Feb. 17, 2006
SAN ANTONIO — While the accidental shooting of a quail-hunting companion by Vice President Cheney has received national attention, shooting safety has long been the responsibility of any individual quail hunter, said a Texas Cooperative Extension expert.
“There are some basic rules quail hunters should follow to ensure their own safety and the safety of their hunting companions” said Ron Howard, Extension specialist with 4 H, a quail hunter and hunter education instructor for almost 30 years. “If you follow these basic rules, you can avoid 99.9 percent of hunting accidents.”
First, make sure the firearm is open and empty before the hunt begins, Howard said.
“Then only load the gun in anticipation of a clear shot” he said. “And you should always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. For most quail hunters, this means upward to an almost vertical position.” Most important, a hunter should never touch the trigger until he or she is positive of a clear and safe shot, he said.
Quail hunting has some additional safety challenges over other forms of game hunting, Howard noted.
“While quail hunting, it’s not unusual for hunters to step right into a covey,” he said. “When the quail take flight, it can be a little unnerving, so you need to keep focused on your shooting safety zones. Plus, their flight direction is often unpredictable.”
A hunter should only shoot at quail to the front and sides, Howard said.
“Never shoot at quail flying over your head and behind you,” he said. “You don’t know who may be in back of you. If you’re focused on the quail, it’s very easy to lose where your hunting companions are in the background. Know where your safe zones of fire are and stay within them.”
Hunters should maintain a nearly straight line, getting neither in advance of nor behind one another, in most upland bird hunting situations, Howard said.
“And to be safe, a hunter should wear shooting glasses to protect the eyes from any stray pellets and to keep them from being injured while trudging through dense brush,” he said. “Hunters should always wear hunter orange’ clothing so they can be spotted more easily.”
In 2005, 30 hunting accidents occurred in Texas, according to Steve Hall, education director for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Austin.
“Of those 30 accidental shootings, two were fatalities and a total of 13 were from quail, dove, pheasant and other types of bird hunting,” Hall said.
The most frequent type of bird hunting accident is caused by “swinging on game outside the safe zone of fire,” he said. Quail hunting and other types of bird hunting are different from other types of game hunting in that shotguns are used, Hall said.
“Shotgun shooting is fast action so you have to be especially aware of your surroundings,” he said. “You should plan the hunt and hunt (according to) the plan. It’s important that hunters sharing the field communicate with one another about what they’re planning to do during the hunt and then stick to that plan.”
Texas Parks and Wildlife offers more than 4,000 gun/hunting safety courses every year, Hall added.
“The best thing any hunter can for his or her safety and for the safety of those around them is to take one of these courses,” he said.
Information on hunting accidents in Texas, as well as tips and courses on hunting safety, can be found at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Web site: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ .
Additional information on responsible hunting can be found at the International Hunter Education Association Web site at http://www.ihea.com .
Information on 4-H shooting sports can be found at http://texas4-h.tamu.edu/ss/ .
“What happened in the case of the Vice President Cheney got a lot of publicity, but that was only one of about 30 hunting accidents that occur annually in which someone gets injured or killed,” Hall said.
“Although it was unfortunate, I’m hoping it will bring the importance of hunting safety education to the forefront so other accidents may be avoided.”