Hunting season is almost here. Are you ready to safely handle your firearms?

I recently watched two young men target practicing shooting down by the Missouri River. They had sat plastic jugs at the bottom of a rocky hill. They were shooting high-powered rifles at water-filled plastic jugs set on the ground. I encouraged them to find a safer place to shoot, but they rudely ignored me. By now experienced hunters are gritting their teeth while reading this.

The inevitable ricochet happened when one of their bullets hit a rock and barely missed their heads. I have heard a heavy bullet closely passing my head and it sounded kind of like a high-speed locomotive. I hope they got the idea and made a better choice of where to shoot. I departed the scene, not wanting to see an unfortunate death or be hit by a ricocheted bullet.

Gun handling involves common sense and ability gained through practice. Most accidents occur through carelessness or stupidity and that is sad. A bit of thought and preparation would have saved shooters that would still be alive today.

I believe that many don’t take firearms seriously by treating each gun like a toy instead of a tool. Guns are not toys – even BB guns can do damage or even kill. Guns should never be used in a playful manner.

I watched two boys and a father shooting their new BB guns in a big mud field several years ago. The father had a BB or pellet pistol and decided to show the boys some quick draw moves. Several of his holster-clearing antics wound up pointing at the boys.

Their target practice was not much better. He actually had one of the boys shoot at a cardboard target while he stood next to it. This guy proved his worth as a moron. But even worse, the boys learned bad firearm habits from the start of their shooting life.

Chances is one of both of them will try the fast-drawl later, likely with a big-bore pistol. My father bought a pistol from a man that tried imitating his favorite gunfighter on television many years ago. He managed a couple of draws before shooting a hole through his foot. That may sound funny, but the man was crippled for life and he sold the pistol for very little money.

Now is the time for hunters to shoot, not a week before the season opens. A serious and responsible hunter should shoot year round to be familiar as possible with their firearms. Problem is, some enjoy shooting for long periods while others get bored quickly and want more challenge. You can provide this needed challenge.

Target shooting should take place in safe areas with backing to absorb bullets or shot. Public shooting ranges are excellent for practice. The Missouri Department of Conservation has several excellent ranges through the state, including the Lake City Range off Truman Road north of Blue Springs.

My brother and I have an excellent sand and mud creek bank on our farm that has created an excellent backstop for shooting the past 30 years. Some bulldoze mud up for a backstop. Make sure your backstop is free of rocks, old metal or other materials that will cause a ricochet.

We start with .22 rifles and cans that are later picked up for recycling. Then we warm up by shooting cans that fall on their sides. Then we shoot the ends.

Later we line up leaves on the bank and shoot each until it splits in half, and then we shoot the pieces. Avoid shooting at leaves or other items floating on water. Bullets skim off water’s surface and shoot off in any direction. The key is keeping our eyes in shape for the quick one-shot kill.

Shotgun enthusiast find enjoyment by stepping away from skeet or trap ranges for a field and a hand thrower. You can simulate different types of wild game by throwing different angles.

We have a lot of fun shooting imitations of quail off a covey flush flying high or low. Sometimes they skim the ground. You can copy this type of flight with most $10 hand throwers.

Doubles are more effective with two people throwing from each side. Then the doubles are going in two directions and at different angles. Make sure you are throwing to an experienced shotgun shooter before trying difficult angles. An element of safety is always involved anytime a firearm is picked up. Novice shooters may need to concentrate on easy throws before trying harder shots.

Goose shots are simulated by high passing clay. You can actually use a commercial ground thrower for this shot. Experienced goose hunters will verify that practicing on high angles is extremely valuable for most goose shots.

Duck hunters get a lot of incoming and rising shots. Both are easily accomplished with hand throwers. Shooters should always know where their throwers are positioned before touching their trigger.

Safety is the most important part of shooting or hunting. After all, you will probably hunt or shoot with a friend or relative. An accident would mean wounding or killing someone close to you – something that would be hard to live with. So please, be careful and learn to have fun shooting the safe way.

Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at kieserkenneth@gmail.com