people they thought were animals. No one, worthy of the name hunter, ever just thinks before taking the responsibility of releasing a lethal load into the countryside. He makes damn sure first and if there's the slightest shadow of doubt, for any reason whatever, he doesn't shoot. So you lose a bird or a buck and maybe save a life.
This would appear to be the time at which to point out that the nation's anti-gun forces constantly are taking every incident and pushing it for all it is worth. As a result, there are a great number more stories about people being killed accidentally by guns than there are stories about people's lives that have been saved by having a gun - or could have been saved had they had a firearm of some sort. I'm not speaking strictly in terms of crime and law enforcement, either. Instead, I'm thinking of those lost in the wilderness, forced down in aircraft and otherwise find themselves on their own with no way of providing food or signaling for help.
Accidents at churches, theaters and concerts rank fifteenth. The full list, in order of danger, is as follows: (1) football; (2) winter sports; (3) baseball; (4) swimming; (5) basketball; (6) skating; (7) accidents in the country or at the beach; (8) bicycling; (9) accidents at parks, picnics and outings; (10) golf; (11) horseback riding; (12) boating and canoeing; (13) gymnastics; (14) fishing; (15) accidents at churches, theaters and concerts; (16) hunting.
The man who treats his firearm with respect goes far to win the respect of his associates. This shooter's manners may be poor, but he has the good sense to wear shooting glasses.
Then there are the stories about the people who shoot themselves while cleaning their guns. Ever struck you how difficult it must be to clean the barrel of a loaded gun? But until everyone thinks consciously and deliberately about gun safety and puts it into practical effect at all times, safety reminders certainly can do no harm and perhaps eliminate some of the sad, unnecessary stories caused by an unthinking minority which make wonderful ammunition for the anti's to attack the safety-conscious majority.
I've had a number of opportunities in recent years to discuss shotgunning and safety with Derek Partridge, an English shooter with a long list of titles in shotgunning circles in his home country. A perennial Olympic contender for the Great Britain team, he is chairman of the British International Board of Clay Pigeon Shooting Association and is involved in doing public relations for Britain's Shooting Sports Trust, the Gun Trader's Association and the Long Room Committee. The last is a joint body of all shooting sports bodies against Government legislation on firearms in Great Britain. He also is on the staff of one of the leading European ammunition companies.
As one might suspect, with this background and the means by which he makes his livelihood, Partridge is especially interested in safety in the shooting sports, but he was equally interested during the period several years ago, when he was living in Hollywood, teaching shotgunning to members of the movie industry. Apart from years of coaching, he has been range safety officer at many clubs and always welcomed new shooters or members with: “I am much less interested in how good or bad a shot you are or will be, than I am to see how safe a shot you are or will become.” What his greeting really means (cloaked behind polite British indirectness) is: "If you're safe, welcome among us. If not, learn or beat it."
He always aims to deal politely, but firmly, with anyone committing a breach of gun safety, but in the few cases where someone really asked for it, his character changes rapidly from its usual suave, urbane, cultured self, to sharp, cold, controlled anger.
Never load your gun until on the firing line and ready to shoot. Actions should be kept open with muzzle pointed straight up or down at all other times for safety sake.
"Clay-busting has a wonderfully accident-free record and I will always do my best to keep it that way. I have been known to brusquely interrupt a competition when a rare emergency situation demanded it. I don't care how many lost targets are blamed on me, if I feel a danger exists. However, whenever possible, I prefer to take the offender aside and quietly explain his misdemeanor - the first time that is," Partridge explains.
"If there's a second, I'll publicly roast him over the loudspeaker system. Harsh words and actions? Maybe. But what price human life and limb? Think too how the perpetrator of such an injury or death would feel, bearing it on his conscience for the rest of his days. We all make mistakes sometimes. But a reasonable man will accept what you say, apologize and thank you. While others will curse you and leave - good riddance. We don't need that kind of person in the shooting fraternity".
"I am not too impressed by some of the gun handling I have observed at shooting clubs here. Even at the recent Olympic Games Trials, I was horrified to see some of the nation's shooting elite walking round with over/unders unbroken and semi-automatics with their actions closed. There are only two times when a gun should be closed at a club - when ready for firing and immediately before being placed in the gun-rack. At all other times, guns should be broken and automatics, with open breeches, should be pointed away from people. There are no half measures where safety is concerned".
"In the field, it is naturally much harder to control gun handling and safety. The bright, colored clothing worn here by hunters to preserve their lives is unknown in Europe. There they wear sensible, nature-blending colors which won't make game take off for the county line while you're still miles away".
