FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Nov. 13, 2017) - Back in 1994, I was a new private assigned to my first unit at Fort Hood, Texas. I was away from home and didn't get back much during the holidays. In an effort to get me out of the barracks and away from the usual trouble young Soldiers get into, my squad leader invited me to go hunting. I told him I'd never hunted before, but I had done plenty of fishing and camping when I was younger. Wanting to try something new, I accepted his offer.

Since we were at Fort Hood, I was required to attend a mandatory hunter safety course before I could hunt on post. I figured it was a good idea, so I went in with an open mind and actually learned a few things about hunting. A few weeks later, we scheduled a Saturday morning to go out via range control to shoot a few deer.

I didn't own a rifle, so my squad leader loaned me one - an old Czech sniper rifle that shot .223 rounds. He explained the safety, how to use the scope and how to safely load and unload the rifle. After a short HMMWV ride to the north-side training areas, I was told where to find my assigned treestand.

As I climbed into the treestand, I was really excited about the opportunity to shoot my first deer. I then finished setting up my Thermos of coffee and the food I brought to snack on. Once I scoped out the area for deer, I decided to load my rifle and put it on safe so I was ready to take the shot as soon as a monster buck presented himself. Well, a few hours passed and I still hadn't seen anything but an armadillo (which I actually considered taking a shot at to kill the boredom). I must have loaded and unloaded the rifle three or four times to break the monotony of sitting there by myself with nobody to talk to.

Then I did it! No, I didn't take down my first trophy deer on my first day of hunting. I must have dozed off with my finger in the trigger well of the loaded rifle. You can guess what happened next. I actually shot a round about three inches from my face and put a bullet hole in the bill of my hat and the top of the treestand. That woke me up for sure! I thought I was too smart and responsible for something like that to happen. I then wondered if my death would have been ruled a suicide or hunting accident. Heck, I was 19 years old and knew I had too much to live for.

About an hour later, the HMMWV returned to pick me up. All the guys asked if I'd shot a deer. They'd heard the gunshot from their treestands and thought I'd bagged one. I was too embarrassed to tell them that I'd almost killed myself by being incredibly stupid, so I just said I had a poor shot and missed a small deer. Until now, I've never told anyone about that experience -- the day I almost shot my face off.

FYI - Accidents can be greatly reduced by following the Ten Commandments of Firearms Safety.

1. Always keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction.

2. Treat every firearm with the respect you give a loaded weapon.

3. Be sure of your target and what is in front of it and beyond it.

4. Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.

5. Check your barrel for obstructions and only carry the proper ammunition for your weapon.

6. Unload all firearms when not in use.

7. Point a firearm only at something you intend to shoot. Avoid all horseplay with a gun.

8. Don't run, jump or climb with a loaded firearm. Never climb a fence or jump a ditch with a loaded weapon. Never pull a weapon toward you by the barrel.

9. Store firearms and ammunition separately and safely. Store them in a secured location away from the reach of children.

10. Never consume alcoholic beverages before or during shooting.

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