Firearm Safety and Hunting Safety: What You Need to Know to Keep Your Family Safe

June 28th, 2018

By Dean I Weitzman, Esq.


As the fall game hunting season continues across Pennsylvania, bolstered by the opening of deer season today, it’s a good time to remind ourselves about hunting safety in the woods and firearm safety in the home.

Since 1982, hunting-related shooting incidents have been on a sharp decline across the Commonwealth, according to statistics kept by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.  In fact, hunting-related shooting incidents have declined in the state by nearly 80 percent since 1959 when hunter education training programs were started, the commission reports.

11 28 11 hunting by cotesebastien iStock 000014449504XSmall

A hunter watches for his prey. Image credit: ©

The key reasons for the improved safety, according to the Commission, are the success of hunter education training and the use of fluorescent orange clothing.

A state report on the number of hunting-related shootings in Pennsylvania since 1982 details how 10 hunters died in 1982 from gun accidents.  That same year, there were 171 non-fatal shootings.

In 1991, there were 9 gun fatalities during hunting season, as well as 127 non-fatal injuries, according to the report.

By 2001, the number of hunting shooting deaths was down to 2, with an additional 60 non-fatal injuries, and last year, 2010, the number of fatalities rose to 5, with an additional 30 non-fatalities.

To continue to improve on those numbers, information on hunting safety courses can be obtained through the Pennsylvania Game Commission Web site.

Preventing hunting accidents is key to safety in the woods, and that begins with the five basic rules of firearm safety, according to tips from the Game Commission:

Safe Direction: Keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction at all times. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), “about one-third of all hunting incidents are self-inflicted injuries. That means the muzzle was pointed at some part of the hunter’s body. A safe direction is a direction where the bullet will travel and harm no one in the event of an unwanted discharge. There are no accidental discharges with firearms, only unwanted discharges.”

Make sure: Positively identify your target. “To shoot at something you only think is a legal target is gambling, according to the WDNR. “In the case of human injury, that means gambling with human life. You must be absolutely certain and correct in judgment before deciding to shoot. Otherwise, it’s reckless behavior.”

Always check: Know what’s beyond your target before shooting. “In addition to identifying the target, a hunter must know that a safe backstop for their bullet is present in every shooting situation, according to the WDNR. “We don’t always hit our target, and, in some cases, the bullet passes through the target. A safe backstop guarantees that no one will get hurt.”

Respect firearms: Treat all firearms as if they are loaded. “Never assume a firearm is unloaded and never treat it that way, even if you watch as it is unloaded, states the WDNR. “Make it a habit to treat guns like they are loaded all the time.”

Trigger caution: Don’t touch the trigger until you are ready to shoot. “If a hunter stumbles with a firearm in one hand and nothing in the other, whatever that person does with their free hand will automatically happen with the hand holding the gun,” according to the WDNR. “If a finger is inside the trigger guard, that hand is likely going to close around the pistol grip of the gun and on the trigger causing an unwanted discharge.”

If you follow these five steps, they spell S.M.A.R.T.

And remember, hunting gun safety doesn’t end in the woods.

It also means taking extra precautions when returning your hunting guns to safe storage in your home to protect your family members, according to tips from the Wisconsin DNR Web site:

Unload all firearms before taking them into the home. Simple reason dictates that firearms should be loaded only when in the field or on the range. At all other times, during travel and especially in the home, they should be kept unloaded.

Never handle or show guns without first carefully checking to be sure they are unloaded. Open the action and keep it open until the gun is again ready for storage. Never assume that a firearm is unloaded, even if it was checked only a few minutes earlier. And don’t trust the safety to compensate for unsafe gun handling — like all mechanical devices, safeties can malfunction, and in any case, they are only intended to supplement human care and intelligence.

Among experienced gun handlers there is a kind of ritual that is repeated whenever a firearm is shown or examined. The person picking up the gun opens the action and checks to make sure it is not loaded. When the gun is handed over to the second person, he goes through the entire procedure again. This is not an insult to the original handler. In fact, most shooting veterans take it as a sign of gun-savvy and competence, because there is just no way to be overcautious about firearms safety.

Long arms, such as rifles and shotguns, should be stowed securely in racks or cabinets, preferably locked. Handguns should be stored in a locked cabinet or drawer. Locked storage is particularly important if there are children in the home. Standing a shotgun in the closet corner or keeping a pistol in the desk does not do the job. If the proper storage facilities are not available, trigger locks should be purchased. Different types are available for use on all kinds of guns, including revolvers and pistols, and they prevent even a fully loaded gun from being fired.

All ammunition should be kept under lock and in a location separate from firearms for complete safety. Again, this is especially important if there are children in the home. An extra measure of safety can be had by storing ammunition in another room or on a different floor level. The objective is to create a situation in which conscious effort is required to bring firearms and ammunition together. Obviously the keys to all storage areas must be kept away from children.

When handling firearms, always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Avoid horseplay at all times — guns are not toys and they must be handled with respect. Common sense must be used in choosing the safest direction to point the muzzle. “Down” is not always the safest direction and neither is “up.”

Hunting accidents can be deadly and usually can be prevented with proper safety precautions and training.

If you hunt, be sure to practice safety every minute you are in the field. That’s the best way to prevent injury to another hunter or bystander while you are hunting.

Be safe and be respectful of the power of the weapons you are using and the laws that regulate your rights as a hunter on state game lands.

To our friends who are hunters, enjoy the season and be careful out there.

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