"In Germany, for instance, before they can get either a gun or hunting license, they must pass stiff written and practical exams in gun safety and handling, recognition of which species can and cannot be shot and when, and also basic fieldcraft. Even after passing, there is still a long probationary period during which they may only go out with a fully licensed hunter. Tiresome? Perhaps, but how many hunting accidents have you ever heard of in Germany?"
Gun atop a car roof can fall off at the time the car is started if it is left. Leaning against the bumper, it can be knocked over and could fire (left). Gun racks are for holding guns safely. Guns can be knocked down elsewhere, which is dangerous, hard on the gun. (right)
I don't necessarily agree with Partridge on some of his points. I don't believe he ever has done much hunting in the United States, so possibly doesn't understand much of our peculiar problem.
Most hunting in Europe, for example, is closely controlled. With the lack of public lands, those who want to hunt usually end up on preserves, where their every movement is closely controlled by preserve overseers. In Northern Italy, for example, the late King Victor Emmanual's summer palace now sits in the middle of a privately owned game preserve. During the time friends of mine have hunted birds there, each pair of shooters had their own guide and loader; at times there was one gamekeeper to each shooter. In such situations, where these gamekeepers know every foot of ground in the preserve and can position a shooter to keep him out of trouble with other hunters, this is a highly controlled situation.
But my feeling is that it verges on becoming a part of the Computer Age. In this type of hunting, there is no such thing as simply taking your gun and your dog, moving out into open fields and hills, or finding a likely looking spot at the edge of a natural duck pond. And in situations where one is on his own, it doesn't hurt to wear bright, alarming colors to let other hunters know you are in the area. In fact, I consider this simple common sense!
When in transit to or from shooting line, any gun should be carried in the position shown. Note that the trigger guard is up, free of any likelihood of snagging.
There are some basic field safety rules, which you may have read a hundred times before, or never. Whichever the case, think about each and everyone. Then, put them into practice for the sake of yourself, your fellow hunters, members of the public and for the preservation of your own sport. Apart from the personal suffering caused, each accident not only hurts all of us a bit more, but tarnishes the name we want to be proud to bear - sportsmen. There are all sorts of rules involving safety; almost every gun club has its own as well as those based upon National Rifle Association recommendations. But here are those Partridge, as a professional instructor, attempts to teach others.
- Never point your gun at anyone.
- Never load a gun until it is required for a shot.
- Never push the safety off until the moment of shooting.
- Never shoot at anything until you have ascertained, beyond any doubt, what it is.
- Never shoot if you can't see, beyond any doubt, that there could be no one in your line of fire.
- Always make sure you know where all members of your party are - and vice versa.
- Carry your gun either on your shoulder with the triggers facing upwards or under your arm with the barrels pointing directly at the ground in front of you.
- Never cross obstacles with a loaded gun.
- Always unload your gun and leave it open before passing it to anyone.
- Finally - never shoot - if in any doubt.
- Check the barrels immediately after assembling to see there is no obstruction.
- Inspect the barrels again for obstruction before loading.
- Always inspect a gun to see it is unloaded when taking it from or returning it to its rack or case, or when receiving it from another person.
- Never load a gun with shells more powerful than those for which the gun is proofed.
- Never mix 12-gauge and 20-gauge shells. A twenty will drop through the chamber and wedge tight half way down the barrel - allowing the subsequent, inadvertent loading of a 12-gauge shell.
- Always have guns overhauled annually.
- Keep guns locked away when not in use.
Until now, most of this discussion has been involved with safety for others but there is one particular facet that I feel needs mentioning. It can save the individual shooter a good deal of personal grief and, again, comes under the heading of common sense.
Carelessly loading a 20-gauge shell in a 12-gauge gun, the small shell will drop down the barrel. If a second shell is loaded behind it, your shotgun may possibly blow up.
In the matter of shot shells mentioned here, there have been instances over the years wherein a shooter has dropped a 20-gauge shell into the bore of a 12-gauge gun, then later shoved another 12 in on top of it, not realizing that the smaller shell has dropped on through into the barrel, past the chamber, to become lodged there. Needless to say, the resulting double explosion is not conducive to personal health and can ruin a shotgun even if one suffers no personal damage.
Federal Cartridge Company, with headquarters in Minneapolis, was the first to pioneer color coding of shot-shells. Each of the various gauges was made with a different color paper in the tube. Now that plastic is being used in shot shells, the same colors still are being used to differentiate and serve as an additional reminder to the shooter. It may not do much for a color-blind shooter, but other companies have taken this lead to start similar color coding plans. The safest method, of course, is not to mix the various gauges in your shell bag, but to keep them separated at all times. Thus, even in the heat of a good bird shoot such as incoming doves at sundown, when there is only a few minutes of fast, frantic shooting, there is no chance of making a mistake that can ruin your shoot, if not your gun or person.
