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July 17, 2008

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Phil Bourjaily: Accidental Discharge

I was going to post a funny video of an accidental discharge to start this post, then this news item caught my eye as a reminder that there aren’t any funny accidental discharges. This is the only fatality I’ve ever heard of at a gun club. Incredibly enough, it was the club’s manager who fired the shot. All of us, no matter how experienced, have to remember always:

1. Treat guns as if they were loaded 
2. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times.

Arguably, rule two is more important than rule one, because if you break rule one, rule two acts as a failsafe. The only two accidental discharges I’ve personally witnessed did nothing worse than embarrass the shooters.

The first was on a trap field, where no one had told a teenager that his borrowed Model 12 would go off if he closed the action with his finger on the trigger. Fortunately, he had the gun pointed safely at the ground, and did nothing worse than blast a divot in the grass.

The second was by an old farmer who accepted our invitation to come hunt with us on his land (you know how they say you’re supposed to do that when you ask permission to hunt? Well, I don’t any more). He went into a shed to get his gun and we heard a muffled boom as he shot a neat hole through the roof from the inside.



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I had an accidental discharge once while shooting trap with the family in the back yard. I was using a gun that I was unfamiliar with and I'm still not sure how I hit the trigger. But I had been ingrained since the day I started shooting to keep the muzzle pointed safely and did nothing more than fire into the air.


I've had two!
Both because of black powder arms.
The first was with a black powder six shooter.
I had one misfire on a fully loaded six-shooter. I was idiotically dry firing the revolver as others fired from the firing line. When the smoke cleared, MY revolver's dud cylinder decided to fire, leaving a .44 caliber hole in the dirt within an inch of my OWN BOOT!
The other, fortunately, unwitnessed. I had been practicing with my T/C Hawken and had decided to hunt with it the next morning. As it was raining when we arose at 4AM, I decided to go with my bolt gun instead. Within 50 yards of my box blind, I decided to go ahead and load my rifle. In the dark, I cycled the bolt and reached for the safety, thinking of the black powder rifle, and pulled the trigger to release the hammer, blowing hell out of an ironwood tree!
Both very scary!
I have not had another discharge in the past 30 years or so. Thank you very much!


Dan D.

A guy I hunt with was checking the safety on his gun, unfortunately the safety wasn't enganged and the gun was loaded. Luckily, he was following rule #2. His embarrasment over his accident forced him to put his gun up for the day and stay in the cabin. Of course, when you hunt with 7 guys, you'll never hear the end of it.

I think an underlying problem with most accidental discharges is a lack of familiarity with the gun being used. The guy I mentioned above, picks up his rifle once a year for deer season. Most guys I see doing stupid things at the range usually have just bought the gun and didn't take the time to figure out how to use it proerly. I spend more time watching the people around me than I do shooting.


Clay Cooper

Firearms accidents?

It is not a question of if?

It’s a question of when!

Show me a person that never brought home a loaded gun and I’ll show you a person that hasn’t been handling a firearm long enough!

I say everytime a gun gets pointed in an unsafe direction it's an accident and I give anybody who does it the same amount of heck I'd give them if they had shot it in that direction. When a muzzle gets pointed within 20 degrees of me I go balistic and they put the gun down at least for a bit.


My wife is a therapist. Last goose season she treated a man who shot his lower arm in a blind while fumbling for his shotgun in the dark. Helluva way to start a hunt.

Of course, this had to happen during the same week that I was preparing to goose hunt with friends. She reminded me frequently of her patient's injuries. I joked she's better off with life insurance proceeds than the bills from a crippled husband. (Her lack of humor on this point was duly noted.)

Anyhoo, when goose hunting, I have taken to keeping my double unloaded with the action open. When I hear the geese coming, I load. Takes less than 5 seconds - plenty of time before geese come within range.


