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For the week of Oct. 13, 1999 through Oct. 19, 1999

Safety is key to happy hunting

Pheasant season opens this week

Express Staff Writer

o13hunt.jpg (17974 bytes)Randy Schaeffer proudly carries a pheasant he shot on Friday afternoon. As he walks, he carries his gun with the barrel pointed upward for safety. Dogs Dakota and Button helped flush and retrieve the bird.

On Friday at the Sage Basin Shooting Preserve, about 10 miles south of Shoshone, Wood River Valley hunters Jim Sutton II and Randy Schaeffer readied their .12-gauge shotguns for a morning of pheasant hunting.

The pheasant hunting season doesn’t open until Saturday, but on this private hunting range eager hunters can stalk captive-raised birds that are released into the 640-acre preserve.

As the two hunters prepared for the morning, donning "10-mile orange" vests and hats and checking their ammo stores, Sage Basin owner and Magic Valley potato rancher Jeff Bragg explained that safety and preparation are the most important parts of a successful hunt. Bragg teaches hunter safety courses for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game every fall.

"I do not like being with people with guns who don’t use them safely," he said. "Hunters should always assume that every weapon is loaded, never carry a loaded gun in a vehicle, know where their partners are at all times and know what is behind a targeted animal before shooting."

Sutton, who owns Sutton and Sons Automotive in Hailey, added that even the most careful of hunters can have accidents. Hunting is something that has to be taken very seriously, he said.

Each year, Idaho hunters harvest over 100,000 pheasants, a colorful species that was imported to the United States from eastern Asia for sport hunting. Only male pheasants, the more colorful sex, are allowed to be harvested as females may be carrying eggs.

In Idaho, pheasants tend to keep to well covered areas such as corn fields or heavy sage brush to avoid being preyed on by hawks or coyotes. They can fly but usually choose to run through thick vegetation when they sense danger.

As Schaeffer worked his way along a row of tall grasses in an otherwise low-cut field, he held his loaded weapon straight up in the air. That method of carrying a gun, he explained, will prevent a misfire from hitting anything—or anyone. As he walked the grass line, his dog, Dakota, sniffed through the brush trying to flush any hiding birds.

"Pheasants will get down real low and just scoot along here," Schaeffer said. "It’s just amazing. The challenge (of pheasant hunting) is knowing where to go and finding them."

Fish and Game education and information specialist Mike Todd explained in an interview some additional, basic hunter safety points that should be used when hunting pheasant and all other wildlife with firearms.

 Handle every weapon like it is loaded.

Mishaps can occur when someone accidentally fires a gun he or she thought was unloaded, Todd said. He recounted a time when a southern Idaho boy was killed by a gun recently used by a friend.

"He assumed it was unloaded, but it wasn’t," Todd said.

  • Control your muzzle.

People are less likely to get hurt by a gun accidentally going off if the business end of the gun is pointed away from people, Todd said. In many situations, having a gun pointed straight up in the air is the safest, he added.

For a group of hunters walking three abreast, the center person will often have the gun pointing straight up while the two people on the sides will cradle their guns with the muzzles pointed away from the middle person.

When crossing through or over a fence, Todd said, hunters should unload their weapons, have one person go over the fence, then hand the guns across the fence. Don’t try to climb over or through a fence with a gun in your hands, he said.

  • Keep the gun unloaded. Unless a hunter is in the field hunting, weapons should always be unloaded.

  • Keep fingers off the trigger. Unless a shot is being taken, a hunter should not place his or her finger on the trigger of a weapon.

Staying safe also means making sure the only thing being shot at is the game being hunted.

"If you can’t identify your target 150 percent, then don’t shoot," Todd said.

To lessen the chances of mistaken identity, Todd strongly encourages hunters to wear orange clothing. Also, those recreating in the backcountry during hunting seasons should wear orange so hunters don’t mistake them for game rustling in the bushes.

In addition, hunters moving in groups should always know where their partners are.


Hunting safely goes beyond simply handling a gun. Unpredictable fall weather, rough terrain and the routine hazards of a camp account for most injuries, according to Todd.

"The majority of hunting accidents are not firearm related," Todd said.

Hunters need to be ready for sudden changes in weather, as well as injuries. Todd recommends that hunters take a backpack with warm and waterproof clothing, extra food, matches, map, compass and a first-aid kit.

A group of three hunters who became lost in the Smoky Mountains west of Ketchum last week may not have become lost at all had they heeded such warnings. At least they would have had spent a more comfortable night in the wilderness. The three were armed only with their rifles, a dead buck and a small flashlight.


Back on the Sage Basin Shooting Preserve, Sutton and Schaeffer reaped the benefits of a safe day hunting.

"It’s dangerous. You don’t want to hurt your dog. You don’t want to hurt people you’re hunting with," Schaeffer said of his constant concern and awareness of the dangers affiliated with his sport.

One could tell by the smiles he and Sutton wore, however, that hunting done safely is a fun and adventurous endeavor.


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Copyright 1999 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.