A couple of days ago my wife sent me two emails. Her office and mine have an adjoining door, but she still sends me emails. I don’t know if this is because our society has become so technology oriented or because my conversation is not worth walking ten feet and opening a door. And I’m not going to ask.
One of her emails contained an Associated Press story about Robert Lapointe, a 63-year-old New Hampshire man who managed to shoot himself in the hand while hunting. With a rifle. This is not easy to do. I would imagine it takes quite a bit of skill and effort. You don’t normally aim a rifle at your own hand, even by accident. At least I don’t.
So I was pretty impressed with Robert to begin with, until I read the story. I don’t always read the stories I write about. Sometimes I just read the headlines and then write rude things about the people involved, and make up whatever facts I need. It saves time and wear and tear on my eyes.
But, for some reason, I read this story, and it turns out Robert had climbed a tree, and was pulling his rifle up with a rope. And the gun went off and shot him in the hand.
Now, first rattle out of the box, you’re thinking there are several things wrong with this picture. And you’re right. And you don’t even know the whole story yet.
For one thing, there is this new invention they’ve come up with for rifles called a ‘sling.’ This is strap attached to the gun to allow it to be carried over a shoulder, so you can use both hands to climb a ladder or tree. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
Second, climbing a tree and pulling your rifle up on a rope is the method of hunting from tree stands recommended by the Surgeon General, so only a total knothead would ever do it.
Third, even a knothead, if he’s stupid enough to swing a gun around on a rope, should have just the tiny shred of intelligence necessary to unload the firearm first. If he’s not that smart he probably doesn’t have the sense to climb a tree. Or even find one.
Fourth, if a knothead found a tree, managed to climb it, and started pulling a gun up by a rope, the chances are 50/50 that it would be pointed down, especially since the barrel is usually the heaviest end of a gun.
Fifth (which you didn’t think of because you’re not as smart as me, and because I didn’t tell you that the story said that the trigger must have caught on a branch), even an idiot should know that, if you’re pulling a gun up into a tree on a rope, and it’s pointing at you, and it hangs up on something, and you loaded the thing first, you should GIVE IT SOME SLACK, instead of pulling harder.
What we have here, then, is not so much an accident as just plain old natural selection. Old Robert was going to go out somehow, sooner or later, and the only mystery is how he managed to live to be 63 years old if he’s been going around pulling bonehead stunts like this all that time. Now, of course, he’s eligible for a Darwin Award, but I can’t imagine how come he hasn’t earned one way before now.
But, as obviously silly as this story is already, it gets better. The rifle Robert was hunting with, the one he loaded and then hung from a rope, the gun he managed to shoot himself in the hand with, was a muzzleloader.
Suddenly there is an entirely new kettle of light shed on this whole can of worms. Not that people don’t shoot themselves with muzzleloaders, of course. They do. But usually that happens while they’re loading them.
For instance, if there is still a live spark in the barrel from a previous shot, and the shooter pours a new charge of powder in there, the spark will ignite it and it will remove his eyebrows and any hair sticking out past his forehead. Or sometimes, I’ve heard, a charge can go off while the shooter is tamping down a load with the ramrod, which would certainly take off a finger or two, at least.
So there are accidents with muzzleloaders, but they’re pretty predictable, and definitely easily avoidable. But none of the normal, expected muzzleloader accidents are anywhere near as avoidable as the one Robert had. Because a muzzleloader is a pretty easy gun to render unshootable. All you have to do is remove the percussion cap from the nipple, and the gun is dead. Sometimes the cap falls off all by itself, generally at an inconvenient time.
The argument could be made that this is similar to unloading a modern rifle, which is true. But then you have to consider that, in order for the muzzleloader to go off because the trigger hung on a branch, it had to not only have a cap on the nipple, BUT ALSO BE COCKED.
You begin to see how much I’m going to miss Robert. Because for sure, if someone manages to shoot himself with a muzzleloader this way, he would have done something else worth writing about if he had lived . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who never swings guns from ropes. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org