Essential safety precautions for hunting with firearms
- General safety precautions
- Hunting shotguns and hunting rifles
- Ammunition types
- Ballistics, useful and maximum range, trajectories, ricochets
- Firearm maintenance
WILD BOAR HUNTING
Long range shots are rare in wild boar hunting. More frequently than not, your prey appears a short, or even a very short distance away. Boars also move so rapidly that they can appear and disappear in an instant.
Given that the maximum weight of a wild boar is around 150 kg, and that maximum shot range is generally within 50 metres, the minimum kinetic energy needed for a kill is around 2,000 Joules (204 kgm). This can be provided by a good quality 12 or even 20 gauge shotgun slug or by a rifle projectile of at least 6.5 or 7 mm.
Whether you are using a shotgun or a rifle, make sure that it delivers adequate but not excessive stopping power. Unnecessarily powerful ammunition, intended for larger and more robust prey than the wild boar, can actually prove less effective than the right ammunition. (Rifle bullets in particular may fail to expand on impact if they are intended for tougher targets.) The main risk associated with over-powered ammunition, however, is that of reduced control, especially if a number of rounds are fired in rapid succession. For obvious safety reasons, it is your duty to minimise the number of “stray shots” you fire. For a start, only fire when there is a good chance of hitting your target. (There is little point in firing more than two or three shots at a moving target, for example.) Secondly, only use a firearm/ammunition combination that you are capable of controlling accurately, especially in terms of muzzle climb.
A wide range of shotguns are encountered in boar hunting. Many hunters still use over-and-under or side-by-side double barrel models, while others use semiautomatics designed for bird hunting. Firearms like these may do a sterling job in quick aim-and-fire situations but they have serious limitations in terms of safety and practicality.
Shotguns designed to fire shot seldom have barrels shorter than 65 centimetres, with most barrels being between 65 and 71 cm long. Slug shotguns on the other hand generally have barrels between 50 and 61 centimetres long. With top quality modern ammunition, even the shortest barrels on the market (48-50 centimetres) are long enough to ensure complete propellant combustion, but if your ammunition is charged with slow burning propellant, short barrels will not deliver the same performance as a 55-61 cm barrel, and could even generate enough muzzle turbulence to throw your projectile off trajectory.
Shotguns made for bird hunting inevitably have choked barrels. Choked barrels cannot fire slug ammunition under any circumstances. Even if you use balls small enough to pass through without causing damage, you should never use chokes smaller than ***. The use of * or ** chokes with solid balls, especially on older or badly maintained barrels can cause bulging or bursting. This is especially true if your ammunition is slow-burning or if an obstruction is present in the barrel (even a tiny piece of leaf). On the purely practical side, excessive deformation of projectiles inevitably leads to reduced accuracy. Chokes of *** and larger do not generally reduce accuracy and, in some cases, can even improve it.
All full bore rounds currently available (Brenneke, Gualandi, Foster) are compatible with choked barrels, unless the manufacturer clearly states otherwise on the packaging . Provided the limitations given above are respected, there is therefore no reason to avoid using them. You should, however, avoid too powerful ammunition types. Slug rounds impart very high stresses to your barrel because the point of maximum pressure moves forwards about ten centimetres to where the barrel walls are generally thinner, and also because the projectile has to be squeezed through the choke. For obvious safety reasons, therefore, do not fire slug rounds in older shotguns unless you are absolutely sure of the strength of the barrel. Remember too that solid projectiles are easily deviated from their trajectory by branches and twigs and that they are more liable to ricochet off stones and trees. Slugs and solid balls therefore remain extremely dangerous until they lose all their momentum and fall to the ground. (Bear in mind too that smooth bore shotguns can have a theoretical range of up to 1,500 metres or thereabouts.) Finally, never fire under-size rounds from choked barrels, whether the rounds in question are manufactured for smooth bore or rifled shotguns. (Rifled barrels are rare on shotguns. In Italy, for example, they are found only with certain special-purpose 12-gauge models. The reasons for their rarity is that, while they offer a certain increase in effective range, rifled barrels are generally longer and therefore less manoeuvrable – a distinct disadvantage for a shotgun.)
Various types of rifle can be used for hunting wild boar, but with the exception of a few lever action rifles and the occasional express, the market is dominated by semiautomatics. The modern semiautomatic rifle is characterised by a rapid repeating action, reduced recoil and muzzle lift, good weight and balance and competitive cost. More recent models boast impressive accuracy and can even be used for dear hunting, where permitted by law. Certain models, like the Benelli Argo rifle, offer the same sort of balance and agility as a shotgun and are therefore greatly appreciated by hunters making the transition from smooth bore to rifle.
