I’m taking a firearms safety class. That’s right…taking the class along with me are 7 young ladies and about 20 young men ranging in age from 11, 12 and 13–years old up to the ripe old age of 45 (yup, that would be me). Why am I taking the class, you might ask? Mostly because my 11–year old stepson is taking it for the first time…but I’m also taking it because when it comes to gun handling safety you are never too old to learn. Seriously!
I’ve hounded on my stepson that gun safety isn’t just something you learn once in your youth and forget. It is a skill that takes years of careful honing. And quite honestly, in the 33 years since I first took gun safety from the Minnesota DNR this will be my fourth class I’ve attended. That doesn’t make me better than anyone else, and I certainly am not looking for a pat on the back, but I’m humble enough to admit that safety is a never-ending process for hunters and it doesn’t hurt any of us to sit in on a class if for no other reason than to refresh some of those forgotten safety principles.
This past weekend Minnesota experienced a fatal turkey hunting accident where a father mistook his 8 year old son for a turkey and shot him dead. It’s truly a tragic story, the likes of which I can’t even imagine. In this case a 39 year old father committed one of the most vital sins of firearms safety — being sure of your target before you shoot. What he thought was a tom turkey ended up being his precious son.
Sure, these sort of gut-wrenching stories puts a lump in all of our throats as read the tragic details of the account. Many times when it comes to gun safety you get one chance to do things right. Sometimes accidents result in non-life threatening injuries. Other times it is death. Yet, many other times carelessness doesn’t result in anything serious so a lazy, sloppy hunter can become complacent with practicing these necessary safety skills.
Last fall I was dealing with a 22 year old hunter in my deer camp who was reprimanded by me twice for safety violations. Once he lost muzzle control of his loaded gun and pointed it at me. The other time he was gutting a deer in a very unsafe manner that could have easily resulted in a severe cut. He didn’t take kindly to my criticism stating to me that it was “no big deal.” Well, that sort of attitude doesn’t sit kindly with me. This fall he will be finding different hunting grounds because he lost the privilege to hunt my farm until he cleans his act up and changes his young adult know-it-all attitude.
I have absolutely no time for someone who blatantly takes liberties with my health and safety when it comes to carrying firearms. For this young adult, to earn the privilege to once again deer hunt on my farm will require him to humbly sit through another firearms safety class AND THIS TIME PAY ATTENTION! Will he likely do it…probably not. Still, he will soon learn that his behavior (whether he agrees or not) cost him a precious hunting opportunity on land where he has taken the two biggest deer of his life.
You know what…I hunt with a core bunch of hunters who actually take great pride in practicing safe gun handling AND in so doing setting a good example for the other hunters in our group. Maybe some of this hearkens back to my ambulance days where I was witness to more than my fair share of human tragedy and suffering. The truth is accidents will strike ANYONE and they can happen AT ANY TIME.
One thing I learned by my 11 years working on an ambulance was to learn by observing other people’s dumb mistakes. Every time I pick up a circular saw I think of that victim’s thumb lying there in the sawdust with blood all over. Every time I jack up my truck I think of the time one of my victims had his pickup fall on him and instantly kill him in a freak accident. Oh sure, every time I climb a ladder I think of the many patients I have picked up when the climbing plan somehow went awry.
And yesterday morning, when I took my 11–year old stepson out turkey hunting with me for the very first time I was thinking of this grieving father who will never get that opportunity again. Perhaps will never even want that opportunity again because of his carelessness. Indeed, accidents happen and not a single one of us is immune. Safety doesn’t just happen…you have to work at it. It must constantly be on your mind.
Is there any wonder why I’m devoting over 20 hours of my life sitting in on yet another firearms safety class surrounded by kids 30 years my junior? I’m doing it for me…but I’m trying to set a good example to them, as well. The kids in class all know I am there not because I have to be, but because I care enough about my sporting heritage to accept the notion that you’re never too old to keep learning how to carefully handle a firearm.
2008 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.