Too Close to Home: The Tragic Tale of an Unintentional Shooting
This is the true story of one of my handgun students who was involved in an unintentional shooting. He accidentally shot his brother in the leg with a rifle.
I heard about this incident several months after it had occurred, and sent an email to the shooter, let's call him JC. He had graduated from of one of my handgun training classes a few years before this event took place.
He replied to my email with the details of the incident, and offered his gracious permission for me to publish his story.
As he describes, there were several factors which culminated in this tragedy. Remove any one of them, and this unintentional shooting would not have happened.
Here is his story, as he described it in an email he sent to me.
It is good to hear from you; it has been awhile. Sorry I never got back to you about buying some chicken but we had a huge loss of adult chickens which were ready to go to the butcher and we never really recovered from that loss of livestock. Then we quit raising chickens all together. Part of the reasoning for getting out of the chicken business caused the unintentional shooting accident: coyotes.
I have told this story many times in the last two months and I am happy to share it with you, especially if it keeps someone else out of trouble at a later date.
The rifle was a 30-06 with a 3-9x42 scope zoomed all the way in (tightest focus on the target, least peripheral visibility). I was shooting at about 225 yards. The highlights of the story are as follows.
My wife and I have been having problems with coyotes killing our chickens, so when my brother or I see one we shoot it in order to thin their population until they quit eating our chickens.
My brother and I have been hunting together for about ten years and probably hunted most anything a person could in small or large game. On Friday morning we were loading grain trucks when he spotted a coyote about a half mile from us. He started chasing the coyote in his truck while I got in my truck and drove to where I could get a shot on the coyote.
I had taken a couple of shots, and then repositioned to continue shooting. The racing to find shooting positions and other momentary excitement caused by elusive prey had my adrenaline pumping. When I repositioned for my last shot, as I set up to shoot I saw my brother about twenty yards behind the coyote. I thought to myself he was getting close, but I could take the shot on the coyote.
I was unaware he had decided to run the coyote over with his truck. He gunned the truck as I lowered down with my rifle. In the time it took me to set up for my shot, slow my breathing, etc., he gained on the coyote, and with my limited vision through the scope, I shot without seeing him so close.
The best we can guess is that his bumper struck the coyote at the exact moment I pulled the trigger. I don't know, but I assume I closed my right eye and jerked the trigger, making the shot go high and right, hitting my brother's truck low in the driver-side door.
The bullet went through the sheet metal, the window (which was rolled down into the door), and out through the speaker. The bullet then entered his left leg, coming to rest just below the skin on the right side of his leg. He was shot about 3 to 5 inches below the knee.
I have counted five common shooting mistakes that culminated in my brother being shot:
- I have never learned to shoot with both eyes open.
- I knew in my gut my brother was too close to shoot.
- I jerked the trigger when I shot.
- I believe I closed my right eye as I jerked the trigger.
- I would have taken the shot back instantly after I pulled the trigger.
All of these they discuss in every hunter's safety class.
My brother had just been discharged from the Marines and we have both been around guns since we were young. We both knew better than to let this happen, but when you get comfortable with guns and start taking risks you will get yourself or someone else hurt.
I was waiting to send this until I got some pics to go with it but I will just have to send them on later. I hope this answers your questions and helps you in your classes.
It was good to hear from you,
Here are a few excerpts from my reply:
Thank you very much for replying. I want to let you know I really appreciate your sharing the story with me. The scene you depict is pretty much as I had imagined.
I wanted to get back to you right away just to say, first thanks for the details, and second, if there's anything I can do to help with anything, please don't hesitate to ask. I hope both you & your bro are doing okay, and that he's recovering well.
Don't be too hard on yourself. Truth is, this could happen to anyone. The circumstances you describe are a perfect set up to such a tragic occurrence.
The good news is that, even if you did jerk the trigger, you had enough control to NOT pull any higher or more to the right. Another 1/4 inch at the muzzle is what, about 20" at 200 yards? That could have been a shot to his heart.
Again, I do not want to sound flippant or like a pollyanna, but it really could have been much worse.
Be grateful, for many things. And be kind to yourself. And remember, you're not alone. Many people have been involved in an accidental or unintentional shooting. The best we can do is always be careful and diligent in our safe handling of any firearms.
Talk to you soon,