Be Safe! No Near Misses!

Gun safety training is the backbone of the shooting sports, and no matter how much training we have had, it pays to relearn those vital lessons from time to time. Shooters who err in this virtually always violate one or more of the fundamental rules of gun safety: Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

I speak from experience, as three times I have been present when a firearm discharged accidentally. The first time I did it myself. My grandmother had given me a 9-shot .22 Hi-Standard revolver. I had waited for several geological ages to pass before that Christmas finally rolled around and my hints were heeded. I was 12 years old and this was my first pistol.
One day on the family’s South Texas ranch, I was stalking leopard frogs around the edge of a pond. Usually they saw me coming and arched into the air and sliced through the surface before I could raise my hand. So you had to be quick. And to me that meant cocking the hammer and, apparently, keeping my finger on that curved piece of metal. Holding the gun at my side, I walked slowly by the water, trying not to make any noise. The Hi-Standard suddenly fired! I had inadvertently—carelessly—squeezed the trigger. The bullet entered my blue jeans above my knee and exited the denim below my knee, without ever touching my leg. I stood there a long time contemplating what might have happened. They weren’t pretty thoughts.

At the next incident, there was more at stake than my remaining ambulatory. I was out in a pasture walking in front of a friend. He had not spent much time with firearms, though both of us were carrying loaded shotguns. As I leaned down to clear the branch of a mesquite tree, a few seconds later his 20 gauge roared behind me and the limb one foot above my head splintered. For some time, when I showed it to friends, that chewed-up branch was a picture easily worth a thousand words. Somehow, my friend had taken the safety off and had unconsciously—and carelessly—touched the trigger. He felt badly but not nearly as badly as I might have felt.

The third near miss was a little less traumatic. In fact, no one was hurt, just embarrassed, though a certain 35-year-old C-5 Jeep still bears a round scar. This occurred on a cold winter morning during deer season and another friend was sitting in the passenger seat while I drove. I don’t recall where we were on the same South Texas ranch but suddenly there was an explosion to my right and the slug from an open-sighted lever-action .30-.30 had punched a hole in the metal floor-board. Since my friend still had ten toes and this was such a typical—but careless—accident, it almost seemed funny. Maybe we were just relieved both humans and the vehicle were still intact and operating. Today, they sell decals you can stick to the side of a car that look like bullet holes. But I’ve got an original.

So this is the takeaway I hope will save others a punctured ego or even worse: Enjoy your hunting adventures and range time, but above all else follow the NRA gun safety rules listed here again for our mutual review.

Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

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2 Responses to Be Safe! No Near Misses!

Mike Welch wrote:
February 05, 2013

In nearly every photo in this publication showing a hunter, often staff members, posing with a recent kill they are proudly displaying their firearm with the action closed. As so correctly stated in this article, when you are not hunting the action should be as safe as possible, which means open. And certainly when posing for photos the primary objective is not hunting, and the principle attention is not on firearm safe carry. In his recent article on an African safari, editor Olmstead is seen in one photo with a rifle in battery casually thrown over his shoulder butt first with his hand near the muzzle. He's not hunting, he conversing with locals, and there's no reason why that rifle should not have it's action open. We teach in hunter safety that when not actually hunting all firearms in possession should be controlled with their action open. Especially in the current atmosphere of firearms awareness, any measure that can reduce the possibility of an injury is not only worth the effort for the sake of an individual, but also for the sake of the sport.

Skip LeMay wrote:
February 04, 2013

You have miss-categorized all three of these unfortunate events - they were not "Near Misses", but "Near Hit", or more appropriately "Negligent Discharges". A near miss means you nearly or almost missed what should have been hit, and since you nearly missed it then you must have hit it. Safety must always be foremost in our minds, and calling a mistake a mistake will keep it that way. Don't justify it with the false name of "Near Miss."