I had an accidental discharge back in 1975or76. My little brother had bought an old Enfield rifle that ended up with me. I took it out to the Arkansas River south of Tulsa to shoot it. This friend, named Mike (last name withheld to protect the guilty) wanted to shoot it, so I let him. The gun was lying on the ground on some blankets and sandbags for some prone shooting. He shot once or twice decided it was too stout for him and got up. I was checking on some other stuff and didn't notice that he chambered a round and left the rifle off safety and hot. I didn't really look at it because he sain he had been the Air Force equivalent of an MP,SP or somethng like that, so I assumed (you know what ASSUME spells) that he knew what he was doing.
I got down on the ground, not having touched the gun, trying to get in a good prone position so I could get the gun sighted in for deer season. I touched the gun to my cheek still trying to find my fixed points of contact, with my right thumb in front of my nose. I have not touched the trigger. I turned my head to the right to check position, when I must have touched the trigger. The gun was not as yet as firmly seated against my shoulder as it needed to be. My first point of contact with the weapon was my thumb moving my nose to the right about an inch.
I would say it hurt and there was a lot of blood, (even from a somewhat cynical Army medic's point of view) but that would be like saying Heidi Klum cleans up right nice and looks ok in a bikini. That ended shooting for the day.
I went to my car looked in the mirror and straightened my nose there, I knew if the swelling continued the doc would want me to come back in a day or two and try to straighten it when the swelling was down, I wasn't interested in going through that twice.
I never shot that gun again, every time I picked it up my eyes would fill with tears just in anticipation, talk about a Pavlovian Response. I ended up selling it later. Oh, and I didn't ever go shooting with Mike again.
A lot of my friends think I am too picky when it comes to handling guns and certain practices even when the gun is not "loaded" I admit that I don't bend much on those rules, because my nose already has.

Bernie Kuntz

When I was a teenager in the '60s I went duck hunting south of my hometown (Jamestown, ND) with several guys my age. We were standing in a rough circle in the middle of a county road, loading our shotguns in preparation to walking into a wetland area when one of the guy's shotguns discharged in the middle of us. Thankfully, he had the gun pointed downward, but it blew dust and gravel into a cloud. Scared the hell out of me.

Same time period I was cottontail hunting with two guys my age. One of them managed to accidently discharge his .22, and the bullet struck under my heel as we were walking on the river ice. No more hunting with that guy.

In the early '70s I was hunting red fox alone, stepped out of the car, chambered a round into my .22/250 and the rifle fired into the air! My glove had dragged along the side of the trigger shoe and discharged it. But I had the rifle pointed upward and, like I say, I was alone. I no longer use trigger shoes. And I am nervous as hell about hunting or shooting with anyone I don't know.

Clay Cooper,

I have been handling firearms (shooting) since i was 9 years old. (am now 38) and have YET to bring home a loaded firearm, from the range or otherwise. Discounting of course the black powder guns, or of course my carry gun. (no prime in pan or cap on the nipple the gun is considered unloaded)

Personally i have had 1 A/D. When i was in my first year of juniors small bore competion, I sighted in on my sighter ring for my first of 4 sighter shots and squeezed the trigger...NOTHING...i reached up to open the bolt...as soon as i started to open it, BANG. Dont know for sure where that bullet went. I know it was downrange and i guess THATS all that matters. LESSON LEARNED!!!!

I will NOT put up with stupidity with firearms...as with the unnamed poster above i GO OFF when i see barrels pointed inmy direction. (Unloaded or otherwise) I have even escorted 2 folk from the state run ranges (1 at gun point) for stupidity. 1 was a true A/D into the roof of the "shooters shack". (he was new to his gun and had no real clue what he was doing to begin with) The other time was when we called a cease fire to change targets at the 50 yard range...my buds were down range changing out targets when IDIOT in booth next to ours finishes packing his M/L and sits to the bench and begins to take aim...WITH my friends DOWNRANGE. I Franticly started SCREAMING at the idiot...after the barrel was pointed in a safe direction, i told him to "git his $hit and GIT"...when he started to spit, stutter and refuse.... he found himself on the WRONG end of a 1911. Didnt take long for my buds to get back uprange when they heard me going off... when the gist of the altercation became apparent to them...they likewise took exception to Mr. Idiot and helped with the "forceful" expulsion.

There is NO PLACE for sloppy handling of firearms...there is NO excuse for idiocy on the range or in the field. PERIOD!


Thats my story above "escorting idiots"........sorry

Jim in Mo.

Heres my story of an accidental discharge that happened to me.
I was at the range on a cold day and was wearing a heavy Levi type coat. My rifle was on the sandbags pointed down range as always. For some reason I hadn't buttoned the sleeve on my right hand and after I ejected a spent case and chambered a fresh round I brought my hand back and the large metal buttons they put on those coats snagged on the trigger and off she went.
PS. I hit the target too!


Duck and Goose hunting must be the culprit for a lot of us. Sitting on the shore of a small lake in northwestern New Jersey at about age 14 holding a Model 12 Winchester 12 gauge barrel up; Cutts Compensator right next to my right ear...

Cutts Compensators are designed to divert muzzle blast out and slightly backward to reduce recoil. Hearing protection strongly recommended for anyone within a quarter mile of the thing. Now you needn't wonder why I say "Eh?" more than a dang Quebecois!

I don't know when or how I clicked the safety off but I do know I should have kept my finger out of that trigger guard until there was a reason to have it there! In addition to hurting my ears I lost out on hunting the rest of that day as Dad took the shotgun away from me and I had to sit and watch everyone else!

