This story is a tragic lesson on why you must always know what is beyond your target when doing any kind of shooting, anywhere, and where your bullets will end up.
On Sunday, September 23, Zackary Kempke, 14, was on a drive with his family through Utah’s remote Monte Cristo range, taking in the fall foliage, when a he was struck and killed by a stray bullet fired by nearby target shooters.
According to the Desert News, the stray bullet shattered the rear passenger window and lodged in the young man’s head, killing him instantly. Rich County Sheriff Dale Stacey said the fateful shot was fired by another family target shooting several hundred feet away. Sheriff Stacey also indicated an investigation was being conducted, but the shooting is believed to be accidental.
"[The family] did not know there was a road downrange and could not see the vehicle as it traveled on the road due to thick brush and trees," a statement from the sheriff's office reported. "When the investigation is complete, all information and evidence will be turned over to the Rich County prosecutor for further action or charges. As of this time no charges have been filed.”
This accident is beyond tragic, but it was preventable. One of the primary tenants of gun safety is “Know your target and what is beyond.” The “beyond” is as important as the target itself; take the time to scout out the path a bullet will take once it leaves the barrel. Don’t count on hitting the target either; make sure it’s safe to discharge a firearm anywhere in its general direction.
The target shooters involved in this mishap likely believed the brush was sufficient to stop a round, but you should never rely on vegetation as a backstop.
If you’re shooting always be certain you have something solid to stop a bullet’s forward progress. A dirt mound, the side of a hill, or some other large, solid object is the only things that will effectively halt a bullet—never rely on distance and gravity to pull a round safely to the ground.
Just because no one should be out there doesn’t mean there won’t be. Don’t rely on no trespassing signs to keep people away.
Always follow the Four Rules of Gun Safety:
Treat all guns as if they are loaded
Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. (Never let the muzzle cover anything you don’t want to destroy.)
Always keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.
Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
If you haven’t already, consider taking one of the ]NRA’s excellent firearms training classes](https://firearmtraining.nra.org). And if you’re an old hand, consider becoming an instructor yourself and passing on the message of safety.
During my time performing wildlife management at airports, I often had to shoot in a busy environment. Before I pulled the trigger I would always imagine the path the shell would take if it somehow continued in an infinite plane and never pulled the trigger unless it was totally clear. Keep this in mind when you’re hunting as well; no duck or deer is worth injuring or killing another person.