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December 04, 2006

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The True Nature of Hunting

Let me preface this by saying that I have endless respect for hunter-safety instructors and the work they do. We all owe them a debt that can never be adequately repaid.

That said, I’ve noticed over the years that we seem to have an unusual number of safety nazis in the ranks of our readers. These are the folks who say that you never, ever do thus and such because it might possibly be unsafe, and if you suggest anything to the contrary, you are a yahoo and a menace.

Now, you never point a gun at another person unless you want to shoot them, and you don’t blast road signs, and you don’t shoot at anything unless you’re absolutely certain what it is. But I’ve been told that you never run with a loaded rifle, and I have done just that, many times, most often to get a second shot into an escaping animal and save it hours or days of agony. I’ve climbed up iffy tree stands, and done all manner of fairly chancy stuff that would not be approved of in hunter safety ed.

Hunting, you see, is inherently risky, as is driving an automobile. Guns are dangerous, and there is always the chance of an accident no matter how careful you are. Bush planes crash, horses will cheerfully kill you the first chance they get, bears can attack you, and you can get lost and die from hypothermia.

Hunting is comprised mainly of gray areas, and the degree to which you navigate them successfully depends on your judgment,  and judgment can’t be taught. There is much in the sport that is intrinsically unsafe, and unless you are willing to accept that, you are not going to have much of a career as a hunter.


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A tip of the hat to you Mr. Petzal. I've been reading your work since I was 14 years old and have disagreed with you so strongly that I considered tearing out any piece in Field and Stream that you may have contributed to. But occaisonally you do make an intelligent point when you aren't blabbering about $1000+ custom rifles. So I shall continue to read with guarded optimism.


You're going to lose your seat on the "Committee to Make the World Safe for Everybody" for this one!


I try to be safe while hunting. I watch where the muzzle of my gun is pointed, I'm sure of my target, I check to be sure my gun is unloaded before putting it in my vehicle at the end of the day and I wear a safety harness in a hang on tree stand. I don't climb into icy stands but I have been known to carry my gun on my back while climbing into my stand. Life is full of risks, what's acceptable is up to you. After all, it's your life.

Mike Diehl

There's 2 kinds of safety issues out there.

The one kind involves choices that a person makes that put himself at risk. When the safety education guys tell you about avoiding this, they're doing right by you. But if you want to fall off of a rotten tree stand that's your business.

The other kind involves choices that a person makes that put others at risk. When the "safety nazis" call someone on that, I support 'em completely.


Well said, David.


We'd all be in trouble is judgement couldn't be taught. Most people basically know right from wrong and judgement is what they choose to do when confronted with this. If you insist on assigning some blame, better to place it on a overly-permissive society, lower accepted standards of behavior, a universal sense of entitlement, or victimhood. You can see all of this on any episode of Oprah.

Safety nazis, like PETA zealots or NRA extremist, suffer from what I call the "keeper of the flame" syndrome. They think they have THE ANSWER that we'd all benefit from. Just like everybody else.

I was on the wrong end of shotgun safety 30+ years ago so I'd like to think I have more than one perspective. So I maintain that judgement can be taught whereas there's no cure for stupidity.


The Safety Nazis and other “Keepers of the Flame” do go so far spouting safety, carefully balancing all possibilities of an action so well inertia manifests itself….which is itself unsafe.

A hunter must have good Judgment and certainly can’t be reckless or contemptuous of Safety, but then again a person can’t control Chance, or what appears to be Chance.

IMO these extreme safety rants are a personal problem of not wanting to accept accountability of action.

Mike Diehl

Your chocolate rations have been increased from three ounces to two.

War is peace.

Safety is risky.


JA Demko

When you fall out of that rickety treestand and break your neck, can I have your stuff?

George Albany

Neat little rant; reminded me of a run-in with a single-minded, blinders on range officer at a gun club not long ago. We were shooting table trap and when we changed shotguns, I placed the one we finished with in the rack, action open, and muzzle down. A fellow came over and asked me why I placed it muzzle down (never did identify himself as a range officer). I told him it was an old habit I developed in the days of my youth when I tended to over-oil my guns; kept the oil out of the stock. Oh, did you just clean it? was his repsonse. No, just an old habit. Well put it in the other way he told me or you'll lose your range privileges. I answered that if he could prove to me it was unsafe, I'd change the guns. His response was that we just don't do it that way here. I've still got range privileges, and still put my guns in the rack muzzle down. Safety is terribly important, but so is common sense.

Tad Pary

Something that isn't noted near enough by the "media" is the astonishingly low rate of accidents among hunters. Here in Minnesota we have some 400,000 deer hunters and only a handful of accidents including the heart attacks (would happen anyway) and those falling out of tree stands. All you have to do is listen to the traffic report out of Minneapolis once and you realize you are much safer hunting than driving.

Joe Novak

One thing to keep in mind, most hunter safety students are young males. I am 19, and got into hunting on my own, and how i survived my first years of hunting has yet to be revealed to me. Most young males are stupid. It pays to go overkill with them.


