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How to Avoid Hunting Trip Disasters

by Jason Wimbiscus

Statistically, hunting is an exceptionally safe form of outdoor recreation.

As evidence, consider that in the state of California in 2009, there were a total of 15 hunting related injuries involving firearms, eight of which were fatal.

The fact that there were a total of 1,679,864 hunting licenses sold in California that same year puts the gun related hunting accident rate for 2009 at roughly .0001%.

All but the most paranoid of would be hunters will happily assume such risk for the many rewards that hunting offers. 

Unfortunately, however, hunting accidents are much like airline accidents in that while they are statistical anomalies, when they do occur, they are news-making tragedies that destroy lives and tear apart families.

Thankfully, unlike airline accidents, firearms related hunting accidents are completely within our power to prevent. All it takes is care and common sense.

By the way, if you're brand new to hunting, visit our Hunting Guide to learn the basics of what it takes to get started.  

Man in camo standing with rifle near woods

The Ten Commandments of Firearms Safety on Hunting Trips


On the hunting accident report linked above, in the “Major Factor” column (the column that explains the reason for each accident) phrases such as: “victim out of sight of hunter,” “improper crossing of obstacle,” and “careless handling of a firearm” repeat over and over and they all mean the same thing: the hunter was negligent.

It bears repeating that all firearms related accidents, except perhaps those resulting from a manufacturing defect, are preventable by following the Ten Commandments of Firearms Safety.

While these safety rules are little more than straight-forward common sense, measures to prevent injury and death, it is worthwhile to examine them as they apply to hunting situations:

1. Know Your Target and What Lies Beyond.


All firearms safety rules are important, but in a hunting situation, this is the cardinal rule.

It’s likely that more tragic hunting disasters have been caused by disregard for this most basic rule than any other factors combined.

Always carefully identify game before aiming at it and absolutely never shoot at sound.

That gobble you heard coming from a blackberry bramble just might be another hunter and that flash of white you saw might not be the tail of a fleeing deer.

It’s also of the utmost importance to note what lies beyond your quarry. 

Will a miss or a bullet that passes through its target threaten that house in the background?

Refrain from firing unless there is a solid backstop behind your target.

White tailed buck in Autumn fog in the forrest

2. Always Keep Your Gun Pointed in a Safe Direction.


It is of the utmost importance to mind your muzzle when moving around the rough, uneven terrain of fields and forests.

It can be too easy to lose track of where your gun is pointing when ducking under limbs and stepping over fallen trees, but difficult footing is no excuse for sweeping your muzzle over the other members of your hunting party.

When hunting with dogs, muzzles should stay skyward and shots should not be taken at grounded game.

Hunting crew heading out to hunt in early morning


3. Always Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger Until Ready to Shoot.

In addition to keeping your own fingers away from the trigger until it’s time to take a shot at that buck, boar, or pheasant, be careful when moving through thick brush to make sure the trigger does not snag on any tree parts.

Use your gun’s safety, but don’t rely on it. The safety is just a part of a machine and all machines can fail.


4. Always Keep Your Gun Unloaded Until Ready to Use.


This is especially important when transporting your gun by vehicle from home to your hunting grounds as well as when crossing such obstacles as fences and streams.

Always unload your gun when encountering game wardens and other hunting parties.

5. Know How to Use Your Gun Safely.


A responsible hunter becomes proficient with his or her weapon long before setting foot in the woods.

Grossly inaccurate fire is a danger to all life and property inside the range of the bullet.

It would be an exaggeration to say that a hunter should know how to safely operate their firearm blindfolded, upside down, and under water, but the sentiment is not off the mark.



6. Be Sure the Gun is Safe to Operate.


This is especially important when hunting with blackpowder firearms which can quickly foul and rust to the point of being unsafe if not properly maintained.

All guns should be periodically cleaned and checked for potential points of wear and breakage.

Ensure muzzles stay clear of dirt and debris.



7. Use Only the Correct Ammunition for Your Gun.

At a glance and when adrenaline is pumping, two distinctly different cartridges can look identical (the .280 Remington and .30-06 Springfield, for example).

Since using the wrong ammo for your gun can irreparably damage it (or you), be sure you only have one kind of ammo on your person during any given hunting trip.


Row of different caliber bullets set upright from shortest to tallest



8. Wear Eye and Ear Protection as Appropriate.


It may not always be practical to wear hearing protection while hunting (you do need to be able to hear approaching animals and humans) but protective eye gear is always a good idea.

Quality shooting glasses are so light and nonintrusive you won’t even know they’re there.



9. Never Use Alcohol or Over-the-Counter, Prescription, or Other Drugs Before Shooting.


Not only is mixing alcohol and firearms a terrible idea, in most states, it is illegal to hunt while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

When the booze comes out, the guns should go away.



10. Store Guns Safely Away from Unauthorized People, Children, or Pets.


This is especially important in situations where children are present.

Having kids tag along on hunting trips is a great way to introduce them to the sport, but it is paramount to never let them, or your gun out of your immediate control.

Even if your hunting party consists of only you and your loyal canine companion, an unattended or carelessly handled firearm can result in tragedy.

Always Remember . . .

Once a trigger is pulled, a bullet cannot be recalled and the damage it inflicts cannot be undone.

One moment of inattentiveness or carelessness can destroy many lives.

All it will likely take to prevent tragedy and keep hunting one of the safest forms of recreation is to have an awareness of your surroundings and to follow these 10 Commandments of Firearms Safety.