Handling a firearm safely is the single biggest hallmark of a responsible hunter. As with all tools there are some simple rules that if followed will prevent all but the most unusual accidents or incidents. There is nothing that is foolproof and firearms are mechanical devices that can, like any other inanimate tool break.
For all other situations involving firearms there are five simple to the point rules that everyone should follow religiously. Most importantly "treat every firearm as if it is loaded all the time". Many times there are reports of accidents or incidents where the phrase "I didn't know it was loaded" is uttered by the person responsible for the errant discharge. Always handle a firearm as if it is loaded and this should never happen to you.
"Never, ever point a firearm at anything that you do not want to see killed or destroyed". It does not matter whether it is a paper target, in season game, Uncle joes radiator or Aunt Mae's refridgerator if you do not want to shoot it do not point a firearm at it.
"Do not place your finger inside the trigger guard or on the trigger itsself until you are ready to take the shot. Actuation of the trigger is the action that fires the gun. If you finger is not on it it won't fire.
"Always be sure of your chosen target and what is beyond it". All knowledgeable responsible hunters are constantly aware of their surroundings. They are aware of what directions are safe lanes of fire and will wait for their quary to be in a position for a safe shot.
"Always maintain control of your firearm". If it is not needed to be available for immediate use, unload it and if necessary put a lock on it. Even if you are certain that you unloaded it when you put it away check it again when you get it out. (remember the responsibility concept in the first paragraph?) When accepting a firearm from someone else do not accept a firearm that has an action you are not familiar with. Have that person explain how it operates before you take on the mantle of responsibility for it. Never take anyones word that a firearm is unloaded. NEVER. Always check it for yourself.
Wildlife populations in the early 1900's were so low that some species were to the point of extinction. There were three primary reasons for this. While market hunting was certainly one of the three, residential and commercial development had an equal or greater effect. At this time the Federal and State Governments began a program of wildlife habitat restoration and management.
These management programs have been so successfull that all of the concerned species have not only recovered from near extinction but have reach levels of over population in some ares. This is where hunting becomes an essential part of wildlife management. To understand this fully we need to know the definitions Habitat and Carrying Capacity.
Habitat is the essential things that all species need for survival. They are food, space, water, shelter and companionship. Every living thing needs to eat, have water to drink, shelter from the elements and predators, space to move about and others of the species for procreation. Whether it is the human race or animals of the wild these are the things we need to remain alive.
Carrying Capacity is the number of a species that can survive in a given habitat on a year round average without damage to the species population or the habitat. This number is generally taken during late winter, the hardest time of the year for survival. Given the nearly one hundred years of records compiled by wildlife managers clearly illustrate that principal.
What this means to hunting can be outlined in the following scenario.
Consider an area the size of which supports a herd 3000 deer yearly without damage to the herd or the habitat in which they live. Sex ratios in many areas are generally two or more females for every male. Female deer will usually bear from one to three offspring. This means that in the spring aproximately 2000 females will give birth to aproximately 3000 fawns effectively doubling the population the habitat can legitimately support.
Because the spring brings more water and farmers plant new crops these addittional resouces help support the now doubled herd. Natural plantlife and shelter once again becomes prolific and the habitat may for a time support the now 6000 in number population. But only for a time. As the year progresses into the fall some of those deer will have already perished from depredation by predators and automobile crashes. Still there remains an excessive population that can be supported by the decreasingly available habitat. The fall harvest of most available food sources and the loss of foliage leaves the population competing for the naturally dwindling resources. This lack of food and shelter is also drastically effected by the onset of winter. During the course of the average winter the population in excess of the established 3000 will perish as a result of starvation, disease and the cold. Hunting offsets this kind of horrifying death.
Hunting is necessary for the health of wildlife
Wildlife managers use hunters as a tool to keep the species in balance with the habitat in which they live. A certain number of animals are permitted to be hunted for the health, benefit and survival of the species. Hunting removes a portion of the over population that is not expected to survive the average winter anyway. It is emminately better that the average be removed and used to sustain life than be allowed to suffer a long languashing death due to natural causes. Understand that these deer will die anyway. In fact if hunting is not used as a method of population control, disease from malnutrition and immune deficeincy has wiped out entire herds, not just the excess the habitat will support.
Regulated hunting has not and never will result in the extinction of any species. If the population of a species became such that hunting would be a threat, then hunting would be stopped for that species.
Take it home and eat it or don't hunt it
Nebraska as most states do has laws that require a successfull hunter to remove the harvested game from the field and ensure that it is processed for human consumption. Over and above these laws it is the ethical responsibility borne out of respect for the game that we hunt that we do this. Game does not taste like beef, pork or chicken, each species has it's own unique and disctinct flavor. This flavor can be preserved by the proper handling of the meat once it is down. Theoretically a hunter should already be familiar with this process before venturing afield. Sadly many are not and for those please find an aquaintance that is or deliver the harvest to a profession for processing.