KEVIN TATE: No room for error in rules for safe safe fireman handling

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

Even before it happened, we were nervous about our guest’s casual attitude toward his shotgun, his lack of experience handling guns in general and his cavalier attitude toward even the thought of being careful.
My hunting buddy and I had been chasing rabbits with beagles together for several seasons, first under the direct supervision of our elders then mostly on our own, and we were very comfortable with one another’s firearm handling habits.
More importantly, we’d each been carefully coached from our first days of shooting, from BB guns on up, on what to do and not do. Neither of us would have pointed a gun, unloaded or otherwise, at the other or anyone else under any circumstance, even by accident, because we were always conscious of what the guns we were holding could do. If we fell in a creek, tripped on briars or slipped in a mud hole while we were afield, we did so with the muzzle pointing in a safe direction, finger off the trigger, safety on.
Being prepared to be safe was just part of how we hunted. It was as central as an understanding of how to find the rabbits in the first place, how to move ahead of the dogs and how to plan our zones of fire to cut the rabbits off. That’s the way it was, and the only way it was going to be.
By necessity of politics and other matters connected to the varied locations of our hunting opportunities though, we were occasionally saddled with guests, most of whom were careful like us. Then there was Katz.
Katz, whose name has been changed to protect the guilty, came to us with his experience level having been well oversold to our mentors. He could shoot, yes; in fact, his abilities with a shotgun were better than average, and he was more than willing to put in the effort to consistently get into position to shoot, which put him ahead of most of the guests we took, but it was his tendencies that gave us pause. We had to insist he unload his gun before getting into the truck, then he was way too casual about which way the unloaded gun was pointed. When we said something about it, he dismissed our comments and, clearly, didn’t give them another thought.
We forgave his tendency to crowd us on shots and cut in front of us on the way to likely shooting positions. After all, he was our guest, even if my buddy and I weren’t the most gracious of hosts. Ultimately though, he went too far. The final straw came when the dogs jumped a rabbit a hundred yards to our front and pursued it straight down the cotton field toward us.
As Katz, who was walking 30 yards to my left, started swinging on the rabbit, I started turning away. Just as the rabbit passed between us, he fired. Mud, bits of cotton plant and ricocheting shot bounced up into the back of my coat, stung my legs and chapped my hide in more ways than one. My comments in the moments that followed left him with no doubt about what I thought of his training or his intelligence and, at the very least, inspired him to spend the rest of the day hunting several hundred yards away from wherever I might be.
The moral of the story then, while you’re out there this fall, is not to be Katz, but to be careful.

Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.