Think Beyond the Target
Headquarters, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command
It was the day before the start of deer season in upstate New York, and we were walking the farm to check the safety of our tree stands and search for recently used trails and buck rubbings. While out, I spotted a tree stand I’d never seen before that had been set up by a new neighbor at the farm to the north. The stand was about 50 yards into the woods near a roadway entrance to a large field. I made a mental note about the stand and continued my walk. Little did I know that the stand would later reinforce an important hunting safety lesson.
The first two days of our annual deer camp were very successful. We took two bucks (a spike and a four-pointer), two button bucks and a large doe. Since we’d maxed out the buck tags, we would now only be able to fill the deer management permits, or DMPs, with does. That meant we’d have to properly identify our target before firing to ensure we didn’t take another buck.
On the third day, while hunting solo, I was walking the wooded farm trail through a wetland area to the back field. It was a quiet morning with heavy frost but no wind or rain. About 75 feet ahead, near a left bend in the roadway, there was rustling in the brush. Just then, two large deer darted from the brush and broke to the right.
Before I shot, I had to ensure these deer were does, so I hesitated. Time stood still as they leapt at least 7 feet into the air to clear the brush on the right side of the road. At the pinnacle of their jump, I could tell both were clearly does. It would be an easy shot using my Remington semi-automatic 11-87 with sabot slugs, and I knew I could get both to fill my remaining DMP tags. But now I had another problem.
The deer were in a direct line with that new tree stand I’d spotted a few days earlier. I didn’t know if the new neighbor was hunting, so I held back from firing. I didn’t want to take a chance shooting upward and toward the tree stand. Two minutes later, the neighbor shot one of the does as it ran underneath him, confirming my fear that he was indeed in the stand.
When I look back on that day, I’m thankful I used my 33 years of military training and considered what was beyond my target. A poor split-second decision could have changed both of our lives forever. While I would have loved to have gotten those two deer, there will be more opportunities.
In an effort to promote, protect and preserve hunting and shooting sports, the National Shooting Sports Foundation offers the 10 Rules of Safe Gun Handling:
- Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
- Firearms should be unloaded when not actually in use.
- Don't rely on your gun’s safety.
- Be sure of your target and what's beyond it.
- Use correct ammunition.
- If your gun fails to fire when the trigger is pulled, handle with care!
- Always wear eye and ear protection when shooting.
- Be sure the barrel is clear of obstructions before shooting.
- Don't alter or modify your gun, and have guns serviced regularly.
- Learn the mechanical and handling characteristics of the firearm you are using.
To reduce weapons-handling accidents, the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center developed the Range & Weapons Safety Toolbox, available at https://safety.army.mil/ON-DUTY/RangeandWeaponsSafetyToolbox.aspx. Check it out today!