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Practice firearm safety this big game season

Hunting - Region 7

Friday, October 18, 2019

With the big game season opener on October 26, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks would like to stress the importance of being safe this year. Last hunting season, Montana experienced more hunting-related injuries and deaths than the past several combined. One of the deaths even resulted in the hunting partner being charged with negligent homicide.

All of these tragedies had the same factors in common: loaded firearms. The incidents involved loaded firearms that were being transported in trucks, ATVs, or snowmobiles or by people walking around with chambered rounds.

“The merits or practice of walking around with a chambered round when big game hunting can be debated extensively,” said Wayde Cooperider, FWP Outdoor Skills and Safety Supervisor. “However, I believe it should always come down to ‘best safety practice.’”

“Is the potential of a missed harvest opportunity worth the cost of a life or serious injury to someone?” Cooperider asked.

These tragedies might have been avoided had these folks and their hunting partners helped each other by checking one another’s safety habits, he said. If you are hunting with someone, he suggests verifying that his or her firearm is unloaded - every time - before hiking between areas and before you place it in a vehicle. 

Cooperider said the results of a very informal, in-person survey of more than 300 Montana hunters showed that almost half carried a chambered round when big game hunting. Half of those admitted to experiencing one or more occasions when their safety had gotten pushed into a firing position just by carrying it, which was attributed to the safety coming into contact with brush, clothing or their backpack. 

“I can honestly say I, too, had that experience - once,” Cooperider said, stressing that he no longer walks with chambered rounds, nor do any of his hunting partners.

Cooperider, who oversees Montana’s Hunter and Bowhunter Education programs, said every person graduating from a Hunter Education course knows four firearm rules by heart:

Always point your muzzle in a safe direction.

Always treat every gun as if it were loaded.

Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.

Always be sure of your target and beyond.

“The students are drilled on them every day, and they are part of the final test,” he said.

There are no existing or proposed laws against hunting with a chambered round, but Cooperider would like to see hunters phase out this practice in the interest of safety. He also encourages unloading firearms away from your vehicle, and casing your firearm before placing it in a vehicle.

“If we all do our part, we can have a safe, enjoyable, memorable and incident-free hunting season in Montana. Let’s all be safe out there,” Cooperider said.