Safety first was an unconditional rule that was instilled in me when I was a young lad visiting my father’s hunt camps. His words were forcefully blunt, but in hindsight I realize he only wanted a safe and successful hunt — something that all hunters should strive for.
Here’s a look at some of the often forgotten and overlooked safe hunting practices that could cost you a hefty fine or the loss of your firearms licence.
Encasing Guns and Bows
It seems simple, but failure to encase a firearm a half hour after sunset is an often forgotten regulation. Hunters go to their watch stand, hunt until 30 minutes after sunset, and then walk to their vehicle with the innocent intention of putting the firearm in a case at the vehicle. Joe McCambridge, president of the Ontario Conservation Officers Associations (OCOA), says he’s seen this happen too many times.
“If you are going to hunt until the end of legal shooting time, you must take a proper case with you and encase your firearm after [sundown]. This includes bows and crossbows,” stressed McCambridge.
Returning to camp by ATV after dark one evening, I was stopped by a C.O. who checked my licences, tags, ownership, and ATV insurance. He then gave me a warning about my gun case, which had a broken zipper, partly exposing the gun’s butt. He told me this could be considered an un-encased firearm. I replaced that case and have since gotten in the habit of checking my cases regularly.
On the Watch
You cannot have a loaded firearm in or on any motor vehicle, whether the vehicle is running or not. This means that you cannot use your ATV, snowmobile, or truck as a watch seat. Although this is right in the hunting regulations, it’s a common infraction.
What’s a Road?
The question of “what is a road?” is a highly discussed topic in hunt camps.
According to the legislation, “roads” means “a right of way for public vehicular traffic” or, in the northeastern Ontario context, “the travelled portion of a right of way for public vehicular traffic.”
“The prohibitions on discharging from or across the travelled portion do not necessarily apply to unmaintained rights of way, so if it is an abandoned logging road, this suggests that it is not maintained and therefore the prohibition would not apply, but section 16 – careless use of firearms for the purpose of hunting – would still apply,” explained Karen Passmore, communications and marketing specialist, for the Ministry of Natural Resources, northeast region.
If the road is a right of way for public vehicular traffic, the prohibitions set out in Section 17 of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act will also apply.
McCambridge warns that although hunting on an abandoned road is legal, hunters must always think in terms of safety when using firearms.
“Consider that even an abandoned roadway may be used by travellers, whether it be on foot or ATV,” he said.
Shooting down or across any travel-way might be legal in some instances but can be dangerous. Another hunter or hiker may suddenly appear around the corner. “Once you pull the trigger, there is no going back, there is no reset button,” said McCambridge. “Observation is everything.”
Having travelled thousands of miles and into hundreds of camps, I have come to understand that the rules and the C.O.s that enforce them are merely echoing the values of my late father — strive for legal, safe, successful hunts.