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Hunters observing safe zones-of-fire

Hunters should be spaced 25 to 40 yards apart and always in sight of one another. Each hunter has a zone-of-fire which spans about 45 degrees directly in front of each hunter. (Some states require an adult to be immediately beside a youth hunter. In this case, the adult should be a supervisor only—not a hunter.)

A way to visualize 45 degrees is to focus on a distant, fixed object that is straight out in front of you. Stretch your arms straight out from your sides. Make a fist with your thumbs held up. Gradually draw your arms in toward the front until both thumbs are in focus without moving your eyes. This will give you your outer boundaries.

Safe Zone-of-Fire

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Video Transcript

The cameraman approaches three hunters and waves them down.

Haley

Oh, hey.

Turns to Rob and takes his firearm.

Haley

Oh, here. I can take that.

Rob

Hey, how are you doing? Uh, unfortunately, you’re a little bit late to hunt with us because there’s already three of us.

Haley

And three or fewer, that’s the safest number of hunters to hunt in a field this size.

Rob

But if you want to hang back, maybe we’ll get some birds. All right, you guys ready?

Haley

Ready.

Rob

So we’re gonna hunt toward those trees. Let’s just spread out about 25 yards. All right? You see, communicating with and keeping track of each other before, during, and after a shoot is the first step in having a safe hunt. Now, watch us for the safe zones of fire—you know, the area or zone where a hunter can shoot safely. Here’s what to watch for—each hunter has a safe zone of fire that spans about 45 degrees directly in front of them. So when a bird gets up, each of us has a chance to fire at it, as long as it’s within each hunter’s safe zone of fire.

Haley

Here’s one way to visualize the safe zones of fire: focus on a distant fixed object in front of you, like a tree. Keep your eyes and head fixed on that spot. Now, stretch your arms straight from your sides, and make a fist with your thumbs held up. Now, gradually draw your arms in toward the front until both thumbs are in focus, without moving your eyes. Hold it there. Now, that gives you your outer boundaries of your safe zones of fire. Too easy.

Rob

All right, let’s toss in a few variables, and we’ll see how you do. So here are the three zones of fire for the three of us hunting abreast. But what happens to the safe zones of fire when you remove one hunter? Do you think the zones of fire increase on the outside of both hunters to a 180-degree field? Do you think the zones of fire increase on the outside of both hunters to a 90-degree field? Or do the zones of fire remain within the 45-degree field? If you guessed the last choice, you’re right. No matter how many hunters, even one, the safe zone of fire still remains 45 degrees. And that’s because our peripheral vision limits what we can see clearly. If you can’t completely see if an area is clear and safe, then it’s outside your safe shooting zone.

Haley

That all sounds simple enough, but what happens when you add the rush of excitement of real game flying or running? We got a bird ready to flush. When you’re shooting at real game, something happens in your brain, and it’s more than, wow, this is a blast. It’s called target fixation. Now, guess what target fixation can cause you to do?

On screen: EFFECTS OF TARGET FIXATION

Haley

Cause you to focus on your target so much that you can make a good shot? Cause you to focus on your target so much you lose track of and shoot outside your safe shooting zone? Cause you to focus on your target so much that you don’t clearly see people, buildings, and roadways in the distance that are within your shooting zone? Cause you to focus on your target so much that you lose track of other hunters in your group?

On screen: View all the options to move on. A cursor selects MAKE A GOOD SHOT.

Haley

Yep. Target fixation can really help you focus on your target to help you make a good shot. But it also causes other things to happen. You’d better check the next option.

On screen, the cursor selects SHOOT OUTSIDE OF SAFE SHOOTING ZONE.

Haley

All the excitement can also cause you to focus on your target so much you lose track of your safe shooting zone and maybe risk shooting outside that zone. Not good—try the next option.

On screen, the cursor selects LOSE TRACK OF SURROUNDINGS.

Haley

It’s true. Target fixation can cause you to focus so much on your target that you won’t clearly see people, buildings, and roadways in the distance—even within your safe shooting zone. That’s a dangerous result.

On screen, the cursor selects LOSE TRACK OF OTHER HUNTERS.

Haley

On big game or small, target fixation can also cause you to lose track of other hunters in your group—especially if they’re not in clear sight—a scary thought. The bottom line is, don’t let target fixation override your sense of safety. All right, it’s time to test your safe shooting skills. We’ll play two hunting scenarios and stop the video halfway through the action. You tell us if it’s safe to shoot. Then, when you’ve made your decision, we’ll replay the scenario and reveal the true safe and unsafe zones of fire.

On screen: SCENARIO 1

Rob and Haley are walking two abreast when a bird flushes. Rob raises his firearm and takes aim, turning more than 45 degrees to his left, where Haley is walking.

On screen: IS IT SAFE TO SHOOT?

Haley

If you risked shooting past this point, you did two things wrong. First, you shot outside your safe zone of fire. Also, you lost sight of your hunting partner. Don’t shoot if you can’t see where they are—it’s that simple. And call out if you lose sight so you both know each other’s location.

On screen: SCENARIO 2

Rob walks ahead, and a bird flushes. He raises his rifle and takes aim. A farm building stands past the tree line.

On screen: IS IT SAFE TO SHOOT?

Haley

Well, it was within your zone of fire, but it wasn’t safe, so hopefully you didn’t shoot at that one. If you did, you may have fallen victim to target fixation, causing the farm to be your victim. By focusing only on the target, you may have failed to clearly see the farm buildings in the distance.

Rob

And of course, the same thing can happen when shooting at any moving game, like running deer. So always be aware of everything in the background within your zone of fire. And that’s because we always want to enjoy safe and memorable hunts.