30/06 rounds constitute about 70% of the ammunition used for wild boar. This calibre offers excellent ballistic performance, delivers a powerful punch, promotes reliable action, comes at a reasonable price, and is available in a unique range of charges. Remember, however, that in boar hunting you can still miss even with a 30/06! Avoid full metal jacket bullets for this reason. While they offer good penetrating power, they create non-incapacitating wounds (unless they hit a vital organ) and have a strong tendency to ricochet and over-penetrate.
Also avoid using bullets that are too heavy or too light for the calibre. 30/06 rounds should be loaded with bullets of between 130 and 220 grain. The ideal bullet weight for boar hunting with 30/06 rounds is about 180 grain. Heavier bullets will fail to expand sufficiently while lighter ones risk imparting only superficial injuries or injuries that damage too much meat if they do reach a vital organ.
Even the most effective rounds have to hit their target with a high degree of accuracy, of course. So whatever type and calibre of rifle you use, try it out with your chosen ammunition on the shooting range before attempting to use it on the hunting ground. Wild boar hunting does not require surgical precision, and any combination that is capable of placing 3 rounds within a circle of 6-7 centimetres from a distance of 100 metres is more than adequate. Greater accuracy improves your chance of hitting a vital organ, since aiming error will be compounded by less deviation from trajectory.
If you calibrate your sights for 100 metres, the trajectory of a 30/06 or .308 Winchester bullet over 50 metres practically coincides with your line of aim. Over shorter distances (from the muzzle), trajectories tend to be 3-5 centimetres higher than your line of aim, depending on bullet type and velocity. In reality, of course, these figures have little practical relevance. If you have adjustable sights (and optical sights always are adjustable), calibrating them for shorter distances to suit the actual hunting situation can eliminate even the smallest margin for error with rapidly aimed, close range shots and as well as carefully aimed long distance ones.
The ideal calibre for wild boar lies between 7.62 millimetres (.30”) and 8 millimetres. The .308 Winchester, 30.06 Springfield, and 8x57 are particularly valid choices. The 300 Winchester Magnum is one of the most powerful .30 cartridges in the world, and offers good ballistic performance even in the relatively short barrels of semiautomatics and other common hunting rifles. Used with 180-200 grain bullets, it is highly effective even with larger prey. Recoil and muzzle climb, however, can be a problem. On this subject we are delighted to point out that the ComforTech stock of the Benelli Argo E rifle gives such an impressive reduction in recoil and muzzle climb that even rounds like the 9.3x62 become quite controllable and comfortable on the hunter’s shoulder. The Benelli Argo rifle with ComforTech stock can be chambered for 9.3x62, 30/06 Springfield, 7x64 Brenneke, .308 Winchester and .300 Winchester Magnum rounds. The Argo rifle guarantees significantly lower recoil and muzzle climb with all these calibres, and allows you to fire more shots on target, more rapidly and with less fatigue.
Never forget that, depending on calibre, a rifle bullet fired at an upward angle of around 40° can cover a distance of between 2,500 and 4,000 metres before falling to the ground. Compared to the maximum range of around 1,500 metres achieved by the 12-gauge slug, it seems obvious that the rifle bullet is more dangerous. In reality, however, this is not so: while the range of action of the rifle bullet is indeed three times larger that of the shotgun slug, the slug is far more prone to ricochet and therefore actually more dangerous. If a rifle bullet strikes a tree trunk, for example, it generally becomes embedded. It will only ricochet if it strikes the trunk almost at a tangent. Rather than a ricochet, technically speaking, this is a deviation of trajectory. In the same way, a rifle bullet striking a hard surface like a rock tends to flatten out against it and has very little tendency to ricochet unless the angle of impact is very low. Because of their low velocity, however, slugs nearly always ricochet if they strike hard surfaces like wood or stone, even at relatively large angles of impact. Under the right circumstances, they can even ricochet repeatedly, like a ping-pong ball.
Water provides a unique ricochet surface. Anybody who ever skimmed flat stones across the surface of a pond can imagine the effect of a slug striking water at a low angle of incidence: it will bounce one or more times, maintaining its lethality until it eventually comes to rest. As a general rule, after a ricochet, a projectile departs the point of impact at the same angle as that at which it approached. This principle applies to all surfaces, but its validity increases in proportion to the hardness of the surface concerned. For low angles of incidence it even applies to water.
