Essential safety precautions for hunting with firearms
WILD BOAR HUNTING
Long range shots are rare in wild boar hunting. More frequently than not, your prey appears a short, or even a very short distance away. Boars also move so rapidly that they can appear and disappear in an instant.
Given that the maximum weight of a wild boar is around 150 kg, and that maximum shot range is generally within 50 metres, the minimum kinetic energy needed for a kill is around 2,000 Joules (204 kgm). This can be provided by a good quality 12 or even 20 gauge shotgun slug or by a rifle projectile of at least 6.5 or 7 mm.
Whether you are using a shotgun or a rifle, make sure that it delivers adequate but not excessive stopping power. Unnecessarily powerful ammunition, intended for larger and more robust prey than the wild boar, can actually prove less effective than the right ammunition. (Rifle bullets in particular may fail to expand on impact if they are intended for tougher targets.) The main risk associated with over-powered ammunition, however, is that of reduced control, especially if a number of rounds are fired in rapid succession. For obvious safety reasons, it is your duty to minimise the number of “stray shots” you fire. For a start, only fire when there is a good chance of hitting your target. (There is little point in firing more than two or three shots at a moving target, for example.) Secondly, only use a firearm/ammunition combination that you are capable of controlling accurately, especially in terms of muzzle climb.
SHOTGUNS AND SHOTGUN AMMUNITION
A wide range of shotguns are encountered in boar hunting. Many hunters still use over-and-under or side-by-side double barrel models, while others use semiautomatics designed for bird hunting. Firearms like these may do a sterling job in quick aim-and-fire situations but they have serious limitations in terms of safety and practicality.
Shotguns designed to fire shot seldom have barrels shorter than 65 centimetres, with most barrels being between 65 and 71 cm long. Slug shotguns on the other hand generally have barrels between 50 and 61 centimetres long. With top quality modern ammunition, even the shortest barrels on the market (48-50 centimetres) are long enough to ensure complete propellant combustion, but if your ammunition is charged with slow burning propellant, short barrels will not deliver the same performance as a 55-61 cm barrel, and could even generate enough muzzle turbulence to throw your projectile off trajectory.
Shotguns made for bird hunting inevitably have choked barrels. Choked barrels cannot fire slug ammunition under any circumstances. Even if you use balls small enough to pass through without causing damage, you should never use chokes smaller than ***. The use of * or ** chokes with solid balls, especially on older or badly maintained barrels can cause bulging or bursting. This is especially true if your ammunition is slow-burning or if an obstruction is present in the barrel (even a tiny piece of leaf). On the purely practical side, excessive deformation of projectiles inevitably leads to reduced accuracy. Chokes of *** and larger do not generally reduce accuracy and, in some cases, can even improve it.
All full bore rounds currently available (Brenneke, Gualandi, Foster) are compatible with choked barrels, unless the manufacturer clearly states otherwise on the packaging . Provided the limitations given above are respected, there is therefore no reason to avoid using them. You should, however, avoid too powerful ammunition types. Slug rounds impart very high stresses to your barrel because the point of maximum pressure moves forwards about ten centimetres to where the barrel walls are generally thinner, and also because the projectile has to be squeezed through the choke. For obvious safety reasons, therefore, do not fire slug rounds in older shotguns unless you are absolutely sure of the strength of the barrel. Remember too that solid projectiles are easily deviated from their trajectory by branches and twigs and that they are more liable to ricochet off stones and trees. Slugs and solid balls therefore remain extremely dangerous until they lose all their momentum and fall to the ground. (Bear in mind too that smooth bore shotguns can have a theoretical range of up to 1,500 metres or thereabouts.) Finally, never fire under-size rounds from choked barrels, whether the rounds in question are manufactured for smooth bore or rifled shotguns. (Rifled barrels are rare on shotguns. In Italy, for example, they are found only with certain special-purpose 12-gauge models. The reasons for their rarity is that, while they offer a certain increase in effective range, rifled barrels are generally longer and therefore less manoeuvrable – a distinct disadvantage for a shotgun.)
RIFLES AND RIFLE AMMUNITION
Various types of rifle can be used for hunting wild boar, but with the exception of a few lever action rifles and the occasional express, the market is dominated by semiautomatics. The modern semiautomatic rifle is characterised by a rapid repeating action, reduced recoil and muzzle lift, good weight and balance and competitive cost. More recent models boast impressive accuracy and can even be used for dear hunting, where permitted by law. Certain models, like the Benelli Argo rifle, offer the same sort of balance and agility as a shotgun and are therefore greatly appreciated by hunters making the transition from smooth bore to rifle.
