Once a year I write a version of this post as a public service.

It’s almost August 1 which means a lot of hunters are looking at their calendars and realizing “Oh my gosh, dove season starts in a month!” and planning a trip to the gun club to warm up. Let me offer these safety reminders:

Gun clubs require shot no larger than 7 ½. There is good reason for this. The only time I have ever been shot (although no blood was drawn) was at a club, now closed, where the last station on the sporting clays course overlooked the trap and skeet fields. It was far enough away that small shot wouldn’t carry, but 4s did, and they stung. We were at the last station getting ready to shoot when everyone in my squad said “Ouch!” simultaneously, then looked at one another wondering what just happened. After we got hit a second time we figured it out, but by then the offending shooters were done with their round. I have also seen clueless newcomers annihilate skeet targets with 3-inch steel BBs. Yes, the breaks are impressive, but it’s not a safe practice. Big steel pellet can ricochet dangerously.

Wear your eye and ear protection. You can do permanent damage to your ears shooting even just shooting 75-100 shells without plugs or muffs (I wear both). Glasses are important, too. I have seen clay target shards gouge gun stocks and cut flesh. You don’t want a sharp chunk of target in the eye.

Don’t load your gun until you’re about to shoot it. A lot of hunters walk up to the post or cage shoving shells into their guns as if the clay were going to flush any instant. Relax. The bird doesn’t go until you say “pull.” Don’t load your gun until you are in position and ready to shoot. Then, only load the number of shells you will shoot. I shot sporting clays with a guy earlier this year who would fill his pump gun full of shells, but of course, he would then forget how many rounds he had left in the gun, which sometimes meant he left the cage with a shell in the gun, but mostly meant he would shoot at the first target, work the slide and his gun would go “click” on the second target. He would then put more shells in his gun and shoot the pair again. It was both annoying and unsafe. When I told him to load just two at a time, and he looked at me blankly and kept on doing what he was doing.

Keep your muzzle pointed downrange. I have seen two accidental discharges at gun clubs. One was by a kid who had his finger on the trigger of a Model 12 when he closed the action. Model 12s have no disconnector, and will shoot if you do that. The other was by me, testing a new gun that had the unnerving habit of slam firing when you closed it no matter where your trigger finger was. In both cases, the guns were pointed downrange and nothing bad happened, although I made an impressive divot in the ground when I did it.

If you see something, say something (to borrow a phrase from the TSA). Most new target shooters, unlike the moron who wouldn’t stop filling his gun with shells, will take gentle but firm correction to heart. It’s your job as an experienced shooter to help newcomers have a good, safe time at the club. You were a clueless new shooter once.