My second and last was even more stupid in that I had a loaded rifle in the house. Bullet went through floor, subfloor and split the 2 x 8 joist underneath then riccocheted around the basement.

The only saving grace in both is that following rule #2 I did have the barrels pointed in relatively safe directions; the #4 shot from that Model 12 rained down on the lake, the rifle bullet could have had devastating effect had it gone through an outside wall into a neighbor's house.

Some lessons are learned relatively cheaply, eh?



You're an dumb, big-mouth ass....

In trying to be safe you did an extremely unsafe act with loss of self control. You're lucky there wasn't a shoot-out...thinking of some of the no nonsense folks I know that would have witness your antics.

Let us all know which gun range you haunt.


You're right Clay!

We are (at least I am!) human. We make mistakes! Don't know of but one PERFECT person, and I'm not him. Nor or any of the rest of us!
We must, as a sporting group, be OCD about safe gun handling. Even so, there will STILL be accidents!
I've had a moment or two where I had to just put my gun down and wait quietly until the rush stops! Both my fault and someone elses! It happens! Even to the best of us!
I think issuing a shooter from a range at gun point a bit extreme, but in the posters defense, "I" wasn't there!



No Name Poster:

A black powder arm is not unloaded until it is DISCHARGED! PERIOD!


Old Yukon

Read the news story; doesn't sound all the accidental to me. How does one "accidentally" touch the trigger of someone else's gun? Anyway, I can only imagine what the club manager is feeling, probably having killed a friend.

I've witnessed some idiotically intentional discharges -- like the guy who walked up to the firing line and started blazing away with his brand new semi-auto -- while almost everyone ele was down range and the red flag indicating a "hot" range was lying on the ground. Yes, I let him have it verbally with both barrels and he sheepishly followed the high volume instructions to unload and bench it. Being only another shooter, I had no authority to eject him, but he fired only a couple more shots, after "commence fire" began again, and left. Thank goodness no one was hurt -- but it could have been different easily.

As a kid sighting in for my first deer hunt, saw a guy with a brand-spanking new custom U.S. 1917-actioned sporter experience numerous accidental discharges. It seemed like he would just touch the trugger and it would fire. He got disgusted, cycled the bolt in frustration and thumped the butt down on the hood of the car (serving as a bench rest). The piece fired. Turned out the gunsmith had done an excellent job of greasing the trigger and sear. In the sub-zero Dakota weather, the grease hardened and prevented adequate sear engagement. Something most smiths, probably most savvy hobbyists, would easily avoid today. Now, that's an accidental discharge -- but also avoidable. Both the 'smith and the gun owner were negligent.
Fortunately, the rifle was pointed down range and largely up, but that '06 bullet traveled a long, long way out over the Dakota prairie before landing who knows where.


I was talking to a bunch of Black Powder guys at the range last week, when the topic of accidental discharges/deaths at the range came up. One guy did shoot himself in the head by looking down the barrel of his rifle (musket?). They said it took 6 months for him to die.

Another guy had a failure to fire (or whatever the equivalent is in black powder; in any case his rifle was loaded) the month before and took the rifle home "to clean it later." Except he forgot and brought the same rifle to the next meeting. He said he's going to clear it, put a cap on the nipple, aimed it at the ground, and a bullet went off, hit a rock, ricocheted back over their heads and just missing a guy who was standing behind them by a couple of inches. I don't think he's shooting with the group anymore.

Brian T

Last night. I'm in a squad of 5, shooting 16 yd trap. The (inexperienced?) shooter two posts to my left tried to take out a corner of the traphouse before he had shouldered the gun. At least he got the general direction correct. Gave us all the creeps.


A couple local situations that have happenend in the last few years in my area...

A couple goose hunters were walking back from the water through corn stuble. The one in back tripped, his shot gun going off into the back of the leg of the hunter in front. They called 911 from a cell phone, but the injured hunter bled to death before help arrived.

In a local indoor range, a man was teaching his wife to shoot. He was fairly tall and wide through the shoulders, she was shorter and thin. He gave her a larger caliber semi-auto for her first pistol to shoot. As he stood behind her, she took her first shot without locking her elbows, the recoil of the pistol caused it to rise past her shoulder just as she grabbed the trigger again as the muzzle moved under his chin, killing him instantly.

I too am very obsessed about where guns are being pointed. I won't invite someone to go shooting with me who has not done well before with muzzle direction control. Responsible handling, being deliberate about your actions, and paying attention will prevent ALL gun accidents.

Ed J

" There is NO PLACE for sloppy handling of firearms...there is NO excuse for idiocy on the range or in the field. PERIOD!"