30/06 rounds constitute about 70% of the ammunition used for wild boar. This calibre offers excellent ballistic performance, delivers a powerful punch, promotes reliable action, comes at a reasonable price, and is available in a unique range of charges. Remember, however, that in boar hunting you can still miss even with a 30/06! Avoid full metal jacket bullets for this reason. While they offer good penetrating power, they create non-incapacitating wounds (unless they hit a vital organ) and have a strong tendency to ricochet and over-penetrate.
Also avoid using bullets that are too heavy or too light for the calibre. 30/06 rounds should be loaded with bullets of between 130 and 220 grain. The ideal bullet weight for boar hunting with 30/06 rounds is about 180 grain. Heavier bullets will fail to expand sufficiently while lighter ones risk imparting only superficial injuries or injuries that damage too much meat if they do reach a vital organ.
Even the most effective rounds have to hit their target with a high degree of accuracy, of course. So whatever type and calibre of rifle you use, try it out with your chosen ammunition on the shooting range before attempting to use it on the hunting ground. Wild boar hunting does not require surgical precision, and any combination that is capable of placing 3 rounds within a circle of 6-7 centimetres from a distance of 100 metres is more than adequate. Greater accuracy improves your chance of hitting a vital organ, since aiming error will be compounded by less deviation from trajectory.
If you calibrate your sights for 100 metres, the trajectory of a 30/06 or .308 Winchester bullet over 50 metres practically coincides with your line of aim. Over shorter distances (from the muzzle), trajectories tend to be 3-5 centimetres higher than your line of aim, depending on bullet type and velocity. In reality, of course, these figures have little practical relevance. If you have adjustable sights (and optical sights always are adjustable), calibrating them for shorter distances to suit the actual hunting situation can eliminate even the smallest margin for error with rapidly aimed, close range shots and as well as carefully aimed long distance ones.
The ideal calibre for wild boar lies between 7.62 millimetres (.30”) and 8 millimetres. The .308 Winchester, 30.06 Springfield, and 8x57 are particularly valid choices. The 300 Winchester Magnum is one of the most powerful .30 cartridges in the world, and offers good ballistic performance even in the relatively short barrels of semiautomatics and other common hunting rifles. Used with 180-200 grain bullets, it is highly effective even with larger prey. Recoil and muzzle climb, however, can be a problem. On this subject we are delighted to point out that the ComforTech stock of the Benelli Argo E rifle gives such an impressive reduction in recoil and muzzle climb that even rounds like the 9.3x62 become quite controllable and comfortable on the hunter’s shoulder. The Benelli Argo rifle with ComforTech stock can be chambered for 9.3x62, 30/06 Springfield, 7x64 Brenneke, .308 Winchester and .300 Winchester Magnum rounds. The Argo rifle guarantees significantly lower recoil and muzzle climb with all these calibres, and allows you to fire more shots on target, more rapidly and with less fatigue.
Never forget that, depending on calibre, a rifle bullet fired at an upward angle of around 40° can cover a distance of between 2,500 and 4,000 metres before falling to the ground. Compared to the maximum range of around 1,500 metres achieved by the 12-gauge slug, it seems obvious that the rifle bullet is more dangerous. In reality, however, this is not so: while the range of action of the rifle bullet is indeed three times larger that of the shotgun slug, the slug is far more prone to ricochet and therefore actually more dangerous. If a rifle bullet strikes a tree trunk, for example, it generally becomes embedded. It will only ricochet if it strikes the trunk almost at a tangent. Rather than a ricochet, technically speaking, this is a deviation of trajectory. In the same way, a rifle bullet striking a hard surface like a rock tends to flatten out against it and has very little tendency to ricochet unless the angle of impact is very low. Because of their low velocity, however, slugs nearly always ricochet if they strike hard surfaces like wood or stone, even at relatively large angles of impact. Under the right circumstances, they can even ricochet repeatedly, like a ping-pong ball.
Water provides a unique ricochet surface. Anybody who ever skimmed flat stones across the surface of a pond can imagine the effect of a slug striking water at a low angle of incidence: it will bounce one or more times, maintaining its lethality until it eventually comes to rest. As a general rule, after a ricochet, a projectile departs the point of impact at the same angle as that at which it approached. This principle applies to all surfaces, but its validity increases in proportion to the hardness of the surface concerned. For low angles of incidence it even applies to water.
It is therefore essential to consider the risk of projectiles striking stone, rock, vegetation or water when assigning positions to a group of hunters, in order to identify safe firing angles and distances.