I'm with you Dave.

Let evolution take it's course.

Boar Slayer

Mike Diehl, lovin the 1984 reference. great book

Big Ed


As per usual, you've incited several hunting related conundrums in the last two posts. (conudrumi?)
1. Personal safety,
2. safety of others,
3. humane killing

I still hold with being responsible for the bullet until it stops moving. Otherwise the rifle becomes a pointed stick, and if anyone climbs into a tree stand with a pointed stick...so be it.

An example of hunting safety. My dad once ripped me a new a**hole (still remembering TW) in front of a bunch of folks for bragging about the following: As a youth, I was associated with the following shot. On the farm, a bunch of us were hunting pasture poodles. One of the guys saw motion at a groundhog hole about 200 yards away. After calulating in the distance, wind speed and direction, and coriolis effect, one guy took a "Davy Crockett" .22 LR shot with iron sights and scored. When we got to the hole it was a rabbit. My fathers tirade after telling this story was painful, but he was right. We had violated more rules than we even knew.

On a lighter note, the recent paper double issue was truly double with 4 Petzal articles (at least 4 depending on the definition) and 4 Petzal Pics (2 in red and black checks, no less??). However, in one of them (Page 157), the picture looks like you might be...how do I put this...forming the precursor of a grin. No way it is a smile. It might just be the reaction to the sun overhead. Comments?

Big Ed

Ralph the Rifleman

Yes...considering our sport includes fire-sticks, it has a relatively good safety record. The most ridiculous thing I have seen was a man that used his shotgun(during Firearms season)to trim his "Bow hunting tree" from unwanted limbs. This was not only a very dumb thing to do, as most of us here would agree here, it was a very UNSAFE use of a firearm.By the way, in some of states that require gun-safety certification based on age have discovered that the wrong age group have been committing the lion's share of the violations! As for hunter-safety-instructors, it begins at home with mothers/fathers, or any other hunting adult which forms a young person's character in hunting.
I like giving credit where credit is due!



Did you wear a helmet when you rode a bike as a kid?

Did you have "independent suspension" on your stroller?

There are a bunch of safety kings out there, thankfully because they people who lack common sense.

The most interesting statistic I would like to find out is:

How many tree stand incidents are caused by people falling asleep? Most people are probably too embarrassed to admit it.


I just have to get my two cents in!

First Great post! Keep up the good work.

Second, and dare I mention another magazine, G&A's article by COL Cooper address something very similar, he spoke about military training and how if during the training at least one soldier in 1000 does not lose their life, the training is not realistic enough.

I see Risk and Safety this way, do not take unneeded risk. Now the Judgment question comes into play. You can never get around that! I have no answer.

Just remember, before you do it, think to yourself, is it really necessary?

Just my two cents!




Dave, I totally agree with your comments on hunter safety. There is a BIG gray area. I am a hunters ed. instr. and have been for 10 plus years, and have had the honor to be the hunters ed. instr. of the year here in IN. I do it for the kids and I try to tell them that you don't do anything when your by yourself that you wouldn't do if someone was there. When it comes to saftey it is what your parents and other adults do.

Thanks Doug

craig curtis

good post dave , i always remember what my dad tought me (your gun is always loaded ) no matter how many peices it may be in . ive taught my son the same thing , i like what Tad brought to the table in minn. thousands of hunters and very few accidents . michigan is similar in that we have many hunters and this year to date 7 accidents of various nature , and i think they were all fatal ? maybe Ralph can give more acccurate info. i cant climb my tree stands with a safety belt on but i use the firefighters method of three points of contact at all times and it works ! ive been going 20 feet or better straight up for 20 some odd years and never fallen knock on wood .it only takes a few seconds to climb and you better have your head where it needs to be for those few seconds .because fate will find you !! i too have given chase with my rifle , muzzle pointed up and if i did fall their was nothing in front of me but miles of hardwoods and a nice eight point whom did find a 130 grain nosler balistic point . that finished that chase quickly. it wasn't my deer but my cousins . hed spined the buck and this animal was not going to let a little poralisis keep him from getting away.

craig curtis

lest we should forget like i almost did the men and women who teach hunter safety. they dont get much money from our gov. and they keep doing the job god bless them all for giving their time to teach us all the things we need to know !!!!

John Broussard

"You can't cheat the mountain, Pilgrim."


Nothing like common sense to keep you alive...


On the subject of hunter safety, perhaps you should take Bill Heavey aside and instruct him on the purpose and use of a cupholder.


I read a story about a man went to work one day, just like he had for the past fiteen years. On his way a loose tire from the other side of the freeway bounced over the median, shattered his windshield and broke his neck killing him instantly. What's the point? We live in a dangerous world. Things happen. Better they happen while we are enjoying one of life's great privledges than on the way to work on a freeway somewhere. So hunt on, as safely as practical. But, beware of those bouncing tires, lest you be killed doing something you really enjoy.

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