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Importance of early training—Why a gun is better than a rifle—How to become a good shot

Whether a boy of fifteen should have a gun or a rifle is a question that parents will have to settle for themselves. There is no question but that a careful boy who has been taught by some older person how to handle a gun is more to be trusted than a man who has never learned the proper use of fire-arms and who takes up the sport of hunting after he is grown up. Most of the shooting accidents are caused by inexperienced men who have never been accustomed to guns in their younger days. Once or twice I have just missed being shot by friends who had never been hunting before, and who became so excited when they unexpectedly kicked up a rabbit or walked into a flock of quail that they fired the gun without knowing whether any of their friends were in range or not. When a boy is allowed to have a gun it should be a real one. Air rifles and small calibre guns are all the more dangerous, because they are often looked upon as toys.

In handling a gun, always treat it as though it were loaded, no matter if you know it is empty. By this means it will soon become second nature to you never to point the gun at any one even carelessly or in fun. A guide once said to me, "A gun is a dangerous critter without lock, stock, or barrel, and if a feller ever points one at me I think he means business."

A double barrelled hammerless shot-gun

A double barrelled hammerless shot-gun

A gun can never be trusted. Accidents happen so quickly that it is over before we know it and the terrible damage is done. Sometimes the trigger will catch on a coat button or a twig, and, bang! an unexpected discharge takes place and if you were careless just for an instant, it may cost some one his life. Especial care must be taken in loading and unloading a gun. It is at this time that a gun is most likely to go off unexpectedly.

The best way to learn how to handle a gun is to watch the methods of an old hand. Never fire a gun when you are standing behind another person. You may know that you are not aiming at him, but the concussion of the air near the end of the barrel is terrific, and your friend may have a split ear drum as a result.

A shot-gun is better for a boy than a rifle, for the reason that most real shooting except for big game is done with a shot-gun, and besides, it takes a lot of practice to shoot well with it. A shot-gun is not a weapon for play but a real tool. In almost every section of the country there is some small game to be hunted and there is usually also an opportunity to practise at clay pigeons.

No one would think of hunting quail, ducks, or rabbits with a rifle, and even if you were an excellent rifle shot at a still mark you might not be able to hit moving game at all. A shot-gun is less dangerous for the reason that its range is limited to a little over a hundred yards, while a rifle may carry a mile. A cheap shot-gun is far more dangerous than a cheap rifle. Until it is possible to buy a good one it is better to have none at all. A good American-made gun can be bought for about twenty-five dollars. A gun suitable for its owner should fit just as his clothing fits him. When a gun is quickly brought to the shoulder in firing position, there is no time in actual hunting to shift it around. When you buy a gun, remember that your canvas or corduroy hunting coat makes more of a bulge at the shoulder than an ordinary suit and accordingly see that the stock is the proper length. The "drop" of a gun is the number of inches that the stock falls below the line of the barrel. If the stock is bent too much you will shoot under your game. If it is too straight the tendency will be to shoot over game. The average stock is made to fit most people and will probably answer most purposes unless you can afford to have a stock made especially. The principal thing is to do all your practising with your own gun until it becomes second nature to bring it up quickly and have the eye find the barrel instantly. A shot-gun is not aimed in the same way as a rifle. The method of good shots is rather to keep their eye on the game and when they "feel" that the gun is pointed right to fire. A skilful shot can tell whether he is shooting too high or too low just as he pulls the trigger. The brain, head, and eyes and trigger-finger must all work in harmony or you will never be a good shot. Never flinch as you shoot. This is a very common fault of beginners and it is fatal to becoming a marksman.

The first lesson in handling a gun is to understand perfectly how it works. If it is a hammerless gun, remember that it is always cocked. When you open the barrels you cock the gun automatically. For this reason there is some kind of a safety device provided, which should always be left at "safe" except at the actual instant of firing. It is just as easy to learn to push the safety off when you fire as it is to learn to pull the trigger, if one starts right.

Never carry your gun with your finger on the trigger. Wait until you put the gun up as you are ready to shoot. Don't forget the safety. A great many shots are missed because the hunter forgets whether he has left it on or off and in his anxiety to hit the game will tug and pull on the trigger until, just as the game disappears out of range, he will remember that he did not release it. This shows the importance of acquiring the proper habit at first.

It is harder to correct bad habits in handling a gun than to teach the beginner the proper way at first. On your first lesson in the field, walk on the left side of your teacher so that your gun will be pointing away from him. If you come across any game, try to take your time before you fire. Nearly every one shoots too quickly. As most shot-gun shooting is what is called snap shooting, there isn't much time at best, but a good shot will be sure that he has covered his game before he fires, while a beginner will trust to luck. This will be the hardest fault to correct. Consequently a beginner should if possible hunt alone for a while, as the presence of another gun alongside of him makes him too anxious to get in the first shot, and gets him into bad habits.

