Anyone who hunts over dogs long enough has a story about a tragedy narrowly averted. It’s true that accidents happen to everybody. But it’s also true that accidents involving guns and dogs are much easier to avoid than to deal with after the fact.

Here are some tips that will improve your safety around any gun dog and make you a better dog trainer to boot.

The first is to be aware of where your dog is at all times. This is easier when hunting over the pointing breeds than when hunting over flushers like Labs and spaniels, but it’s equally important. An easy way to keep track of any dog is to fit it with a bell or beeper. This is especially helpful in thick cover.

When hunting more open cover, bells aren’t really necessary, but if you’re hunting over pointers, knowing exactly where each dog is located before you shoot is critical.

It’s even more important if one or more dogs go on point on a hill above you, where it’s possible for an unseen dog to wander into the path of a shot string. First locate the dog on point, then any other dogs nearby. Only then should you move in for a shot.

If you’re hunting with a friend, make sure both of you know where the dogs are before either of you shoot. When hunting over flushers, this means letting your partner know when the dog is making game, so he has time to pinpoint it before the bird goes up.

When hunting over a pointer, this means telling your partner where the dog is pointing and having him confirm that he sees it. Some think that the sound of the human voice spooks birds; others don’t. But there’s no argument that locating your dogs before the birds flush is far safer than blazing away and hoping for the best.

A final safety precaution is a well-trained dog. Dogs that are steady—either to wing or to wing, shot and fall—are far safer than those that bolt and chase. Steadiness training isn’t difficult but it does take time and involves the use of penned birds.

It’s an ideal project for the summer months before the season begins, and your dog will enjoy every minute of it.

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