Fits you to a "T"

Mike Reeder

Can't say I've ever had an AD but that's certainly no reason for hubris. If anything, I think the longer anyone goes without an accident the more imperative it is to stay on your guard, follow the rules and not let familiarity breed folly. I think Dick Cheney's accident is a good example of that, although I know Dave is not so charitable. Still, Cheney is an experienced big game and bird hunter who as near as I can tell from talking to people who know him is about as careful as you can get and had never had any kind of accident before in his life. I do think the shootee contributed by approaching the shooters from the side without announcing himself, and sometimes your blood gets up with the covey rise, but as Cheney himself said there was still no excuse. Dave's right about number 2 being the most important rule. Follow that one and no matter what else happens no one gets hurt or killed. I did an outdoor column to that basic effect after Cheney's accident. In my own case, my dad gave me a copy of the NRA's 10 safety rules when I was six and would not let me have a cork gun -- yep, a cork gun -- until I memorized them (he cut me some slack on the alcohol & gunpowder). He also went one step further and insisted that anytime a gun changes hands the person receiving it should always make a show of checking to be sure it's unloaded, even if you just witnessed three other people do it before you took possession. I made my son do the same things, which is one reason he is now and has been for some time my most trusted hunting partner. I have also gone off on people who let a muzzle wander across my body and I never hunt with them again. It's only happened a couple of times but one could have been enough, and I have no desire to give anyone a second crack at it.


It wasn't an accidental Discharge, but if had been one, I would be dead. Back in the 70's Riley Gimore owned a gun range in Tulsa with his brother, I believe. There was a membership fee but you could go and shoot all day for one fee, bring you own ammo or buy from the club, they loaded their own. For those of you who remember, Riley won the Bianchi cup in 1986. I left Tulsa in '78, so don't know if he's still in business. If he is, I can't imagine him running anything less than a class act.

I was shooting there one day, and the guy in the lane next to mine had his shooting box, spotting scope, all the high dollar stuff, and a Colt Gold cup. The problem was every time he shot( he was left handed and I was on his left) he would look into his spotting scope, his gun hand would migrate straight out 90 degrees left of the shooting lane. I hadn't been out of the Army all that long and was way too familiar with .45 ACP and their effects on the human body. The first time, I stepped back and put my arm up and as I moved his gun downrange said something like "Heey, pardner, the targets that way, that's where the bullets are s'posed to go." He got really sarcastic and I pointed out to him that his weapon was locked and cocked and I didn't want to get shot cuz I knew what that gun could do. His reaponse was "I know what I'm doing "or something like that and then proceeded to tell me how much better and more expensive his Colt was than my S&W "POS"( he didn't use the initals). I ignored it and went back to shooting. After his next shot, his gun again migrated in my direction.
I got real upset, just put my gun down and went to the desk. Riley was at the desk and could tell by my countenance that I was not a happy camper. I told him what was going on and he said it was taken care of. There was a gallery for spectators behind the lanes and he went in there to watch. Sure enough, the guy put one down lane and his gun migrated 90 degrees left of the lane. Riley was not happy as he went in behind the guy told him to put his gun down and clear it. After that, he told him to pack up and his membership was terminated and don't EVER bother to come back to his range, he was not a safe shooter and that as range master, he was not going to take the chance of any shooter killing someone due to negligence in his range. I was impressed with his eloquence as he questioned this man's complete heritage and lineage without using any words not repeatable in polite society (the true mark of a gentleman)
The hardest part for me when I moved from Tulsa was leaving that range.


To the poster who pointed a firearm at the person being ejected off the range:

Boy, you got more balls than brains. I never pointed a weapon at a target that I did not intend to shoot. I know lots of folks who would pop a cap in your a$$ if you point a gun at them. So consider yourself lucky that the guy didn't walk back in and shoot you.

WA Mtnhunter

No kidding.

My first inclination in reacting to someone ranting and screaming at me while brandishing a firearm would be to shoot him out of his tennis shoes and then find out what his trouble was....

Tony C.

My only accidental discharge cost me a buck.

I had a beautiful 11-pointer at 65 yards and a muzzleloader with a really light trigger. It was cold and I was wearing those gloves with the mittens that fold back.

I thumbed the hammer back and was raising the gun to my cheek when one of those mitts must have brushed the trigger. I shot down through the woods over the buck's head.

He and the 8-point traveling with him just looked in my direction for a nice long time before sauntering off through the woods, up the hill where my buddy missed because he hadn't checked the scope on his shotgun before deer season.

I sold the little T/C and do all my blackpowder hunting with a Remington 700 .50 caliber now.

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