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Hunters continue shooting at each other in Nebraska; Wyoming hunters say it can be avoided

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
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Three accidental shootings in three days during Nebraska’s deer season and remembering a fatal hunting accident in Wyoming last year make it clear that hunters can never take gun safety for granted.

“I will not leave a loaded gun in my truck. je. Period,” Greybull hunter and trapper John Eckman told Cowboy State Daily.

He and other Wyoming outdoorsmen also said that a hunting rifle should always be carried empty. Hunters don’t have to fire a round until they have a clear, sure shot at big game, they said.

“Never, never, never before you’re ready to shoot,” Wyoming-based outdoor expert Paul Ulrich of Pinedale told Cowboy State Daily.

Nebraska: Three shots in three days

In separate incidents this month, three hunters were shot dead over a three-day period during Nebraska’s deer hunting season, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Columbus Telegram newspaper reported.

None of the shootings were fatal, but in each case one man was reportedly accidentally shot dead by a member of his own rifle squad.

A 20-year-old from Indiana suffered the most serious injuries. He was flown to a trauma center in Lincoln, Nebraska after being shot by another hunter who slipped while following him up an embankment.

A 22-year-old man from Omaha, Nebraska, sustained injuries to his hand in another shooting. In the third incident, a Nebraska resident, whose age was not given, sustained a gunshot wound to the arm.

Wyoming not immune

Wyoming has not been spared from hunting accidents. Ulrich recalled a tragedy near Ten Sleep in October 2121 when a man was accidentally shot by his son and died.

Even the most experienced hunters can’t take safety for granted, said Josh Coursey, a mule deer hunter and conservationist who lives near Kemmerer.

“I have a friend who was moose hunting near Meeteetse and had an accidental shot from his rifle for the first time in 32 years of hunting,” Coursey said.

“Even our former vice president was involved in a hunting accident,” he said of Wyoming native Dick Cheney, who accidentally shot and injured a friend while hunting birds.

And careless hunters can injure others without hitting them with bullets, retired ranger and avid hunter Karl Brauneis of Lander told Cowboy Sate Daily.

“Never fire your rifle when you are behind or in line with another hunter. The muzzle blast can cause permanent ear damage,” he said.

Horses deserve security too

Eckman said he is extending the rule of leaving the firing chamber empty to rifles stored in saddle scabbards.

“You’re driving through the undergrowth and your safety is being compromised,” he said. “Then a twig hits your trigger and you end up shooting your damn horse. I like my horse better than most people and I don’t want to get shot at.”

He added that he’d hunted deer in Nebraska and safety standards there didn’t seem any laxer than Wyoming. So Cornhusker State must have been unlucky with a few careless individuals.

“The deer hunt over there didn’t really seem that different than the deer hunt here in Wyoming,” he said.

“muzzle control”

Even the best hunters can become complacent and disregard the rules, especially when they’re younger, Coursey said.

The last line of defense against tragedy is “muzzle control, muzzle control, muzzle control,” he said, referring to the rule of always making sure a firearm is pointed in a safe direction. “That way, even if there is an accidental discharge, it doesn’t end up hitting anyone.”

Treating every firearm as if it were loaded is a must, said Coursey, Ulrich, Brauneis, and Eckman.

And never assume it isn’t, Eckman added.

“I don’t think a gun is discharged,” he said. “I always check. I always open the bolt, lever or whatever and check that the chamber is empty.”

Keep calm, stay safe

In addition to the safety factor of carrying a hunting rifle with an empty chamber, the extra step of firing a cartridge at the right moment gives the hunter more time to focus, Ulrich said.

“The time it takes to chamber a round allows you to calm down and control your breath,” he said. “A measured and steady shot is a precise shot.”

Brauneis also emphasized the importance of just “relaxing” and enjoying the great outdoors, rather than getting upset about whether the chance to shoot will come up that day. When people are too scared to get an injection, it becomes dangerous.

“Only shoot if the shot is right and gives you a 95 percent chance of a fatal shot,” he said. “As soon as you pull the trigger, a multitude of variables come into play. Only one of those variables is good.”

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