The shotgunner who insists upon wearing shooting glasses may all too often be accused of going Hollywood, bowing to an affectation, but claybird shooting - as well as upland game hunting - is the one area where they are most needed. I've seen many a shooter who will insist that he can't shoot while wearing glasses; that they get in his way; that he can't get used to them. There is plenty of evidence to show that he should learn to shoot with glasses, even if he doesn't do his best in the beginning.
Walking into a gun club with the action closed can get one banned in some of the more safety-conscious establishments. Firearms safety never should be taken for granted.
This brings to mind the case of Henry Joy, one of the early skeet greats in this country. In fact, he was the first shooter to set up a fully automatic skeet field so that the gunner could activate his bird simply by stepping on an electrically controlled button. Back in the days when he was considered a great shooter, Joy shot without glasses until the day that a pellet ricocheted back and put out his right eye. Much must be said for his tenacity for, instead of giving up the game entirely, he learned to shoot all over again, using his left eye and shooting from the same shoulder. In fact, the next year, he used this method to win the National Skeet Championships.
However - and herein lies the moral - he was wearing shooting glasses this time, and shot 250 straight. To the best of my knowledge, he has worn them ever since. Henry Joy, several times All-American, won every tournament he entered in those days and was 20-gauge Nationals champion the year that I was runner-up. He was undoubtedly the greatest skeet shooter of the early days, to my mind. Much must be said for his tenacity in learning to shoot all over again after his accident instead of simply giving up the game entirely.
There are those, of course, who will feel that I am particularly prejudiced, but I have worn shooting glasses from the day I first stepped onto a firing line back in my early teens. I probably made mistakes there, too, as I normally wore the darkest shade of sunglasses I could find, then when ready to shoot, switched to something much lighter in color. It made that claybird loom up like a giant condor, but I'm not so sure that it did my eyesight any great amount of good. I'm sure an oculist or optician would have some words of wisdom along this line.
However, over the years, I've had more than one lens of those glasses hit by a rebounding pellet. In fact, I've even seen onlookers at skeet matches suffer similar treatment to their shooting glasses. At eight-post - and that's where Henry Joy got it - or in light wind, this can be a particular hazard, experience has shown. As indicated, I feel the same about the necessity of shooting glasses in upland game shooting; in any situation where there is a more or less flat trajectory of fire and there are likely to be others in the same area also shooting. It's as important to the shooter's personal safety as not overloading his shells.
No matter how empty the chamber may be, there is no excuse for leaning on the muzzle of any firearm. It can cost you an arm or two or your head.
In a lifetime of shooting upland game, I suspect that almost everyone has been hit by a stray pellet at one time or another and must realize the importance of wearing eye protection. I would no sooner allow my wife or children to go to a skeet match without wearing protective glasses than I would allow them to move their seats in front of the firing line. With the prescription glasses available to everyone today, there is still another advantage, of course. One does not have to simply go and pick up any pair of glasses for protection. He can have his shooting glasses ground to meet his own specific corrective problem - and he'll no doubt find his shooting improved as a result. I probably have a dozen pair lying around the house and I've found that about the only requirement for being able to shoot with glasses in comfort is to be certain that they fit well enough that they will ride high on the forehead. In this way, one is not looking over the tops of the lenses when his head is down.
All of this no doubt sounds pretty basic to a lot of shooters, but about all one has to do is to go to a skeet match and look around to determine the number of competitors who have not yet gotten the message. Let's hope some of them don't have to lose an eye to learn.
Finally, never fool around with guns - they're lethal weapons, not toys. Remember, kids follow the example of their elders. To a newcomer, the performance of a gun is almost magical. You pull a trigger, a clay disintegrates, a bird drops out of the sky or an animal drops dead hundreds of yards away. Partridge, as an instructor, uses the intrigue with firearms to make his safety points.
Instructor Derek Partridge uses a cardboard carton, shooting hole in it at close range, during his safety lectures. This illustrates his point. Note he wears shooting glasses.
“A brief practical demonstration, with which I am very effectively initiate all my pupils, is to show them a plastic shell with the pellets clearly visible. Then I load the gun and fire it either into cardboard box or into the ground a few feet in front of you (carefully avoiding the toes - if you go in for long, pointed shoes). The gaping, smoking hole should indelibly imprint in their minds a vivid image of a gun’s destructive power and insure the proper degree of respect”.
Finally, for those interested in seeing the shooting sports continue, simply think of safety as an extension of public relations. As mentioned, the anti-gun forces will use each accident in an attempt to get guns outlawed. They ignore statistics, including the fact that one can get injured more easily in church than in the hunting fields. So it behooves each of us to do his best to make the statistics even more amazing - int our own favor!
This article was written by Derek Partridge and originally published in 1976 as a chapter in "International Style Clay Target Shooting" book. Republished with permission.