It is therefore essential to consider the risk of projectiles striking stone, rock, vegetation or water when assigning positions to a group of hunters, in order to identify safe firing angles and distances.
FIREARMS AND RULES OF CONDUCT
Safety depends not only on range and type of ammunition, but on the condition of your firearm, the number of rounds it has fired over the years and your own certainty of hitting your target. For this reason, and to avoid inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering on animals, you should always test your firearm thoroughly on the firing range before the hunting season starts. The first round fired from a freshly lubricated barrel may well follow a different trajectory to that normally achieved by that combination of gun and ammunition. Metal sights or scopes may also have gone out of adjustment as the result of a blow, screws coming loose (after prolonged firing or because of incorrect mounting) or somebody tampering with them.
Even partly obstructed barrels can cause injury to the shooter and others nearby. Dirty firing mechanisms may prevent firing or may cause accidental firing. Dirty gas ports can cause malfunctioning or even completely disable your gun. For all these reasons and more besides, we can never over-emphasise the need to check the condition and functioning of your firearm regularly and to acquire familiarity with it through frequent practice sessions on the shooting range.
The following are the main causes for missing your target.
Shot arrives too low because of:
- dazzling light
- strong headwind (for long shots)
- cold, humid air
- sights set too short
- aiming too low
- gun not aimed properly
- front sight too low with respect to rear sight
- shadow at top of scope
Shot arrives too high because of:
- fog or poor light
- aiming too high
- front sight too high with respect to rear sight
- firing uphill or downhill
- shadow at bottom of scope
Shot arrives to one side because of:
- strong side wind (for long shots)
- shadow at the left or right of the scope
- gun not aimed properly
- rear sight out of adjustment
- front sight out of adjustment
Shot fails to fire because of:
- old or poor quality ammunition
- broken firing mechanism
- firing pin too short or guide dirty
- broken or weak firing spring
- firearm not cocked
- safety malfunction
- excessive head-space (e.g. chamber too long for ammunition type)
- bolt not properly locked
Warning! If a round fails to fire, wait a while before taking the gun off target and moving the bolt. Delayed firing is so rare as to be virtually inexistent with newly manufactured and properly stored ammunition, but it can occur with old, badly loaded or improperly stored ammunition.
- The proper functioning of a firearm depends largely on correct maintenance.
- In order to avoid altered trajectories, wipe off excess lubricant, especially from the bore, before using your firearm.
- Clean the bore and chamber thoroughly and apply only a thin film of lubricant.
- Clean your firearm as soon as you return from your hunting trip.
- If your firearm gets wet, disassemble it and dry all parts as soon as you return from your hunting trip.
- Clean gas operating systems regularly
- Lubricate your firearm before putting it away.
- Treat wood parts to prevent humidity from penetrating them and causing swelling.
- Store your firearm in a dry, constant temperature location, if possible with the trigger springs released.
Safeties and safety
Only shoot in “safe” directions, and always treat your firearm as loaded, even if you have just re-assembled it after cleaning. People are injured and killed all too often by firearms they thought were unloaded. To prevent this happening, always keep your firearm and your ammunition separate until instructed to load by your group’s leader. In addition, develop the habit of holding your firearm so that its muzzle never points at people or animals. Never place your finger on the trigger until you are actually ready to fire. These basic safety rules should be observed at all times … but there is more to think about too.
- If a firearm with a round in the chamber falls or receives a blow, it can fire even if the safety is engaged. This is especially true of older models (on which the safety sometimes only locks the trigger and not the whole firing mechanism). It can, however, also apply to new firearms. Malfunctions in the trigger release or firing mechanism, for example, can become aggravated by improper use and lack of maintenance.
- It is extremely dangerous to keep a round in the chamber of your firearm if its safety is disengaged, even if your firearm is well maintained and designed for safety. Too many events can lead to accidental firing. Something can catch in the trigger; your firearm may fall from a height; it may receive a violent blow; a foreign body can become lodged in the trigger release mechanism. Do not tempt fate by keeping your gun loaded with the safety disengaged while waiting for a prey to show up.
