Obey This One Rule To Be a Safer Hunter

Upland bird hunters Brett Sowders and Tony Strobl hit the deck. The bullet from a distant deer hunter’s rifle whizzed overhead, too close for comfort. Five seconds pass, 10 seconds—what seems like eternity, yet they remain snug to the earth. Scared to get up, they held fast to the ground until the shots were surely over.

“We saw the deer hunter in the distance; there’s no way he didn’t see us,” said Sowders. “You ever have those slow-motion moments? Well, this was one of those. We saw him raise his rifle in our direction and thought ‘surely he’s not shooting our way.’ I tell you, being on the receiving end of gunfire is scary. The crack of the bullet speeding by was very identifiable, so we hit the dirt.”

This scenario indicates that the deer hunter failed to obey several safety rules. Most prominently, he failed to remain within his safe zone-of-fire. If he had, the bullets never would have reached Sowders and Strobl because the hunter would have had them in clear sight before he shot.

Staying within the safe zone-of-fire is a critical step for hunting safety. Here’s what to watch for: A safe zone-of-fire, which is the area or zone where a hunter can shoot safely, spans about 45-degrees directly in front of each hunter.

To visualize your safe zone-of-fire, focus on a distant object straight ahead. Now, hold your thumbs out at your sides, then slowly draw your thumbs in front of you. When each thumb is in focus, without moving your eyes, you have set the boundaries of your safe zone-of-fire. It’s important to never shoot outside of your safe zone-of-fire. This is because our peripheral vision limits what we can see clearly. If you can’t immediately see that an area is clear and safe, it’s outside of your safe zone-of-fire.

Determining Your Safe Zone-of-Fire

What happens when you add the rush and excitement of flushing birds or seeing a deer? A whole new element kicks in: target fixation. Target fixation will cause you to focus on your target to make a good shot. But it will simultaneously cause you to lose sight of your shooting zone, potentially losing track of people, buildings or roadways in the distance, and could even make you lose sight of other hunters.

Surely this happened with the deer hunter who shot toward Sowders and Strobl. The deer took off, and the hunter fixated on hitting his target, traveled outside his safe zone-of-fire, and failed to identify the pair of hunters in the background. What can we learn from the deer hunter? Don’t let target fixation override your sense of safety, and stay within your safe zone-of-fire.

The hunter safety courses at include videos that cover these safety concerns. In addition to offering excellent hunting education, these videos feature professional actors and fun, up-to-date scenarios that enhance learning. “Safe Zones-of-Fire” and “After the Shot” cover the importance of obeying safe zones-of-fire and how to deal with target fixation.

The state-approved hunting education courses also discuss blaze orange, gun carries, ballistics, and much more to improve your safety in the field.

Learn more about safe zones-of-fire with hunter education courses from Hunter Ed.