As they became old enough to keep pace with my bird dog, I eased them into youth-sized long guns for hunting. The first was a 20 gauge single-shot shotgun. When I gained confidence in the boys’ handling of the shotgun then they would advance to a single shot 22 rifle.
When carrying the shotgun the boys were allowed one round in the chamber and one round in their pocket. They were expected to keep the hammer down until just before they fired at game. A single-shot shotgun will not fire unless the hammer is cocked first.
The rifle was a bolt action with a safety switch. The safety was to be on at all times until immediately before taking a shot. It was always loaded with a 22 Short when my boys were learning to hunt. Shorts are powerful enough to bring down small game but less powerful than 22 Long Rifle rounds. The theory being that, if there was an accident, the person hit stood less chance of serious injury or death from a 22 Short than from a 22 LR. In addition, the short had less range in case of a missed or wild shot.
I always kept the boys near enough to me that I could keep a close watch on what they doing but far enough away that they could safely take a shot if game showed near us. Once when the oldest boy, Don, was hunting with me, I had him on the other side of fence row while the dog worked the cover in the fence row between us. One of the times that I looked over at him I saw that the hammer was pulled back on his shotgun.
The hunt was not over for this transgression of safety but the situation was about to change. I stopped and called back the dog. Don looked at me, wondering what was up.
“Point your gun to the ground and ease the hammer down,” I instructed in a calm tone.
Don looked a little confused but, as a mercury lamp is slow to light, his thoughts of common sense and what I had adamantly taught him about gun safety started to come back.
“Now unload it and give me that shell and the one in your pocket.”
His did so but then attempted a mild protest.
“But what if I need to shoot something?”
“Then I’ll give you a round and you can load and shoot.”
“But it might get away.” Like freshly lit charcoal, Don hadn’t yet warmed up to the notion that he wasn’t ready to do any cooking.
“And so will I.” I paused. “Get a visual in your mind for moment, Don. You just had an accidental discharge and I’m lying on the ground motionless and bleeding. There might be parts of my insides showing that you’ve never seen on a human.” I let it sink in for a moment as he stared at me long enough to get the picture.
“What you going to do then?”
“I don’t know.”
“Okay, I’m dead. Do you want to tell your mother that you shot me?”
We finished the day of hunting with Don carrying an empty gun. I didn’t ever have to do that again with him. The other two boys, on the other hand, had to learn the same way that Don did. I could tell this story, with pretty much the same words, for each of them. Thankfully, they didn’t learn the lesson a harder way.