THE ABUSE AND MISUSE OF FIREARMS
By WALTER S. CHANSLER
Of course a large number of shooters take great pride in their ability to care for and use their firearms properly. They have made this subject a study and know exactly how to use a firearm in the field, and how to care for it both when in use and when in its case, or rack, at home or in camp. But the majority of users of firearms are guilty of abusing and misusing their guns. Much of this abuse and misuse is due to the lack of knowledge of how properly to handle and to care for firearms. Some time ago in an article to this department the writer gave his views on the subject of cleaning and caring for the rifle both in the field and in camp or at home; and, of course, much of the treatment of this subject would be equally applicable to the shotgun. So here the writer will attempt to set forth his views only on the twin subjects at the head of this paragraph; though it may be necessary occasionally to bring before the reader some points on cleaning firearms in order to show what really constitutes abuse along this line.
One would not be far wrong in saying that less than five per cent of the firearms that have passed their days of usefulness for the purpose for which they were made have passed from use because they were actually worn out. Most of them have been ruined by the effects of abuse and misuse. Any good make of gun if properly cared for will last the average shooter a lifetime, practically. On the other hand, the best gun made can be irrecoverably ruined in ten days by abuse. Neglecting to care for firearms is poor policy for the shooter.
Many times the writer has seen men come in from the field and let their guns set overnight without cleaning. Nothing can be more harmful to a gun, especially to a rifle. The powder residue rapidly starts rust-pits inside the bore of the barrel; and these rust-pits never grow any smaller. It doesn't take much neglect in cleaning to start a rifle or shotgun toward the scrap heap; and when once started in this direction it takes a great amount of care and careful management to keep the arm from going all the way. Here an ounce of prevention is worth a thousand pounds of cure; for when rust-pits once get started inside the bore of an arm there is no remedy to be had. The only thing that can be done when this happens is to prevent a bad condition from becoming worse by using care in cleaning and oiling.
Another frequent source of abuse is neglect to clean the gun when in the field. A rifle should have a field cleaner run through the bore after every ten or twelve shots. (This is not necessary in the case of a shotgun, if the inside of the barrel has been kept well oiled when not in use and has been thoroughly oiled before taking the gun afield.) An oiled rag should follow the field cleaner through the bore. This gives one a freshly cleaned and oiled gun after every ten to twelve shots, and prevents fouling and leading of the bore. Next to permitting the rifle to set overnight without cleaning and oiling, nothing is more injurious to the life and accuracy of the gun than to do a great deal of shooting without cleaning the gun occasionally when in the field. Even with the shotgun it will pay to put an oiled rag through the bore occasionally when doing much fast shooting. And how frequently we see shooters ignoring the advisability of all field cleaning! But just the same, oil and the trouble of field cleaning are much cheaper than firearms.
Not so very infrequently we see shooters in the field using their guns as clubs with which to scare rabbits out of brush piles, hollow logs, and the like. Too, some hunters use their guns to hold down barbed or woven wire when climbing fences. Some men throw a gun into a wagon or a boat as though the arm was a mere bar of iron or a bag of sand; they act as if they thought a gun was made to be used as a crowbar or a pikepole. Such treatment is bound sooner or later to tell on a firearm. The writer has seen guns with the forearm badly marred, where the shooter had used the gun to hold down tight wires when climbing fences; also he has seen guns with the stocks battered and scarred, and even with the metal parts and the barrels nicked and dented, as a result of field abuse. Such carelessness is entirely inexcusable. The man or woman who so treats such a delicate piece of mechanism ought not be permitted to own and use firearms; for if he or she is so careless and indifferent in the use of the arm in the field, he or she will be anything but a safe companion on a hunt.
In reading the papers during the hunting season one is appalled at the number of accidents that happen to hunters in the field. The writer believes that fully eighty-five per cent of these accidents can be traced directly to the misuse of firearms; the other fifteen per cent can be traced to pure carelessness on the part of the hunter, who may at the time of the accident be using the firearm in an entirely proper manner, but who has poor judgment in other lines of reasoning. All accidents due to such misuse of the firearm as pulling it from a boat or through a fence by the muzzle, using it as a staff to lean on, carrying it with the hammer back or the safety off, etc., fall within the eighty-five-percent classification; those accidents due to the hunter mistaking a man for a deer or other game, or a lack of caution on the part of the hunter — such as shooting at moving objects without being sure of their identity, firing at bushes that have been disturbed by the movements of something that the hunter cannot see, etc.— fall within the fifteen-percent classification.
It is not at all uncommon to sec a hunter in the field carrying his gun with the hammer back or the safety off. Such practices are extremely fruitful of accidents. The trigger catching on a twig or in a tear of the hunter's clothing is apt to fire the arm, perhaps at the very moment when it is in line with the heart or head of a companion, who, perhaps, is trudging along a few paces ahead, entirely oblivious to danger. Such carelessness should never be tolerated for an instant. If a shooter is unable to get his firearm in readiness to fire sufficiently quickly after the game has been sighted, then let him either refrain from hunting at all or practice until he becomes proficient in the proper use of the arm before going afield.
There is not much to be said on the subject of such carelessness as pulling a firearm from a wagon or a boat, or through a fence, by the muzzle, or as using a gun for a staff to lean on. One would hardly think that any sane person old enough to carry a gun would be guilty of such foolhardiness; and yet there are hundreds of shooters practicing such carelessness every day of the shooting season, as is shown by the number of accidents due to such causes. When will hunters, generally, learn that a gun is an extremely dangerous thing to be in the vicinity of when carelessly handled, and that it is usually the gun that is thought to be empty that is most dangerous?
To sum up the foregoing: abuse of a firearm will shorten its days of usefulness; a misuse of a firearm will shorten the days of its owner's usefulness — or that of some of his companions. It pays big to handle firearms carefully and to care for them properly.
Hunter-Trader-Trapper. October: 1921,
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