Safeties are designed to be disengaged quickly. Get used to engaging and releasing your safety rapidly. Practice in all aspects of firearm use is to be encouraged, but regular practice is essential for efficient operation of the safety and for loading ad unloading. In the excitement of the hunt, your nervous system releases adrenaline and other stress hormones. This can lead to a range of conditions, including tunnel vision, though some individuals are more susceptible than others. In extreme cases, hunters can become so focused on the prey that they blank out the surrounding environment, and even ignore sound. They become tense, lose dexterity, and are likely to react automatically – almost like Pavlov’s dogs. Complete familiarity with your firearm and constant practice (especially in loading and unloading and in engaging and disengaging the safety) are therefore essential to reduce risk. You must also remain constantly vigilant and fully aware of the positions and conditions in which your companions are concealed. Also avoid all behaviour that might disturb your companions or cause them to lose their own concentration.
At the end of the day, it is sufficient to follow a few simple rules. Engage the safety whenever your firearm is loaded. Never point the muzzle of your firearm towards people. Only load your firearm when you are ready to shoot. Practice using your firearm regularly, with special reference to loading and unloading: procedures can differ from one model to another. Closely monitor your own physical and psychological conditions and the positions of your companions – who might not be where they should be!
A final word of warning.
A foreign body in the barrel (in some cases even a drop of water) or use of the wrong ammunition can cause a barrel to burst with dramatic results. Always make sure that your barrel is clear before you fire. (This is particularly important if your gun has fallen on the ground.) Take great care never to mix different types of ammunition. 20 gauge cartridges get loaded into 12 gauge barrels all too often, leading to failure of the barrel as soon as the round is fired. In the same way, hunters often load magnum cartridges into standard chambers. You may be lucky once and nothing serious happens … or you may end up with a swollen or burst barrel. If you own a rifle, take great care never to use ammunition of the wrong calibre. It is all too easy to load a .308 Winchester round into a .270 Winchester chamber, for example.
ESSENTIAL SAFETY PRECAUTIONS
ALWAYS TREAT A FIREARM AS LOADED.
Never assume that a firearm is unloaded. The only certain way to ensure that the chamber of your firearm is empty is to open it and visually and physically examine the inside to see if a round is present. Removing or unloading the magazine does not mean that your firearm is unloaded or cannot fire. Shotguns and rifles can be checked by cycling or removing all rounds, opening the chamber and visually inspecting the inside for any remaining rounds.
NEVER POINT A FIREARM AT PEOPLE OR ANIMALS. NEVER POINT EVEN AN UNLOADED FIREARM IN ANY DIRECTION IT IS NOT SAFE TO SHOOT.
Never let the muzzle of your firearm point at any part of your body or at another person. This is especially important when loading or unloading it. When you are shooting at a target, make sure you know what is behind it. If fired from an upward pointing barrel, some rifle bullets can travel for 4 kilometres or more. Under similar conditions, even a 12 gauge shotgun slug can travel for over 1,500 metres. It is your responsibility to ensure that your shot does not cause unintended injury or damage if you miss your target, or if your shot goes through it.
STORE YOUR FIREARM AND AMMUNITION UNDER SEPARATE LOCK AND KEY, WHERE CHILDREN CANNOT GAIN ACCESS TO THEM.
It is your responsibility to ensure that children under the age of 18 and unauthorised persons do not gain access to your firearm. To reduce the risk of accidents involving children, unload your firearm, lock it away, and store your ammunition in a separate locked location. Bear in mind that devices intended to prevent accidents, such as cable locks, chamber plugs, etc, may not prevent use or misuse of your firearm by a determined person. Storage in a steel gun safe is more effective in preventing intentional misuse of a firearm by an unauthorised child or person.
NEVER SHOOT AT WATER OR AT A HARD SURFACE.
Shooting at the surface of water or at a rock or other hard surface increases the chance of ricochets or fragmentation of bullets and shot, which can result in projectiles striking an unintended or peripheral target.
FAMILIARISE YOURSELF WITH THE SAFETY FEATURES OF YOUR FIREARM, BUT REMEMBER: SAFETY DEVICES ARE NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR SAFE HANDLING PROCEDURES.
Never rely solely on a safety device to prevent an accident. Make sure that you are fully familiar with and able to use the safety features of your particular firearm, but remember that accidents are best prevented by following safe handling procedures. The most important rule is to keep your finger outside the trigger guard at all times until you are ready to fire.
