Written By Bill Howard
Once upon a time I was a hunter education instructor. Each year I would volunteer so many hours educating young and old, new and experienced in the heritage, techniques, and reasons for hunting. It was a very rewarding experience.
Duncan, my partner in the courses, and I would meet with our wildlife officer Daniel after the last class and discuss how we felt the class went. Did we fail in any scenario? What were our strong points that the class really latched on to? What will we continue to do the same for future classes and what would we alter so as to help certain things sink in?
Yes, we took it seriously. Not seriously enough where we couldn’t get a smile and a laugh out of the class. We had to keep it fun and interesting rather than just a monotone lecture. We wanted our students to enjoy the class as well as learn from it.
However, once hunting season started, we could just about count on something happening after the first night of class where we could really bring something that hit home with the students. It is not the way we wanted to teach it; we preferred for these incidents not to occur.
The incidents were not with students in our class, but rather incidents that occurred during hunting season that we could report. For instance, one year an uncle and nephew were hunting dove. They sat beside each other in the field. When a bird crossed in front of then, one of the hunters stood up to shoot while the other remained sitting. The one sitting accidently shot the one standing up as he swept the muzzle of the shotgun along the dove’s flight path.
These stories were sobering. But Duncan and I felt we could turn a positive lesson from an unfortunate occurrence.
One question appears on the test several times in different forms. It regards the number one rule in firearm safety.
If you do not know, please heed the following advice. NEVER POINT THE MUZZLE OF A FIREARM IN AN UNSAFE DIRECTION.
We would repeat it nightly over the three evening course. We would repeat it four, five and six times during a single night. It is that important.
You see, if the muzzle if pointed in a safe direction, the odds quickly diminish to an injury or death. An accidental discharge will cause no harm other than a jump of the heart and maybe some slight property damage.
When Duncan and I would go in depth on the rules of safety, our demeanor would change. Duncan would usually stand to the side of the room. I would sit on top of the desk in front of the class. My head would bow as I began my story.
I am in my upper 40’s and have had very few in my high school class die. Our first one to do so was one of my best friends in high school. He went into law enforcement with the state.
I explained that he had received his dream job as that is what he wanted to do. He was also a newlywed. He respected people and he respected firearms. I had never seen him handle one in a way to prove something. No testosterone moments where that machismo had to show.
Then one night, after work, he sat down in his recliner. I pulled his sidearm from the harness. He dropped the magazine. He wiped down the firearm to clean it from the oils and moisture that can attach to the metal. And somehow, in an instant, the trigger was pressed just enough to activate the firing pin. In turn, the pin struck the one bullet that was accidently left in the chamber which set off the chain reaction that ultimately left him dead.
Even as I type this tears come to my eyes. Just as they did each time I told that story to the different classes over the years.
It was and is my one way to make something positive from that one moment of lapsed thinking that caused an officer, a man, a husband, and a friend his life.
In a few weeks we will have young and old and new and experienced hunters sharing the fields across the state in what has become a tradition amongst hunters. Do not let there be a moment that can be used as a lesson in a class on safety. We have plenty of those stories to tell already.
Never point the muzzle of a firearm in an unsafe direction. Never.
Editor’s Note: “Bill Howard Outdoors” is a new weekly series that will be published every Saturday in the new Outdoor Living feature section.