Safety Always Comes
the Range or in the Field
For most hunters and shooters, taking safety precautions is just second
nature. A rule such as keeping the firearm's muzzle pointed in a safe
direction is a habit most enthusiasts learn when their fathers or
grandfathers first took them duck hunting or shooting at the range.
"Although most hunters and shooters know the basic rules of
safety, sometimes people forget to practice them," notes Bill
Stevens, conservation manager for Federal Cartridge Company.
Firearm safety rules are not complicated, but are very important.
The main rules include:
In addition to remembering these rules, all hunters should take a firearms
safety course to brush up on their safety skills. (In fact, most states
require youth to take a gun safety course before they are allowed to
- Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Don't aim at anything
unless you intend to shoot. Depending on the situation, a safe
direction could mean pointing the muzzle at the ground or toward the
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot. Don't
trust the gun's safety. The safety might be inoperable, or you might
confuse "off" with "on."
- Keep the action open until you're prepared to shoot. In fact, the
firearm should not be loaded until you are ready to fire at the
target. When you first pick up a firearm, check to see that it is not
loaded. Never assume that the chamber or magazine is empty.
- Always wear eye and ear protection. These basic rules are the most
important, but hunters and shooters should take additional precautions
as well, Stevens says.
- Know what you are shooting at and what is beyond it. Bullets, even
shotgun pellets, travel much farther than the target.
- Make sure the firearm you are using is safe to operate. If in doubt,
take it to a qualified gunsmith for a thorough inspection.
- When cleaning any firearm, make sure it is unloaded and the action
is open. To ensure that it continues to function properly, clean it
- Learn how to properly use a firearm before handling it. If you ever
borrow a friend's rifle or shotgun, or purchase a new one, make sure
you know how it operates before using it. Read the manufacturer's
manual if it is available or contact the manufacturer for a
- Use only the type of ammunition made for that firearm. Read and heed
all warnings in the instruction manual and on the ammunition box.
Using the wrong type of ammunition may damage the firearm and could
- If you pull the trigger and the gun doesn't fire, be careful. Keep
the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and keep your face away from
the breech. After waiting a minute or two, carefully open the action
and remove the cartridge or shell. Do not attempt to fire the gun
until the cause of the malfunction has been determined.
- Make sure the barrel is clear of obstructions before shooting the
gun. A barrel obstruction can damage the barrel and possibly cause
- Never use alcohol or drugs before or while shooting a gun.
- When storing your gun at home, remember to keep the firearm and the
ammunition safely locked in separate locations. Store these items so
that they are not accessible to others who are not familiar with
Safety courses are conducted by your state's Department of Natural
Resources volunteer instructors, the National Rifle Association or local
shooting ranges. The Boy Scouts of America and 4-H clubs also offer
shooting education courses.
"These tips cover the basics," Stevens says. "Adults and
children should learn as much as they possibly can before they ever
consider using a firearm." For additional information, look for gun
safety tips on the National Shooting Sports Foundation's web site at
"www.nssf.org" or on the
National Rifle Association site at "www.nra.org."