Many safeties only lock the trigger. In such cases, if your firearm falls or receives a blow while loaded and cocked, it can easily fire despite the safety. While the latest models are unlikely to fire accidentally, older and badly maintained firearms can easily do so. Accidental firing is much more likely if the safety is disengaged. Always unload your firearm before performing physical actions such as jumping across ditches or climbing over fences. All too often we see hunters waiting at their assigned places with loaded and cocked guns and with the safety disengaged. This is a dangerous practice. We also see hunters on the move with guns ready to fire. This is even more dangerous. As a minimum precaution, always engage the safety and take your finger out of the trigger guard before moving. Make sure that your firearm is unloaded before slinging it over your shoulder. Engaging the safety is not enough to prevent accidents, for the simple reason that it can become accidentally disengaged again.
KEEP YOUR FIREARM PROPERLY MAINTAINED.
Store and carry your firearm so that dirt or dust cannot accumulate in its mechanism. After each use, clean and oil your firearm according to the instructions given in its manual. This prevents corrosion, damage to the barrel and the accumulation of dirt which could prevent proper functioning. Always check the bore and chamber prior to loading to ensure that they are clean and free from obstructions. Firing with an obstruction in the barrel or chamber can rupture the barrel and injure you and others nearby.
If firing makes an unusual sound, stop immediately, engage the safety and unload your firearm. Make sure the chamber and barrel are free from obstructions like a defective round or a round of the wrong gauge or calibre jammed inside the barrel.
ONLY USE PROPER AMMUNITION.
Only use factory-loaded, new ammunition manufactured to industry specifications: CIP (Europe) and SAAMI® (U.S.A.). Make sure that each round you use is in the proper gauge or calibre and type for your firearm. The gauge is clearly marked on the barrels of shotguns. The use of reloaded or remanufactured ammunition increases the likelihood of excessive cartridge pressures, case-head ruptures or other ammunition defects that can damage your firearm and injure yourself and others nearby.
ALWAYS WEAR PROTECTIVE GLASSES AND EARPLUGS WHEN SHOOTING.
The chance of gas, gunpowder or metal fragments blowing back and injuring a shooter is rare, but the injuries that can be sustained in such circumstances can be severe, and include possible loss of eyesight. Always wear impact resistant glasses when shooting. Earplugs or hearing protectors help reduce the risk of hearing damage after years of shooting. Hunting with earplugs or hearing protectors is obviously not practical, but a good pair of protective glasses should be worn at all times. Models for different light conditions are readily available.
NEVER LOAD YOUR FIREARM UNTIL YOU HAVE REACHED A PLACE FROM WHICH IT IS SAFE TO SHOOT . NEVER MAKE SUDDEN OR HAZARDOUS MOVEMENTS WHILE CARRYING A LOADED FIREARM.
Open and empty the chamber of your firearm and engage its safety before climbing or descending a tree, climbing a fence or jumping over a ditch or other obstruction. Never pull or push a loaded firearm toward yourself or another person. Always unload your firearm and visually and physically check that its magazine, loading mechanism and chamber are empty, and also open the action before handing it to another person. Never accept a firearm from another person unless it has been unloaded, visually and physically checked, and confirmed to be unloaded. Ask for the action to be opened before accepting it. Never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
AVOID ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES OR JUDGMENT/REFLEX IMPAIRING MEDICATION WHEN SHOOTING. ALWAYS TAKE THE GREATEST CARE WHEN HANDLING A FIREARM.
Do not drink and shoot! If you are have to take medication that might impair your motor reactions or judgment, do not handle a firearm while you are under its influence. Switch off your mobile phone and refrain from smoking when out hunting with a firearm. You must remain fully aware of conditions around you, and in particular of the presence and location of other persons, and you must be fully concentrated at all times.
NEVER TRANSPORT A LOADED FIREARM.
Unload your firearm (chamber empty, loader/magazine empty) before putting it in a vehicle. Only load your firearm only at your destination, when authorised to shoot by your hunt leader.
Make sure that you have correctly identified your target before you pull the trigger. In the heat of the moment, especially in thick undergrowth, it is not impossible to mistake a dog or a person for a wild boar. Dense woodland can create surprising illusions.
When hunting in a group, make absolutely sure that you know the positions of your companions. In a group hunt, remain on the spot assigned to you and insist that all others do the same. Never take assurances at face value, however, and never assume that people are where they should be! Hunters are eager to leave their spots and move towards the prey after a hit in order to find the animal. Never do so until your group leader has given the all-clear signal.
Wear high visibility garments. Wild boars cannot see them, but the human eye can pick them out clearly among the vegetation.