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GUN SAFETY! You could save a life

Towards the end of last season I was fortunate to be a guest on a grand shoot.

My fellow Guns were equally grand; a Baronet, captains of industry, a young Honourable. You get the picture.

On the first drive we were double banked – a novelty not practiced by my own modest syndicate.

The Gun in front of me had his loaded Purdey slung casually across his right shoulder, trigger guard up, but barrels horizontal.

His muzzles were pointing directly at the head of the Gun to my immediate left. The latter seemed unconcerned about his risk of double-barrelled oblivion.

I pondered whether I should say something. I didn’t and the drive got underway.

On the long journey home I reflected on how I might have felt had a barrel discharged – and why on earth I hadn’t spoken out.

I suppose I didn’t want to make a fuss, or be impolite to my host.

I related this story to Sue Cook, who told me in no uncertain terms what a fool I had been.

Sue you see, is missing most of her left leg – and came a whisker from losing her life – due to a careless Gun.

Two seasons ago Sue was in the beating line on a small Lincolnshire shoot. The drive before lunch had finished and Sue was standing near the shoot wagon chatting with a couple of the Guns.

She noticed another Gun, with shotgun broken across arm, cross the field and move behind where they were standing, presumably to collect a slip.

“I heard a gunshot and before I had a chance to turn round a second shot went off and hit my leg,” said Sue.

“I didn’t feel anything immediately. I looked down and thought it strange that smoke was coming out of my Wellie boot.’

Pain and shock rapidly set in. A life-saving tourniquet was applied and an air ambulance scrambled.

Sue’s leg was destroyed below the knee and had to be amputated.

Two years later Sue’s promising career is in tatters and she‘s coming to terms with wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, and some very unpleasant medication to dampen awful ‘phantom pain’ from a foot that no longer exists.

Understandably, she has strong views about safety.

‘Nobody should feel intimidated. If you see a Gun behaving in an unsafe way, don’t hesitate to pull them up and certainly don’t think ‘it’s not my place’ or not the ‘done thing’.

Tap them on the shoulder and say ‘excuse me do you think you should unload your gun’.

(In Sue’s case a shotgun was not unloaded before being put in its slip. Either the slip was dropped or the first barrel went off as the shotgun was closed and then the discharged – the second into Sue).

It’s small consolation, but the shoot was insured and the shoot captain had insisted on seeing proof of insurance for all the Guns including the lady guest responsible for shooting Sue.

After talking to Sue, I spoke to several other Guns.

Astonishingly, the first two had both been shot.

Even so they were surprisingly relaxed about what they would do if they spotted an unsafe Gun, preferring a quiet word with the shoot captain to causing a fuss.

My old shooting chum Colin Hayes has more forthright views on safety.

“If someone walked up to me with a gun closed I would have no hesitation in telling them to open it I don’t care who it is. None of us should be worried about taking someone to task if they are doing something unsafe and equally none of us should be too proud to accept a challenge about our own safety.”

“Sure, it’s a delicate subject, but you have to ask yourself the value of a human life,” he said.

Colin has not been shot, but his friend Andy was peppered when a fellow Gun took a low shot in a wood.

“We have to remember our dogs as well too many dogs have been shot by Guns taking ground game unsafely,” Colin added.

In today’s world, many people take occasional pegs via the Internet and will be shooting with a team they do not know.

“If you are a visitor or a guest on a shoot, and you do not know the other Guns, you should pay particular attention to what’s going on around you, because you don’t know what the other Guns are like – are they beginners? Are they safe?” Said Colin.

He’s right there. Safety is all about awareness of fellow Guns, pickersup, beaters.

Keep an eye on them, but also reassure them that you are safe.

Give a friendly wave to the picker-up in the wood to let him know you’ve seen him, take your gun out of its slip broken and give an exaggerated stare down your barrels to check they are clear.

Finally – don’t be a wimp like me.

If you see someone whose behaviour is dodgy, for goodness sake have a word.

It’s easy to become complacent after years of shooting, but we really cannot afford to.

If you have any doubts about this, just ask Sue.