By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Three accidental shootings in three days during Nebraska’s deer season, and the memory of a fatal hunting accident in Wyoming last year, bring home the point that hunters can’t ever take gun safety for granted.
“I won’t allow a loaded rifle into my truck. Ever. Period,” Greybull hunter and trapper John Eckman told Cowboy State Daily.
He and other Wyoming outdoorsmen also said that a hunting rifle should always be carried with the firing chamber empty. Hunters don’t need to chamber a round until they’ve got a clear, safe shot lined up on big game animal, they said.
“Never, ever, ever chamber a round until you’re ready to shoot,” noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich of Pinedale told Cowboy State Daily.
Nebraska: Three Shot In Three Days
In separate incidents this month, three hunters were shot over a span of three days during Nebraska’s deer hunting seasons, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Columbus Telegram newspaper reported.
None of the shootings were fatal, but in each instance a man was accidentally shot by a member of his own shooting party, according to reports.
The most serious injuries were suffered by a 20-year-old from Indiana. He was flown to a trauma center in Lincoln, Nebraska, after being shot by another hunter who slipped while following him up an embankment.
A 22-year-old Omaha, Nebraska, man suffered injuries to his hand in another shooting. In the third incident, a Nebraska resident whose age wasn’t given suffered a gunshot wound to the arm.
Wyoming Not Immune
Wyoming hasn’t escaped hunting accidents. Ulrich recalled a tragedy near Ten Sleep in October 2121, when a man was accidently shot by his son and died.
Even the most experienced hunters can’t take safety for granted, said hunter and mule deer conservationist Josh Coursey, who lives near Kemmerer.
“I have a friend who was hunting elk near Meeteetse who had an accidental discharge of his rifle for the first time after 32 years of hunting,” Coursey said.
“Even our former vice president was involved in a hunting accident,” he said, in reference to Wyoming native Dick Cheney accidentally shooting and wounding a friend while bird hunting.
And careless hunters can injure others even without hitting them with bullets, retired forester and avid hunter Karl Brauneis of Lander told Cowboy Sate Daily.
“Never fire your rifle if you are behind or in equal position to another hunter. The muzzle blast can cause ear damage that can be permanent,” he said.
Horses Deserve Saftey Too
Eckman said he extends the rule of leaving the firing chamber empthy to rifles kept in saddle scabbards.
“You’re riding through the brush and your safety gets bumped off,” he said. “Then a twig hits your trigger and you end up shooting your freakin’ horse. I like my horse better than I like most people, and I don’t want to see him get shot.”
He added that he’s hunted deer in Nebraska, and the safety standards there didn’t seem any more lax than they are in Wyoming. So, the Cornhusker State must have just had a run of bad luck with a few careless individuals.
“Hunting deer over there didn’t really seem any different than hunting deer here in Wyoming,” he said.
Even the best of hunters can get complacent and let the rules slip, particularly when they’re younger, Coursey said.
The final line of defense against tragedies is “muzzle control, muzzle control, muzzle control,” he said, in reference to the rule of always making sure a firearm is pointed in a safe direction. “That way, even if there is an accidental discharge, it doesn’t end with somebody getting hit.”
Treating every firearm as if it were loaded is a must, Coursey, Ulrich, Brauneis and Eckman said.
And never assume that it isn’t, Eckman added.
“I don’t just think a gun is unloaded,” he said. “I always check. I always open the bolt, the lever or whatever and check to make sure that firing chamber is empty.”
Stay Calm, Stay Safe
In addition to the safety factor of carrying a hunting rifle with the chamber empty, the added step of chambering a round when the right moment comes gives the hunter more time to focus, Ulrich said.
“That time it takes to chamber a round allows you to settle down and control your breath,” he said. “A measured and steady shot is an accurate shot.”
Brauneis also emphasized how important it is to just “relax” and enjoy the outdoors, rather than getting worked up over whether the chance to make a shot will come that day. When people get too anxious about getting a shot, things get dangerous.
“Only shoot if the shot is right and will give you a 95% chance at a kill shot,” he said. “Once you pull the trigger a multitude of variables enter into the picture. Only one of those variables is good.”