Every so often the national media reports on people whose negligence resulted in them being "shot" by their own dogs. The latest case involves a 78-year-old Fort Worth, Texas, woman whose dog knocked her shotgun over inside the home, apparently causing it to discharge. She was not seriously injured.
We can shake our heads or scoff at incidents like this. But the truth is, though it's rare for a dog to cause a firearm to discharge, it isn't unheard of. A casual Google search turned up dog-related accidents involving an Oregon duck hunter; an Iowa pheasant hunter; a Texas goose hunter; a French deer hunter; a Utah duck hunter; and a Florida deer hunter. Most weren't fatal, but some were. And the shame of it is none should ever have happened.
Accidents can happen among upland hunters—a loaded shotgun placed carelessly near an undisciplined dog comes to mind—but duck hunters, especially, need to use caution. When you have people, shotguns and a dog or two packed into a pit blind, some commonsense, mandatory safety measures are in order.
For starters, good manners must be instilled in your retriever. I don't believe a duck dog necessarily needs to remain unflinchingly still for hours on end, but he can't behave as a bull in a China shop either. At best it's an annoyance to all involved; at worst the dog could pose a safety risk. Disciplined dogs are safe dogs.
However, even if your buddy's Lab is a complete nut, you can still ensure a safe hunt. It's a no-brainer that your gun's safety should remain on until you're ready to fire, but that's not the end-all. Incidents have occurred in which a retriever's paw deactivated a crossbolt safety and pressed the trigger in one quick swipe. Therefore it's necessary to maintain muzzle discipline—keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction—and always ensure your shotgun is within arm's reach. If you leave the blind, the gun goes with you. And always pay careful attention to where the dog is in relation to your gun. If there's any chance at all he could bump your shotgun, ensure your hand is on the forend to prevent the gun from falling over or pointing in an unsafe direction.
With a little care, it's easy to erase all risk of these types of accidents.