If your teacher also has a gun, he must assure you that he does not intend to shoot and then you will try harder to get the game and run less chance of missing. Always unload a gun before going into a house, under or over a fence, or in or out of a boat or carriage. If you leave your gun, even for a minute, unload it. Never rest a loaded gun against a tree or building. Never pull a gun loaded or empty toward you by the muzzle. In unloading always point it toward the ground. A jar will sometimes discharge a gun and very often a discharge will take place when closing the breech on a tight shell.

Always be ready for game. In hunting, we never can tell at what instant it will rise up in front of us. "Be ready" does not mean having the muscles and nerves constantly on a tension. It is simply to carry your gun in such a position that you can quickly bring it to the shoulder at any time. It is a good plan to practise aiming at various objects as you go along until you gradually overcome your awkwardness.

It is difficult to say what makes a good shot with a gun. There is no question but that practice will make any one a better shot than he would be without it, but some people are better shots with very little practice than others with a great deal. One very important thing is to do your practising under conditions similar to the actual hunting. If the cover is thick where you hunt, a swamp or brush lot for example, you will not derive much benefit from practising entirely in the open. A pigeon trap is an inexpensive way to learn to shoot. Some experienced hunters will say that practice at clay pigeons does not help in the field, but at the same time a good brush shot is almost always a good trap shot and if you can become skilful enough to break an average of eighteen to twenty clay pigeons out of twenty-five at sixteen yards rise, you may be sure that you will get your share of game under actual hunting conditions.

The most difficult part of bird hunting is to learn to give the game a start. The average shot-gun will kill quail at sixty yards and duck at forty. The farther the game is away from us, provided it is within range, the more the shot will spread. I once saw a half-dozen hunters fire at a covey of quail that rose in an open field before they had gone thirty yards and every hunter scored a clean miss. Any one of these men could bring down his bird under the same conditions nine times out of ten if he had taken his time. On this occasion when their guns were empty another hunter who had withheld his fire said, "Are you all done, boys?" and shot a bird with each barrel at a measured fifty-eight yards. To kill a bird that another man has shot at is called "wiping his eye," and it is the chief joy of an old hunter to do this with a beginner. If you do not want to let the old hunter wipe your eye, take your time.

Learn to shoot with your head well up and with both eyes open. When the game rises, keep your eye on it and at the instant that you see it on the end of your gun barrel, fire. The greatest joy of hunting is to see the game appear to tumble off the end of your gun barrel when it is hit. If there is a doubt as to whose bird it is, and this happens constantly as two people often shoot at the same time at the same bird, do not rush in and claim it. Remember you are a gentleman, but if you are sure that you hit it, at least stand for your rights.

So much of the pleasure of hunting depends on our companions that we must be considerate of the feelings of others as well as our own. Always hunt if possible with experienced hunters. You will not only have more fun, but you will run much less risk. In rabbit hunting, one is especially at the mercy of the beginner who fires wildly without any thought as to whose life he may be endangering, so long as he gets the rabbit. If you hunt with some one who owns the dogs, be very careful not to interfere with them by giving commands. As a rule the owner of a well-trained dog prefers to handle him without any help, and, while he may not tell you, you may be sure that he will resent it if you try to make the dog do your bidding when his master is around.

The pattern of a gun, as it is called, is the number of shot it will put within a circle at a given distance. As a rule the factory test pattern will be found on a tag attached to the gun. If not, you can easily get the pattern yourself. The usual distance for targeting a new gun is thirty yards, and the standard circle is thirty inches. Make a circle on the barn door with a piece of chalk and string fifteen inches long. First drive a nail into the wood and fasten the string to it with the chalk on the loose end. Then describe and measure ninety feet from the target. Fire as nearly as you can at the centre of the circle and count the shot that are inside the chalk mark. In order not to count the same shot twice mark them off with a pencil. Perhaps a surer way would be to fire at the door first and in the centre of the load of shot drive the nail and describe a circle afterward. The chief advantage of studying the pattern of your gun is to know just how much it scatters and how far it may be depended upon to shoot and kill.

In a choke-bore gun, the end of the barrel is drawn in slightly and made smaller to keep the shot together. Guns that are used in duck and goose hunting are usually full choked as most of the shots are long ones, but for ordinary brush and field shooting a gun that has a full cylinder right barrel and a modified choke on the left will be the best for general purposes.

