Safety Always Comes First at
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:

  • 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 sky.
  • 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 regularly.
  • 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 replacement manual.
  • 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 hurt you.
  • 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 injury.
  • 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 firearm safety.
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 hunt.)

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 "" or on the National Rifle Association site at ""


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