Hunting Safety Part 2: Exploring Gun Safety

By Keith Murray, M.D.

This is the second in a four-part series exploring hunting safety.

My father was a U.S. Marine and from an early age I was taught gun handling and gun safety.  As a tactical physician who has worked with law enforcement in Chicago and now Pittsburgh, I have also had the privilege of being sent to shooting schools taught by active duty special forces.

The four basic rules of gun safety are: 

According to data from the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA), it’s clear that a vast majority, if not all, of the injuries and fatalities attributed to firearms could have been prevented if the basic rules were followed.  For example, in 2007 there were a total of 239 reported firearm injuries, including 19 which were fatal. The cause of these injuries included failure to identify a target, careless handling of a firearm, a target out of the sight of the shooter and a victim who moved into the line of fire.

Every hunter should take a hunter safety course and, if possible, some sort of shooting class. This will build on gun handling skills and make you more comfortable with your weapon, something that will help you maintain your heart rate while sighting in and pulling the trigger. 

One physiologic change that occurs almost universally when a hunter is sighting in on prey is the development of tunnel vision. This occurs when your heart rate accelerates, blood shifts to your large muscle groups, you breath deeper and faster, thus delivering more oxygen to your system and your pupils dilate to allow for more light.  The result is that your brain focuses almost exclusively on your target. If you are not trained to recognize and breath through tunnel vision, bad things can happen. This is usually seen during a bird hunt when a hunter starts to track a moving target, and in full tunnel vision mode, swings his barrel into the general vicinity of another hunter.  Fifty of the 239 non-fatal injuries reported by the IHEA in 2007 were caused by “swinging.”

If you're a hunter, tell us how you practice gun safety in the comments below. Tomorrow on the blog, we'll explore the environmental dangers hunters can face.