The best size is 12-bore or gauge. Ten gauge guns are entirely too heavy for general use and the smaller bores, such as sixteen or even twenty gauge, while they are very light and dainty, are not a typical all around gun for a boy who can only afford to have one size. The smaller bores, however, have become very popular in recent years and much may be said in their favour.

The standard length of barrels is either twenty-eight or thirty inches. The shorter length will probably be just as satisfactory and makes a much better proportion between the stock and barrels. You can easily test the amount of choke in a 12-gauge gun. A new ten-cent piece will just go inside the end of the barrel of a full cylinder gun and just fail to go into one that has been slightly choked.

While it is impossible to give any written directions for shooting that are as valuable as actual practice, the important thing for a beginner is to get his form right at first, just as in golf or horseback riding, and then to make up his mind that every shot has got to count.

Rifle shooting is entirely different from shot-gun shooting and skill in one branch of the sport of marksmanship does not mean much in the other. A boy may be an excellent rifle shot at a stationary target and still not be able to hit "a flock of barns," as the country boys say, with a shot-gun. Skill with a rifle is chiefly of value to those who are interested in military affairs and more rarely to those who are fortunate enough to have an opportunity for hunting big game. In settled communities there is a strong feeling against allowing boys to have rifles. Practically the only game that can be hunted will be our little friends, the song birds, and no self-respecting boy will shoot them. A small calibre rifle such as a 22-calibre Flobert will afford considerable pastime at target practice and is also excellent to hunt snakes and frogs along some brook or creek, but generally a boy with a rifle is a public nuisance, and as a rule is liable to arrest in possessing it. If we fix up a rifle range where there are no dangers of damage from spent bullets or badly aimed shots it is well enough to practise with a small rifle.

A real sporting rifle, such as is used for big game, is a very dangerous fire-arm and cannot be used with safety anywhere but in an absolute wilderness or on a target range. Such guns will kill at a mile and go through a tree a foot or two in diameter; to use such a weapon in even a sparsely settled section is very dangerous indeed. If a boy has any chance of going hunting for deer or moose, he will surely need practice and for this purpose a range will have to be selected where there is absolutely no danger to any one within a mile or two. A good practice range is across a lake or river with a bank of earth or clay to stop the bullets. Big game hunting is done so frequently from canoes that it is well to get practice from a boat, both moving and stationary. To shoot successfully from a sitting position in a canoe is a very difficult feat. Just as with a shot-gun the universal tendency is to shoot too quickly, with a rifle it is to shoot too high. The reason is that we hold our head so high up in looking at our game that we fail to see the rear sight at all. Be sure your head is low enough to see both sights.

The modern sporting rifle that will kill at a mile. An

unsafe weapon for boys

The modern sporting rifle that will kill at a mile. An unsafe weapon for boys

Always hold your breath while you are taking aim. Learn to shoot from all sorts of positions, lying, sitting, kneeling, and standing. If the shot is a long one, be sure that your rear sight is properly elevated for the distance. Most of the shots at big game are stationary shots and within a hundred yards; consequently accuracy counts for more than quickness.

With a magazine or repeating rifle be sure that you have emptied your magazine before you leave the gun. With a shot-gun there is a possibility that the "person who didn't know it was loaded" may not kill his victim outright. With a sporting rifle it is practically sure death.

The general rules of care apply to both rifles and shot-guns. Always clean the gun after you have taken it into the field. This is necessary whether you have fired the gun or not, as a gun barrel will always collect a certain amount of dampness. It is an excellent practice to keep a gun covered with oil or vaseline except when it is in use. It not only prevents rust, but the grease also discourages visitors and friends from handling the gun, snapping the trigger, or otherwise damaging it.

In this chapter, I have not said anything about revolvers or pistols, because I do not believe that any sensible boy will care to own one. A revolver is a constant source of danger owing to its short barrel, and as it has no practical value except as a weapon of defence, and as there is a severe penalty for carrying a concealed weapon, I should not care to recommend any boy to own a revolver.

The final question whether we may have a gun and what kind it should be, will depend very largely on the place we live. Any kind of a gun is very much out of place in cities or towns. The boy who does not really have an opportunity to use a gun should be too sensible to ask for one, for surely if we own it we shall constantly want to use it even at some risk. It will be far better to ask for something we can use and leave the gun question until the time when we have a real opportunity.

Finally we must remember that the one who has the gun in his possession is rarely the one that is accidentally shot. We should therefore avoid companions who do own guns and who are careless with them. No amount of care on our part will prevent some careless boy friend from risking our lives. The safer way is to stay home.


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