FIREARMS AND RULES OF CONDUCT
Safety depends not only on range and type of ammunition, but on the condition of your firearm, the number of rounds it has fired over the years and your own certainty of hitting your target. For this reason, and to avoid inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering on animals, you should always test your firearm thoroughly on the firing range before the hunting season starts. The first round fired from a freshly lubricated barrel may well follow a different trajectory to that normally achieved by that combination of gun and ammunition. Metal sights or scopes may also have gone out of adjustment as the result of a blow, screws coming loose (after prolonged firing or because of incorrect mounting) or somebody tampering with them.
Even partly obstructed barrels can cause injury to the shooter and others nearby. Dirty firing mechanisms may prevent firing or may cause accidental firing. Dirty gas ports can cause malfunctioning or even completely disable your gun. For all these reasons and more besides, we can never over-emphasise the need to check the condition and functioning of your firearm regularly and to acquire familiarity with it through frequent practice sessions on the shooting range.
The following are the main causes for missing your target.
Shot arrives too low because of:
Shot arrives too high because of:
Shot arrives to one side because of:
Shot fails to fire because of:
Warning! If a round fails to fire, wait a while before taking the gun off target and moving the bolt. Delayed firing is so rare as to be virtually inexistent with newly manufactured and properly stored ammunition, but it can occur with old, badly loaded or improperly stored ammunition.
SAFETIES AND SAFETY
Only shoot in “safe” directions, and always treat your firearm as loaded, even if you have just re-assembled it after cleaning. People are injured and killed all too often by firearms they thought were unloaded. To prevent this happening, always keep your firearm and your ammunition separate until instructed to load by your group’s leader. In addition, develop the habit of holding your firearm so that its muzzle never points at people or animals. Never place your finger on the trigger until you are actually ready to fire. These basic safety rules should be observed at all times … but there is more to think about too.
Safeties are designed to be disengaged quickly. Get used to engaging and releasing your safety rapidly. Practice in all aspects of firearm use is to be encouraged, but regular practice is essential for efficient operation of the safety and for loading ad unloading. In the excitement of the hunt, your nervous system releases adrenaline and other stress hormones. This can lead to a range of conditions, including tunnel vision, though some individuals are more susceptible than others. In extreme cases, hunters can become so focused on the prey that they blank out the surrounding environment, and even ignore sound. They become tense, lose dexterity, and are likely to react automatically – almost like Pavlov’s dogs. Complete familiarity with your firearm and constant practice (especially in loading and unloading and in engaging and disengaging the safety) are therefore essential to reduce risk. You must also remain constantly vigilant and fully aware of the positions and conditions in which your companions are concealed. Also avoid all behaviour that might disturb your companions or cause them to lose their own concentration.
At the end of the day, it is sufficient to follow a few simple rules. Engage the safety whenever your firearm is loaded. Never point the muzzle of your firearm towards people. Only load your firearm when you are ready to shoot. Practice using your firearm regularly, with special reference to loading and unloading: procedures can differ from one model to another. Closely monitor your own physical and psychological conditions and the positions of your companions – who might not be where they should be!
A FINAL WORD OF WARNING
A foreign body in the barrel (in some cases even a drop of water) or use of the wrong ammunition can cause a barrel to burst with dramatic results. Always make sure that your barrel is clear before you fire. (This is particularly important if your gun has fallen on the ground.) Take great care never to mix different types of ammunition. 20 gauge cartridges get loaded into 12 gauge barrels all too often, leading to failure of the barrel as soon as the round is fired. In the same way, hunters often load magnum cartridges into standard chambers. You may be lucky once and nothing serious happens … or you may end up with a swollen or burst barrel. If you own a rifle, take great care never to use ammunition of the wrong calibre. It is all too easy to load a .308 Winchester round into a .270 Winchester chamber, for example.
Make sure that you have correctly identified your target before you pull the trigger. In the heat of the moment, especially in thick undergrowth, it is not impossible to mistake a dog or a person for a wild boar. Dense woodland can create surprising illusions. When hunting in a group, make absolutely sure that you know the positions of your companions. In a group hunt, remain on the spot assigned to you and insist that all others do the same. Never take assurances at face value, however, and never assume that people are where they should be! Hunters are eager to leave their spots and move towards the prey after a hit in order to find the animal. Never do so until your group leader has given the all-clear signal. Wear high visibility garments. Wild boars cannot see them, but the human eye can pick them out clearly among the vegetation.
ESSENTIAL SAFETY PRECAUTIONS
Please read these basic safety rules and the owner's manual before handling your firearm. Firearms can be dangerous and can potentially cause serious injury, damage to property or even death if handled improperly. The following safety rules are an important reminder that firearm safety is your responsibility.
READ SAFETY RULES