Handle a Gun
By Dan Beard
The Sons of Daniel Boone can arm themselves with bows and arrows, for among the white pioneers of the Ohio Valley there were many descendants of the old English archers who were as expert with the bow as the red men themselves. This is a fact that is little known but true nevertheless, and even to-day, in remote parts of the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee, the bow is still used to some extent. When the writer was visiting some caves in the Kentucky mountains he met men with bows and arrows shooting fish, and when his old friend, the late Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, Professor of Geology in Harvard University, was in the same region he told the author that he met a man hunting deer with a cross-bow!
But if the boys do use fire-arms they must learn to do so with safety to themselves and others. Even in fun they must not aim their weapons, be they bows, guns, or toy pistols, at any person, for that is the act of a chump and not of a woodsman.
It is a good idea for the boys to have wooden guns to practice and drill with until they can learn to handle them swiftly and handily without ever once pointing them at themselves or others.
In case you use fire-arms, it is Daniel Boone's duty to see that the target is placed below a bank of earth, a bare hill-side, or some similar object which will prevent any danger to passers-by from the bullets; also, that no one shall stand anywhere near the target when it is in use.
Davy Crockett should run to the target only when ordered by Daniel Boone and call out the number, returning to his place of safety before Boone gives the word for the next shot. Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton should be the policemen on this occasion, and demand and insist that these regulations be carried out to the letter.
We not only want no accident to happen through carelessness to any of the Sons of Daniel Boone or their friends, but we wish them to set an example which will be followed by other boys and thus lessen the danger and the number of accidents which are constantly happening because of the handling of fire-arms by untrained and un-drilled boys and men.
Every boy is supposed to have gumption, and this chapter is devoted to an explanation of a few things which illustrate this subject. Not only the boys themselves, but the boys' parents, should possess this quality of common-sense designated by the old-fashioned word "gumption," and a few remarks to parents on this topic may not be out of place.
A Word to Parents
A boy is a boy and as such possesses different characteristics from a girl. One cannot train a boy to love dolls and such things without grave danger of making that abomination, a sissy sort of a chap, of the little fellow.
All thinking parents realize that there is no use trying to keep boys away from the water; they take to it as naturally as young ducks; but it is necessary to teach them to swim. Neither is it wise to try to keep fire-arms out of the hands of your sons, for as long as fathers and uncles go hunting, and as long as soldiers parade the streets, boys will manage to carry fire-arms in imitation of their elders.
The sane, safe, and conservative way is to impress upon the boys the fact that fire-arms are deadly weapons made for the express purpose of killing. Teach the lads to fear and respect weapons of all kinds, and so to handle fire-arms that never under any circumstances shall the weapons, loaded or unloaded, be pointed at any object which they do not intend to shoot.
Teach the little fellows how to load, unload, and fire pistols, revolvers, and guns without endangering their own lives or those of any one else.
The Advantage of Looking Like a Moose
It is only because the writer looks more like a moose than a deer that he is today able to be talking to the boys. A few seasons ago he was in the Maine woods when the forests were filled with so-called sportsmen, and in order to protect himself from reckless men who shoot at everything that they see moving he wore a flaming red sweater.
He himself was hunting with a camera, and one day after crawling through a windfall he seated himself upon a log at the edge of a lake and, as he was hot, he removed the brilliant-hued sweater, but still considered himself safe, as he was seated in an opening in the bright sunlight. As he was mopping the perspiration from his face he saw a canoe containing two men approaching. As they came paddling over the lonely waters the writer suddenly became aware of the fact that he was observed by the men in the canoe and that they had ceased paddling and were reaching for their guns! This was too much for his composure, and he leaped from his seat and wildly waved his hat as a signal to the men.
It happened, as he afterward learned, that one man insisted that the author was a deer, while the other restrained his companion by stating emphatically that the writer was a cow moose! This undoubtedly saved his life, because, although the deer season was open, the game-warden was known to be in the neighborhood, and it was still unlawful to kill moose, especially a cow moose, and he who killed one subjected himself to a heavy fine.
