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Safe shooters are never sorry

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation officers (CO) found themselves looking for cover during the recent moose and waterfowl openers, and remind hunters to always follow safe firearm discharge procedures.

While pulling up to check some moose hunters, CO Darin Fagerman of Grand Marais came across a couple of hunters with angry looks on their faces and another who looked a bit confused. One of the men explained to the CO that the confused-looking man had an accidental discharge of his rifle just as the CO pulled up.

"Everyone was fortunate that the rifle was pointed in a safe direction, but there is no excuse for what happened," Fagerman said. "This makes every CO a little nervous as they approach people with guns during the hunting season. Safe handling of firearms is a must at all times."

CO Luke Croatt of Wealthwood was working with CO Candidate Craig Miska when they discovered a group of waterfowl hunters trying to shoot a cripple shot in the direction of the officers, spraying pellets all around them. The officers explained to the group the importance of knowing where to shoot safely.

CO Thor Nelson of Bloomington was working with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officer when shotgun pellets struck their boat, nearly wounding the USFWS officer. Nelson urges everyone to make shooting safety a priority, always.

"Always know what lies behind your target," Nelson said. "Make sure you check before pulling the trigger."

Hunting remains one of the safest outdoor recreational activities. Hunters contribute to this safety record by practicing good firearm etiquette. Taking your best shot at the right time ensures a safe and productive hunt

"Until your target is fully visible and in good light, don't even raise your gun," said Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR Enforcement Education Program coordinator. "Know what is in front of and behind your target and determine that you have a safe backstop or background since the bullet or pellets may pass through or around the primary target and strike whatever is behind it. Safety is your primary concern, bagging game is secondary."

Hunters also must keep track of buildings, roadways, and other hunters. Don't ever shoot at sound -- it may be a child, a hunter, or an innocent bystander. When hunting, know the identifying features of the game you're after. Never shoot at flat hard surfaces, such as water, rocks, or steel because of ricochets.

"Be certain of your target and your line of fire," said Hammer. "Keep your safety on, finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot."

Hunters are also reminded to:

n treat every firearm with the same respect due a loaded firearm; always keep muzzle pointed in a safe direction

n be sure the barrel and action are clear of obstructions

n never load or unload firearms around others

n always ask permission before entering private land, and as a guest of the landowner, act accordingly

n store firearms and ammunition separately beyond the reach of children and careless adults

n avoid alcoholic beverages or other mood-altering drugs before or while shooting.

Hunters should refer to the "2008 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook" for detailed information concerning hunting regulations or 651-296-6157 or call 888-MINNDNR (646-6367) for more information.