Recently I observed in this column that I thought the ideal gun to instruct a beginning shooter was the single shot 22. Although no one disagreed with my assessment, several of my readers chastised me for not talking more about gun safety.
My readers are a pretty sharp bunch, nothing is more important than safe gun handling. The two topics go hand, to get a beginner started properly, you need a proper gun and you need proper instruction in safe gun handling. Without any doubt, the best step for a beginner is to enroll in an NRA Hunter Safety course. I have attended many such courses over the years, and while the teaching techniques vary over time, the basic message remains the same: Safety, Safety, and Safety. Most recently I attended an NRA Hunter Safety course at Bass Pro with my son-in-law Jonathan and the basic mantra remains the same.
A cardinal rule was that there would be no live ammunition in class, but the students got to handle all sorts of guns to familiarize themselves with their safe use. There were the expected young boys eager to become hunters like their dads and a couple teen girls who wanted to hunt with their boyfriends. Interestingly, there were also single women who’d never held a gun, as well as retired old guys who wanted to take up shooting for the first time.
We learned how to safely handle every sort of gun imaginable, single shot, lever action, bolt actions, semi-autos, double barrels, pistols and revolvers. Heck the course even contains safety instruction on bows and crossbows. We learned how to check the action to see that a gun is empty and then memorized the eternal rule: you treat every gun as if it’s always loaded. Repeat, every gun is always loaded. We learned to be sure of your backstop behind your target, and how to carry your gun with the muzzle pointing in a safe direction. We also learned that with the old cowboy style single action revolver and with some models of lever action rifles some folks would pull the hammer back to a half-cocked position and think that the gun was safe to carry. Hence the phrase to go off half-cocked. The problem is that the gun at half cock can fire if it is dropped or if something strikes the hammer. I had a farmer friend who used to carry a break action shotgun on his tractor while working his orchards. Somehow the gun fell and the hammer hit a tire lug which fired the shotgun right into his guts. Doctors at the emergency room were unable to save him and it took him several hours to die.
There are 80 million gun owners in the United States and each year there are less than 1,500 accidental gun deaths. By contrast there are over 120,000 accidental deaths each year caused by physician mistakes. Neither figure is acceptable. We must constantly keep on guard to avoid accidents so that our lives can be as safe as we can make them. Gun owners suffer from the same basic problem as physicians; they come from the human race. Because we are human, we will undoubtedly make mistakes, but whether we are physicians or firefighters or fry cooks, we must always strive to make our families safe.
Over the past 50 years or so, hunter safety has achieved remarkable success. Even if you don’t hunt, you should consider taking an NRA approved hunter safety course. Whether you are hunting, target shooting, or just plinking tin cans, the most important part of all is to do it safely. Don’t go off half cocked.
Until next week, Tight Lines