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Safety and etiquette: there are some rules that should never be overlooked or ignored.

I GREW UP in rural America at a time when every briar patch contained at least one cottontail rabbit, and it was not uncommon to put up a dozen or more coveys of bobwhites in a single day. My father was an avid hunter of both, so it was natural that I learned firearms safety and etiquette from him. One of my more important lessons came on the day he presented to me a shotgun of my very own.

We lived on a small farm with the nearest neighbor some distance away, so it was not unusual for Dad to "target practice" with his shotguns and .22 rifles in our back yard. On that particular morning, he perched a huge overripe watermelon atop a fencepost and told me to shoot it with the new shotgun from about five yards away. I should have known something was up when he moved farther back after handing me the gun. As I washed away the sticky juice in the creek behind our house, Dad pointed out that a careless shotgunner could do to a fellow hunter in the field what I had just done to that watermelon. Believe me when I say such a lesson left a lasting impression on a 12-year-old.

Some of the hunters I see in the field each year obviously played hooky from the "school of safety and etiquette." Not wearing blaze orange is one of the more common gaffes I see. I seldom leave home without it, not only when pushing through eastern ruffed grouse thickets but also when hunting pheasants, sharptail grouse and other birds on the open plains. Blaze orange is an absolute necessity when hunting in thickly wooded and brushy country, because it allows you and your hunting partner to maintain awareness of each other. Anytime we lose sight of each other, I insist that we communicate our positions with occasional yells back and forth until we are once again within sight of each other.

A vest of the same color worn by your hunting dog is not a bad idea. If ever in doubt, hold your fire because all the birds you'll shoot in three lifetimes are not worth the risk of shooting a dog or a fellow hunter.

On guided bird hunts, two hunters per guide is ideal, three hunters is too big a crowd, and four hunters won't be there long because I'm beaded home. Anytime more than two bunters are sharing a guide, they should take turns shooting with no more than two at bat with the other hunters standing behind out of the way and with guns unloaded.

It's not uncommon on some preserves for a guide to offer to walk in and flush the birds when his dog goes on point, but I always politely ask him to stay a couple of safe steps behind as I walk in and put up the birds. If a hunting partner is walking to the flush on the opposite side of pointing dog, keep in mind that an imaginary line extending out from the dog's nose divides your birds from his--you shoot only those birds that fix on your side of the line, and he shoots those that fly on his side. Never shoot in any direction except to the front or side. I once watched in amazement and disgust as two hunters wheeled to take quail that flew back over their heads, causing the guide standing behind them to hit the dirt. 1 have vet to meet a bird I wanted to shoot badly enough to attempt such a mindless act.

After the covey flush, always take turns with your bunting partner when shooting singles. A fellow I hunted with once would actually push past me to get to a single, even though he had shot most of them up to that point in time. You can understand why I never invited him back.

He also had the bad habit of pushing off the safety of his over/under with a loud "click" as he walked in to flush a bird when he should have left the safety on until the bird got up.

Regardless of whether you are shooting in a dove field or a covert filled with quail, never blast away at a low-flying bird. A few years ago during a duck hunt, one of the shooters disengaged his brain, engaged the trigger and cut loose at a duck as it flew low between us. Luckily, most of the No. 2 steel pellets bounced off my waders, although one managed to bring a trickle of blood from one of my fingers.

Always make your gun safe before crossing a ditch, fence or other obstacle. In this case "safe" means a gun temporarily rendered incapable of firing. Double-barrel guns encourage hunters to do this because they are easily broken down for unloading. The Browning Auto-5, with its magazine cutoff, also scores high in this department.

I've seen my share of close calls in duck blinds due to hunters losing control of their guns. Like the time at Wingmeade, in Arkansas, when a fellow absentmindedly leaned his loaded Fox double against the railing of the blind and started pouring himself a cup of coffee. Hearing a commotion, I looked over just in time to see the gun bounce off the floor with its muzzles pointed at my feet. Had the Fox discharged, my days of twenty-mile walks after sharptail grouse would probably have come to an end then and there. When in a blind with other hunters, always hold onto your gun unless the railing you want to rest it against is notched deeply enough to keep it from slipping to the side.

By far the most common mistake I see in the field is a hunter sweeping others with the muzzle of a firearm. This most often happens when the gun is carried across time body in the crook of the arm or atop the shoulder with its muzzle pointed to the rear. Regardless of how you choose to carry a gun, its muzzle absolutely must remain pointed at nothing but sky until the birds flush and even then it is to be pointed only in a safe direction.

Finally, never criticize another man's dog regardless of how many birds it flushes 200 yards from where your stand, or if it eats quail as fast as you can shoot them.

LIFE-SAVING BLAZE: Technically speaking, blaze orange, or "hunter orange" as it is just as commonly called, is defined as a daylight fluorescent orange color with a dominant wave length between 595 and 605 nanometers, excitation purity of not less than 85 percent and a luminance factor of not less than 40 percent, This means a hunter wearing it will stand out like a traffic cone among the greens, browns, tans and grays of nature. We may never know for certain how many lives have been saved since blaze orange became not only popular among hunters but even mandated for certain types of hunting in some states. During warm weather, I usually wear a blaze orange baseball cap and a strap vest trimmed in same. Most of the shirts I hunt in are either trimmed in orange or are solid orange. When switching to a broad-brimmed hat for protection against the sun, I accessorize it with a band of blaze orange material. During late season, when the mercury starts to bottom out, I wear a bird-shooter's coat trimmed in orange. When a blaze orange garment loses a noticeable amount of fluorescence due to numerous washings or is faded by the sun, it should be replaced. Some states require hunters to wear blaze orange for all hunting, while others only "strongly recommend" it to those who hunt the uplands. I could care less which state recommends what--anytime I'm in the field, I'll be wearing plenty of blaze orange.
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Title Annotation:Shotgunning
Author:Simpson, Layne
Publication:Petersen's Hunting
Date:Nov 1, 2007
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