Fingering that Firearm...
How To Handle That Favorite Gun
There is seldom a time while enjoying my love and passion for hunting and the shooting sports that I’m not reminded of safety protocol. Just as I can remember the first time my father took me fishing as a young boy, I can remember vividly his admonition about gun safety when it came time for me to own and use my first weapon- an antique .22 caliber Winchester pump action rifle. Here's my youngest holding it:
(Notice the hand positions. No fingers anywhere near that trigger...)
My father is not the firearms enthusiast that his father was and that his son has turned out to be. However, that did not keep my dad from teaching me proper safety techniques when it came to handling firearms. After all, my Dad’s earliest memories with that same Winchester include the time that he accidentally shot out the back window of my grandfather’s Chevy while attempting to chamber a new round in his gun. To this day he says he is not sure who was more surprised- him, or my grandfather who was standing outside the car.
So it is here that I find myself remembering my 14th birthday, the time I was allowed to own my very own rifle. It was electric. It was immensely satisfying. It was all I could do to wait until we could go to my grandparents’ small place in the country to start acting on my desires. My father had a different idea.
My father, at the time, was a high school counselor. He had befriended a colleague who was an avid shooter and sportsman and asked him where he and his son could partake in some target practice. “The old abandoned gravel pit west of town”, was the quick reply. So, off to the gravel pit we went. Not having a proper wooden backstop to tack up flat paper targets, my father had collected some empty soda cans and immediately went to the far end of the pit and set them upright on the ground. Behind the cans was a sheer dirt wall that extended upwards of fifty feet and formed a semi circle around us.
My father rejoined me at the car and as I took the gun from the cardboard container he began by showing me the various parts of the gun and explaining how each functioned. Once the hardware introduction was over, he immediately went into his safety lecture. To this day, I can remember his words as if he had spoken them yesterday.
“Son, all guns are always loaded, period - no exceptions. If someone hands you their gun, assume it is loaded until you can prove otherwise. Second, never shoot at anything you aren’t willing to kill. Even this small weapon can kill a man and it is your responsibility to think before you pull this trigger. Third, never put your finger on the trigger until you are lined up with the target. Fourth, always know what is behind your target before you shoot. You never want your bullet to hurt someone or something else beyond your immediate area.”
There you have it. Four simple rules that are easily identified and remembered no matter what firearm you choose to take out for the day. It has always seemed a relatively simple thing- this matter of gun safety. But I imagine there are those of you reading this who know of at least one instance where caution was thrown to the wind by an individual who was careless, lazy, or ignorant. Sometimes, it is a combination of all three. I’ve seen it first hand - it ain’t pretty.
Though there are many different shooting disciplines due to the variety of weapons and sporting venues available to us here in the United States, these few simple rules will keep you safe- either as the participant, or the spectator. Obviously, if you think a gun is loaded you will give it the due caution it rightfully deserves when handling. Always keep the muzzle pointed upward and away from your person when retrieving it from its protective case, inspecting it, or putting it away for the day. Many is the time when a person attempted to handle a weapon with the muzzle end of the gun pointed straight down only to find himself staring at a smoking hole in the ground close to his foot- or worse- seeing a smoking hole in the middle of his foot. (Keep those muzzles pointed skyward.)
Never store a loaded firearm. How many times have we seen evening newscasts about the poor child or friend who stumbles upon a gun in the closet and decides to play with it only to wind up shooting someone? If you make it a habit to always unload your gun after an outing, while maintaining a strict policy to treat it as loaded, you will greatly reduce or eliminate the chances of an accidental discharge. By example, I’ve been handling guns for more than twenty-four years and can say in all earnestness that I’ve never had an accidental discharge. I credit this to my father’s teaching me at an early age.
It doesn’t matter if you are six years old handling your first .22, or if you are eighty years old handling that wonderful war relic handed down from an earlier generation or two. You owe it to yourself and to your family and friends to consistently maintain safe gun handling practices. As you mature and your interests expand with different types of weaponry, so too will your knowledge of safety. For that eager youngster wanting to handle granddad’s old gun, four basic rules are plenty to start them on the path to a lifetime of safety and fun.
Until next time, have a safe trip to the range or field with that trusted firearm. Believe I’ll go put a fresh coat of oil on that old Winchester.