Photo: Practicing shooting skills at a range allows you to become more proficient in a safe environment.
What or who is beyond the bull’s-eye?
When it comes to handling a gun or a bow proficiently, the starting place is to do so safely.
It’s simple. You’re responsible, legally and ethically, to safely handle your gun or bow, whether you’re on a range or in the woods.
It doesn’t matter if you are young and new to shooting sports or if you’re older and a trained professional, the responsibility of safely handling firearms and bows belongs to you.
This means it’s your responsibility to positively identify your target and to know what is beyond it before discharging your firearm or releasing an arrow from your bow. That’s one of the reasons you practice to become proficient with a firearm or bow.
Understanding how to hit your target is important, but knowing where to aim your bullet or arrow, and knowing where it will stop if you miss the target is critical.
As much fun as it may be to set up tin cans in the backyard for target practice, there are safer ways to become more proficient.
A .22 caliber bullet can travel up to a mile or more if the target is missed, and larger caliber bullets can travel up to 3 miles. Whether or not you hit the can, the chance of injury to someone beyond the target is not worth the risk. Something as simple as a rock can cause a bullet to ricochet right back in your direction.
For this reason, always use an earthen berm as a backstop to shoot into, or preferably visit a shooting range built for that purpose. Many state departments of natural resources maintain lists of public and privately operated ranges.
Another important thing to learn before you go afield is how to properly identify the animal you are hunting. This is not only important for human safety, but also ensures you are targeting an animal that is legal to hunt.
Never identify an animal through a scope. Always use binoculars for absolute certainty.
Not being positive in your identification and target zone could result in suffering for the animal.
In the excitement of the moment, sometimes you can rationalize seeing what you want to see rather than what is actually there.
Take the time to properly identify the target, and know that it is the right target before putting your finger on the trigger or release.
Taking this little bit of extra time can ensure you are not aiming a rifle or bow at a human. After correctly identifying the animal, make sure the bullet or arrow will hit in a safe place if it misses the target.
Shooting opportunities come fast and require a quick response when hunting for small game animals such as duck, dove, rabbit or quail.
Before taking a shot, be aware of the landscape and the location of other hunters to make sure there is nothing beyond your barrel or bow that may be harmed. Make sure your shot will not fall in another hunter’s direction.
Proper handling of your firearm or bow requires you to understand your equipment, to properly identify the target and know what is beyond that target every time.
Taking a few extra steps and being aware of your surroundings keeps you and others safe and helps ensure an enjoyable, safe and successful hunting trip.
— Contributed by Stuart Goldsby, Regional Hunter Education Coordinator, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. In Alabama, find a list of shooting ranges by clicking here.
— Photo courtesy Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.