By Chuck Nottingham
Its the early 1960s. The crisp fall air along Otter Creek near Big Timber crackles with calls of ringnecks. We hunt three abreast, 50 to 60 yards apart. Dick is on the left. Wink walks center, working his new bird dog. Since lefties at ready carry muzzles right, thats my flank.
Winks pup noses past a ringneck that breaks cover in a flurry of colorful plumes straight back at Dick and Wink. Both hunters swing their 12 gauges on the pheasants flight. Wink checks his swing as the bird wings low between him and Dick, but Dick swings through and triggers a shot. Wide- eyed, I watch the pheasant and Wink go down together.
Dick and I run to our dead friend, but up Wink comes, spitting several #6 pellets that penetrated lips and cheeks. His eyes are miraculously untouched, though Wink is the first Montana guy I ever saw with a pierced ear. His heavy leather coat absorbed over 100 BBs.
Alls well that ends well, I guess, but it was the last time I ever hunted side-by-side with anyone until we had unequivocal, ironclad agreements on individual zones of point-and-shoot, as well as firm no-point and no-shoot areas.
Bird hunters with shotguns at two-hand ready walking fence lines, windrows, and brushy creek bottoms expecting to flushing birds hunt with chambers loaded. Its one of the very few hunting situations where most hunter educators agree chambers can be loaded.
For sure, our safeties should be engaged and fingers definitely off our triggers. Zones of point-and-shoot help muzzles stay in safe directions.
They increase potential for good target identification by limiting the field of opportunity. Its not only embarrassing, but often illegal to shoot the wrong species sometimes even the wrong sex.
Figure each hunter walking abreast is at center of his or her own clock. The groups direction of travel is 12 oclock. The clocks float along with the hunters as they work to stay even, those a bit ahead pausing for others to catch up. The hunter on extreme lefts muzzle direction and shooting zone is a sweep from 9 to 2 oclock. The rightmost hunter can point from 10 to 3 oclock and shoot game in that zone. Hunters in the middle are slightly more limited, each restricted to zones of fire from 10 to 2 oclock.
Waterfowl hunters in boats and blinds sit close together for safety, but upland game shotgunners should space 75 to 00 yards between ourselves hunters whenever possible.
Some terrains and groupings call for even narrower point-and-shoot zones, but side-by-side hunters stalking any game with any gun, can enjoy safer, more productive hunts by agreeing to safety areas and sticking to em!
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