4 May 12

One of our Instructors, a woman, recently participated in a recreational shotgun training program. It was a clinic on Sporting Clays, taught by a highly-respected, veteran player. I don’t consider myself an expert, nor even particularly knowledgeable, on this kind of shotgunning, and I thus probably should have attended myself!

During the Program, my Instructor was asked to shoot her shotgun “from the hip.” I understand this is a common teaching technique that is helpful in mastering shotgun body-indexing. She was using a 20ga Browning over/under. This particular shotgun has a paddle-lever just forward of the tang-style, sliding manual safety. Pressing the paddle to the right unlocks the barrels and allows the shotgun to be “broken-open,” for the purpose of loading and unloading. My Instructor had fired other shotguns from the hip, but never her Browning. In addition, the “hip” technique we use for serious purposes is really an “underarm” position. This Shotgun Instructor wanted the shotgun’s stock under the strong-side forearm.

My student was accustomed to positioning her right thumb directly behind the paddle while shooting. This practice had never represented an issue, so long as the shotgun was fired from the shoulder. However, when fired from the hip, the paddle has a bad habit of striking the strong-side thumb, as most recoil is absorbed by the hands, not the shoulder.

Being aware of this, the Shotgun Instructor was about to caution his student not to put her thumb behind the paddle, but he refrained, because, as he later indicated, being one of my Instructors, she surely “knew what she was doing.”

Sure-enough, the paddle struck her right thumb, splitting the nail, and causing a painful injury that will consume weeks of discomfort in the process of healing. Of course, it is far from life-threatening, but there is an important lesson here:

Safety procedures can never be compromised, no matter how “advanced” students may be.

We’re all guilty of sometimes “relaxing” safety procedures when working with “salty” students. The Shotgun Instructor in this case later conceded that he should never have allowed himself to be intimidated by this student’s status.

Several years ago, I was compelled to sharply correct the Sheriff himself, during a Course I was conducting on his range.

He was handing his pistol behind the line. When I noticed, I said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “I need that pistol holstered right now!” I remember him looking at me as if I had personally insulted him.

I followed with, “Ron, I know this is your range, and we appreciate being able to use it. But, I’m in charge now, and I will immediately correct all safety errors, by anyone, even minor ones, and I don’t care if you’re Michael the Archangel!”

True to character, the Sheriff quickly conceded the point, graciously apologized, and promised to pay closer attention.

I surely don’t want to insult anyone, nor hurt anyone’s feelings, and I thus explain all this at the beginning of training. But, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve watched students shoot themselves, right in front of me! Training accidents are not just theory. I’ve personally witnessed more than one!

So, for everyone’s benefit, safety procedures must be carefully explained and carefully enforced, even when crisp corrections cause temporary embarrassment. Students will get over embarrassment much sooner than serious physical injury.

“… wedge our feet downward, through the muck and slush of opinion, and prejudice and tradition, and delusion, and appearance… that muddy alluvium which covers the globe… until we come to a hard bottom of rock… which we can still call ‘reality’.”