4 Gun-Handling Lessons I Learned the Hard Way (So You Don't Have To)

Pride lost. Experience gained. An account of one veteran shooter’s mistakes.

posted on February 25, 2022

As with most things in life, if you do something enough, you will eventually make some mistakes. The bad news is that firearms can be very unforgiving of mistakes, so do yourself a favor and learn from mine! As an avid outdoorsman, veteran and gun owner, I’ve been through many of the scenarios that you may face and the possible negative (and embarrassing) outcomes.

Mistake # 1

While serving as a military policeman, I had to chase down a hostile individual. Excited to put my training and enthusiasm to use, I burst into a sprint. As I closed in on the individual’s location, my poorly secured rifle sling came undone. In an altercation gone wrong, you usually won’t have the “opportunity” to hear your own gun hitting the ground. It. Was. Awful.

Lesson Learned: Always ensure that your gear is secured. Test your equipment for extreme conditions. If I had attempted to run with my rifle slung beforehand, I would have been able to identify this issue at a more opportune time. I had been carrying that rifle for six months without a problem. However, it literally wasn’t there when I needed it to be.

Mistake # 2

When my hunting season came to a close, I did my typical postseason cleaning ritual on my hunting gear. While cleaning my rifle, I discovered a clump of mud stuffed in the end of my barrel. For those who don’t know, this exact scenario has been catastrophic for many rifles and shooters alike.

Lesson Learned: Visually inspect your gun every day that you’ll be using it. Consider keeping a boresnake in your pack to clean your barrel should you accidentally plug it. Anytime you trip, fall or crawl, check your gun!

Mistake # 3

On my first Alaskan big-game hunting expedition, I was hunting for a coastal brown bear with my older brother. While I had been hunting my whole life, I had never experienced hunting in such big country. The shooting distances and conditions were very different from what I was accustomed to at the time.

I spent countless hours researching gear and shooting at the range. After getting my rifle dialed in, I ventured off to the “last frontier.” A bush pilot dropped my brother and me off in a remote corner of nowhere. After several days of hunting and hiking, the moment of truth had come: My brother and I watched a bear as it slowly worked its way towards us. Finally, I heard my brother utter the words “400 yards.” I had practiced for this. I was ready. 

After squeezing off what felt like the perfect shot, I heard my brother say those horrible words “you missed.” I shot three times, and each one was high. I had come this far, and I faced the painful reality that I would have to let my brother do the job for me.

Lesson Learned: I learned how drastically your scope magnification levels affect your point of impact. I had been shooting at the same magnification level for all of my time at the range. Had I changed things up during my training, I could have learned about this BEFORE heading to Alaska. I now use a smartphone app and a field chart.

Mistake #4

On the same bear hunt mentioned in my previous mistake, I managed to learn yet another valuable lesson. While attempting to shoot the bear, I temporarily deafened my brother. As the intensity of the situation grew, my situational awareness dwindled. One of my last shots was taken while my brother was at my side, attempting to range the bear again. In my desperation, I had failed to consider his unprotected eardrums. He described it as an immediate and intense ringing sound that lasted several hours.

LESSON LEARNED: While growing up, my brother always told me that he was tired of listening to me. Apparently, he grew out of that because he was ultra-concerned with his ability to make audible distinctions that day. Don’t allow yourself to become too comfortable with other people’s proximity to you at the range; this social distancing will not suffice in a real-life shooting scenario.


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