Out In The Field | Health and Safety

With International Pro-Team Member Paul Hodson.

Realtree International Pro-Team member Paul Hodson takes us through his health and safety tips. Paul covers the most important things to consider when hunting and shooting alone, from gun safety to considering your environment, human error, disease precautions and preventions. 

In the current climate of health and safety madness we all hark back to the old days of common sense. We like to think we are indestructible, and that we know our own capabilities, but if we stop to think, hunting and shooting are two of the most dangerous activities one can do.  They are made especially hazardous because of the following:

•    The use of guns! (Rifles, shotguns, airguns – they can all cause fatal injuries in the wrong hands.)
•    Shooting is often carried out in dangerous areas (e.g. farm yards, around livestock, at night).
•    Human error – be it your own, or that of a shooting partner.
•    Disease.

Let’s take a look at each of these in turn:

Basic gun safety:

•    Always treat a gun as if it is loaded.  Never assume that a gun is not loaded and therefore safe. 
•    The only time you should put your finger on the trigger is when you are going to shoot.  
•    Make sure the safety is on until you are about to take the shot (but remember, a gun can still go off even with the safety in place).
•    If you are moving position, make sure your rifle/shotgun/airgun is unloaded.  
•    Never travel with a loaded gun in your vehicle. Make sure that the gun is in a slip or rifle case. 
•    Always make sure you have a safe backstop, and there is nothing in line of sight other than the target.

Shooting environment:

•    Farm yards are often filled with potential hazards.  A farm on which you have been asked to undertake pest control is more likely to be one where things may have got slightly out of hand.  Machinery may be left out, manure may be piled up awaiting disposal, there may even be animal carcasses lying around.  
•    Farms need to store a variety of chemicals on site.  It’s not a bad idea to familiarise yourself with the various symbols found on chemical containers, e.g. if you happen to hit a container full of ammonium solution, the toxic fumes could overcome you in seconds, rendering you unconscious with potentially fatal consequences. 
•    If you are a smoker, don’t smoke in the confines of buildings such as grain stores or milling sheds.  The fine dust particles will combust very easily.  (Also, the smell of tobacco does tend to give away your position to the quarry!)
•    Fields can be uneven, wet, muddy, and low crop cover can snag on your footwear causing trip hazards.  If shooting from a vehicle in a field, make sure you are on firm footing, and if you shoot from a platform, or from steps, make sure they have a non-slip surface. Remember it can be very difficult for emergency help to reach a field not accessible by road-going vehicles.
•    On a windy night, if your rifle is on a bipod, it runs the risk of being blown over.  Similarly, in low temperatures, it can freeze to your shooting platform.  And as we all know, things can get slippery when they’re wet.  To solve these problems, use rubber mats or carpet on your shooting platform.

Human error

•    Remember, a gun is not dangerous – it only becomes dangerous in the hands of a human being.  
•    Practise makes perfect – handle the equipment at home enough times so that it becomes second nature in the field.  
•    Whilst physical fitness isn’t a prerequisite for shooting, a certain standard of agility and self-control in necessary for success and safe operation.  
•    If you shoot with a partner, make sure you understand positioning, signals, etc.  This is of particular importance at night when visibility is obviously limited, or when pursuing quarry which is likely to be scared off by audible communication.
•    If you are not sure, do not take the shot.

Disease precautions:

•    Vermin carry a whole range of nasty diseases which can be easily passed to humans, normally through their urine.  These include Weil’s disease, Salmonella, Listeria, Toxoplasma gondii, and Hantavirus.  Precautions include wearing gloves and Wellington boots.
•    Foxes carry mange which doesn’t affect humans but can be passed onto a Working Dog or family pet.  They also carry tapeworms, roundworms, ticks and fleas.  When retrieving a shot fox, always wear gloves.  If you need to transport the carcass in your vehicle, use a plastic box or tray which will prevent contamination.
•    Rabbits carry fleas.  Deer carry ticks, fleas, and lice.
•    It is advisable to carry with you a first aid kit and the following:

  • Rubber/latex gloves
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Alcohol hand gel
  • Disinfectant/disinfectant atomiser 
  • Soap/towels
  • Grabber (the sort used for picking litter)

Disease prevention:

  • Always wash your hands before eating or drinking
  • When retrieving shot quarry, check for any signs of disease or infestation, and hold the carcass away from your clothing. Better still, place carcass in a large bin bag.
  • Once you’ve disposed of the carcass, disinfect all equipment.  Dispose of rubber gloves.  

By taking these simple precautions, you’ll be able to enjoy many happy SAFE hunting trips!

For more articles from Realtree International Pro-Team member Paul Hodson follow the links below:

Night Vision - Practice Makes Perfect.

My First Hunting Experience.

Top 5 Tips For A Comfortable Night's Shooting.

Night Vision Preparation - Top 5 Tips.