This and other more harrowing incidents which occurred that season, and which occur every season, impressed upon the writer's mind the fact that the lad who has been carefully kept from handling a gun, and who consequently has never learned the proper use of fire-arms, becomes the dangerous man with a gun. It is such boys of whom we constantly read as either shooting themselves or their companions.
Don't pull the trigger until you're sure you know what you are shooting at. A number of men are in their graves now because some reckless hunter took them to be a deer or even a 'possum among the bushes.
Don't shoot even near the direction of any one in the woods, as a glancing bullet may strike him quite a distance to one side of the object at which you aim.
To prevent one of the most common of accidents, DON'T TAKE A GUN BY THE BARREL to pull it from a wagon, canoe, or to drag it through a fence, as is the common practice, and as the man in Fig. 243 and the lad in Fig. 244 are doing. This suicidal habit is the cause of many fatalities every season. In handling a gun, as in Figs. 243 and 244, the hammer or trigger is very liable to catch against some obstruction and to discharge the piece full into the hunter's body with fatal results.
No matter how great the hurry, remember that the danger of accidents of this kind is too great a risk to take for the chance of a shot at game of any kind.
In removing a gun from a boat or any sort of vehicle take the piece by the butt end, being careful that the muzzle does not point toward any one else.
In climbing a fence use some gumption, and first carefully put your gun over the fence with the muzzle away from you, in a safe place, before you attempt to climb over yourself. Some careful sportsmen go further and make it a rule to unload a gun before climbing a fence.
When two boys are walking together Indian file on the trail, the boy in the rear should carry his gun as in Fig. 245. In this position he is ready to bring it to his shoulder with a single movement, and an accidental discharge of the piece held as in Fig. 245 can do no harm to himself or his companion.
Fig. 246 shows the proper manner for the man in the front to hold his gun. Here, also, an accidental discharge of the piece can do no harm to either of the lads, and at the same time the weapon is in such a position that it may be instantly brought to the shoulder at the first appearance of game.
These are precautions so simple that it seems almost unnecessary to urge them, and yet every season I see boys, and even grown men, walking along the trail in single file, those in front with their guns over their shoulders in such a position that every time a barrel is lowered to dodge a low, overhanging branch a muzzle points directly into the face of some one behind. Remember that the branches scraping along the barrel are likely to, and often do, strike against the hammer with sufficient force to discharge the piece.
Don't shoot toward houses or fields with long-range guns.
Be especially careful when walking over ice or slippery, frozen ground.
If you fall in going down steep hills or over rough ground don't turn your gun loose. Hang on to it, and keep the muzzle pointed the other way.
Again, I frequently see the rear hunter carrying his piece as the leader is properly doing in Fig. 246, greatly endangering the legs of the one in front.
Don't carry a gun with the muzzle pointing at any one either behind or before you.
But when two boys are walking side by side they should carry their guns as shown in Figs. 247 and 248, or with the barrels in the hollow of their arms. This will do away with all possible danger of injury to either lad. Take it for granted that
All Guns are Loaded
There is great need of gumption in the game fields, hence the foregoing precautions. As this is not, however, an article devoted exclusively to gunning, but to gumption, as shown in exigencies of all kinds, we will not treat at length the many other rules governing the handling of firearms. Suffice it to say that the first rule here given covers them all, and that is, never allow a gun or pistol, unloaded or loaded, to point at anything which is not intended to be shot. It would be well to go even further than this, and make this rule apply to the use of toy guns, for it is training and habits formed in handling these that are apt to govern us in our use of more dangerous weapons. For practical purposes it is right to handle all guns as if they were live rattlesnakes.
Any boy or man who either purposely or carelessly points a fire-arm at another should be subjected to very severe punishment. A friend of the writer, who is well known throughout the country as a genial, kind-hearted gentleman, an explorer, crack shot, a fearless Western sheriff and talented writer, told me that whenever a man carelessly pointed a gun at him he promptly knocked the offender down. This shows how seriously real sportsmen look upon such offences, and is not mentioned here to encourage boys to use their too-ready fists, but to point out more emphatically the contempt and distrust with which real gunners look upon chumps. But a chump is a chump, whether he be in the game field, the playground, or the school, and a chump is merely an untrained man or boy.
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Last modified: October 15, 2016.