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was out shooting a few miles from where I was residing; he had to pass through a thick hedge, and let down the cocks, and was drawing the gun after him, thinking himself quite safe, the muzzle being towards him, when one of the cocks was drawn back by a branch, and released; a discharge was the consequence, and the unfortunate gentleman was killed on the spot.
Another case was that of a Frenchman, with whom I was personally acquainted; he was out snipe shooting, and wished to pass from one marais to the other, the two marais, or marshes, being divided or separated by a canal; and by way of passage from one to the other, a strong pole had been laid horizontally across the canal, attached and fastened to another pole inserted perpendicularly, midway between the two banks, by which means both poles were steady. The Frenchman let down the cocks upon the nipples, and extended the buttend of his gun towards the perpendicular pole, with a view of catching the same with the guard of his gun, and thereby enabling himself to keep his equilibrium as he passed over the pole; but unfortunately he caught the pole with one of the cocks of his gun instead of with the guard, which being raised, and almost instantly released, a discharge took place, and the entire contents of the barrel were received in the hand and arm, from the palm of the hand up to the elbow.
The third instance was that of a loaded rifle. A party of Frenchmen with whom I was acquainted were going out boar hunting. Intending to proceed to the scene of action in a light car, they had previously loaded their rifles, one of which was being handed into the vehicle by the owner with the cock down and the muzzle towards himself; when the cock caught part of his friend's dress, was raised, released, and the rifle discharged ; the ball passed close by my friend's body into the ground. A serious alarm was the sole consequence, in addition to a very instructive lesson conveyed as to the future, not only as regards the cocks of the gun, but also the direction of the muzzle, the escape having been an "hair's breadth " one.
A rule respecting this latter point is of too much importance to be passed over here, as from its neglect many a life has been lost. The rule to be rigidly observed on all occasions is this, — that you never, under any circumstances, carry or place your gun in such a position, whether you know it to be loaded or not, that the muzzle is towards yourself; and if you make this a fixed rule, at the same time take equal care that no one who is shooting with you carries his gun with the muzzle towards you. You will of course be equally just and scrupulous towards others: if you owe a duty towards yourself in this respect, you owe one equally to your neighbour or brother sportsman; you will therefore avoid exposing him to the predicament which you take special care to avert from yourself.
A friend of mine was shooting some years since in one of the Royal forests near Paris, and was proceeding in a narrow footpath with his gun over his shoulder, cocked, as he invariably carried it; he was followed by a garde de chasse; a twig caught one of the triggers, a discharge took place, and the garde was killed on the spot: had this man entertained the respect which I think due to the muzzle of a loaded gun this would not have happened. My friend was of course very much grieved and distressed at the accident, and afforded all the reparation in his power by providing for the man's wife and family.
I have frequently witnessed the accidental discharge of guns in the hands of the careless and unskilful; the excuse has been that they were merely uncocking their gun, and that the cock slipped, or some or other equally unsatisfactory reason. It is always advisable, when you cannot altogether avoid such sportsmen, to give them plenty of room, and to avoid, if possible, coming within range of their shot. There are also others who designedly kill game close to you, piquing themselves on the close shooting of their guns and the accuracy of their aim; but no sportsman with any experience, sense, or good feeling will be designedly guilty of so imprudent and improper an act, as the best gun that ever was made will occasionally throw a few shot very wide of the main charge: of this fact I have witnessed very extraordinary instances, one of which occurred to myself. I had shot at and killed a snipe, which was at least twenty feet from the surface of the ground, when one shot entered the eye of one of my dogs standing about 15 or 20 yards to the right of the direction in which I shot: what caused the shot to go thus obliquely I cannot conjecture; the gun was a first-rate one, made by one of the best London makers.
I know also of two instances of gamekeepers receiving shot obliquely from the direction in which the main charge was sent, owing to game being shot at near to them. One man lost an eye, and the other carried the shot in his face as long as he lived, but without inconvenience. In cover close shooting is much more dangerous, as shot glance from trees to a considerable distance. I must also observe that independently of the uncertainty of the invariable close shooting of the best of guns, the best of shots will not always be certain of the steadiness of his hand; neither can he invariably rely on the precise sensitiveness of his finger, both being under the influence of the nervous system, and the latter being dependent on the immediate state of health at the time. I appeal to the experience of every old sportsman, and I am convinced there is not one who will not readily admit, if he has constantly shot through all seasons, that occasionally he has pulled the trigger sooner than he intended, and that he has not invariably found that control over his trigger finger that he could have wished. If 1 mention these trifling circumstances, it is solely with a view of producing habits of carefulness, and thereby preventing the recurrence of painful accidents.
With regard to the locks of your gun you cannot be too particular in having them kept in good order. If not exposed to bad weather they will rarely require taking off; but in wet, damp weather they will need constant attention, wiping dry and clean, after which a very small portion of watchmaker's oil may be applied. Bad oil will do more harm than good, make them dirty, cake, and render their action unsafe: this I believe, as I have before intimated, is the fruitful source of accident.
There is another cause of accident, which, though of very rare occurrence, I know has been experienced. Many persons, after having loaded and put on their caps, then let down the cocks, so as to force the cap home, which is sometimes necessary when the caps are too small for the nipple. But even this simple operation requires care, especially when the caps are strongly made, as I have witnessed the cock being let down and relinquished under the impression of the cap C