Firearm safety during hunting, transportation or range

Whether you are a hunter, shooting sports competitor, casual shooter preparing for a day at the range, or just heading out to take your firearm to a gunsmith, these guidelines should be observed.

Hunting safety

Whether using a rifle or shotgun, the rules for gun safety while hunting are not very different. Combined with the generic gun safety rules, they are designed to preserve the safety of you and your two-and four-legged hunting companions.

Before the Hunting Trip

Before leaving home, sight-in your firearm by practicing with the firearm and ammunition combination you intend to use during the hunt. “Sighting in” a rifle means you know exactly where the bullet will land when your sights are properly aligned.

During the Hunt
  Always point the muzzle away
from yourself and others
Know How to Carry a Firearm Safely
Here are common ways to do so:
Two-Handed or Ready Carry Here the rifle or shotgun is held with two hands and the muzzle is pointed up and toward the front. The firearm is in a semi- “port arms” position. The trigger-finger rests on the trigger guard.
Cradle Carry The fore stock of the firearm is cradled in the crook of the non-trigger arm with the elbow bent. The trigger finger is kept off the trigger and resting on the trigger guard. Care must be taken that hunting companions are not in line with the muzzle, as the gun’s barrel is pointed directly to the side.
Trail Carry Here the firearm is grasped with one hand at a balance point approximately over the action and trigger. The muzzle points ahead and down. Do not use this carry if companions are walking ahead of you.
Elbow or Side Carry The firearm is carried by one hand with the stock tucked between the elbow and body. This carry is not advised when walking through dense brush or when others are walking in front of you.
Shoulder Carry With the fore stock resting on your shoulder, the muzzle of the gun should be pointed skyward. Do not use this carry if someone is walking behind you.
Sling Carry Using a sling to carry the rifle or shotgun over the shoulder, both hands are free.

When walking side-by-side in a line across a field, hunters at either end of the line should use the cradle or side carry. Hunters in the middle should use either the side or two-handed/rest carry.

When walking in single file the leader may choose any of the carries with the exception of the shoulder carry where the muzzle points up and toward the rear. Hunters in the center of the line should use the two-handed or cradle carry. The last hunter may use the two-hand, cradle, sling, or shoulder carry.

Establish Zones of Fire

When hunting with companions, determine ahead of time the “zone of fire” or area within which each hunter will track and fire should game appear. Other hunters must not encroach on the zone of another hunter.

Shooting Positions

There are essentially four shooting positions





Gun Safety While Hunting from Boats

There is a safety-etiquette for handling firearms when hunting from a boat. First, place the gun that will be used by the hunter who will be seated in the bow of the boat into the boat, unloaded, with its muzzle pointing forward over the bow. Next, the first hunter takes his place in the bow. The second firearm, also unloaded, is set in the stern of the boat with its muzzle pointing rearward. While underway, keep the forward firearm from extending over the bow or gunwales (boat sides) so it doesn’t catch on brush or reeds. Anchor the boat before shooting. The hunters should always shoot facing in opposite directions.

Gun Safety While Hunting from a Pit or Blind

Before entering the blind or pit, lay the unloaded gun on the ground near the entrance. Once in the blind, retrieve the firearm taking care to keep the muzzle free of dirt, mud or snow. The same precaution should be taken upon leaving. Place the unloaded firearm outside the blind before attempting to leave it yourself.

Other Important Safety Rules
  • Positively Identify Your Target Before Shooting
  • When in Doubt, Don’t Take the Shot
  • Never Use a Scoped Firearm For Binoculars
  • During a Fall, Control the Direction of a Muzzle
  • After a Fall, Check Firearm for Damage or Barrel Obstructions
  • Know When to UnloadDuring, the hunt, unload before climbing a fence, a steep grade, a slippery slope. After the hunt, unload before returning to camp or your car.

During transport

Firearm Transport Laws and Regulations

Laws governing firearms transportation vary from state to state. Before transporting your firearm anywhere (even to the shooting range), be make sure that you are familiar with your own state’s regulations. When you are crossing state and local jurisdictional boundaries, you should always check with local and state authorities for the latest federal, state, and local Laws and regulations covering the transport of firearms.

Basic Safety Rules for Transporting Guns

These rules are especially important in all situations:

  • Never pull a firearm toward you by the barrel
    If you attempt to remove a firearm from an automobile, a boat, a duck blind by pulling it toward you by the barrel, the trigger could catch on some object and accidentally discharge.
  • Never pick up a firearm with your finger on the trigger

In addition, observe the following safety precautions:

  • Keep Your Firearms Unloaded
  • Place Your Firearms in a Protective, Locked Case.
  • Secure Your Firearms So They cannot move about during Travel
  • When Using Public Transportation Check with the Carrier
    for added Regulations

Range Safety

Safety on the range depends upon everyone on the firing line observing firearms safety procedures. Shooting may be an individual activity, but safety is the common concern for all.

  Instantly obey firing line commands  

Informal Range Activities

Typical safety procedures used during informal range activities are:

The Range is Hot! This phrase, passed from shooter to shooter down the line on a range, indicates that no one is down range hanging targets or otherwise in the line of fire. Shooting can begin at the participants’ individual pace.
Cease Fire! When a participant asks for a “Cease Fire” that usually signals the desire to set up new targets or perform some activity in front of the firing line on the range. After each participant acknowledges the “Cease Fire,” all firearms are unloaded and set down with the actions open. Never handle a firearm on the firing line when anyone is downrange during a “Cease Fire.”
Ready on the Right! Ready on the Left! After all activity down range has been completed and all shooters have returned to the safety of the firing line, the question is asked if the line is “Ready?” The response signaling the conditions necessary before the range is “Hot” is to announce “Ready on the Left!” and “Ready on the Right!” At this point the phrase “The Range is Hot” is repeated by each shooter.
Formal Shooting CompetitionsCommon commands during formal shooting competitions include:
Is the Line Ready? At this point competitors signal whether or not they are prepared to begin the event.
Not Ready! This is the response of any competitor not yet prepared to shoot.
The Line is Not Ready! Command given by the range officer if all competitors are not finished their preparations.
The Line is Ready! Signal that all competitors are awaiting the signal to begin the event.
Load! Although the competitors are “ready,” their firearms are kept unloaded until the Range Officer gives this command.
Ready on the Firing Line! At this command, competitors relax and begin to control their breathing.
Commence Firing! This command speaks for itself. If during an event your firearm malfunctions, place the firearm with the muzzle in a safe direction (pointed down range) and signal the range officer.
Cease Firing! At this command, everyone stops. Actions of all firearms are opened. Every firearm is checked to insure that it is unloaded. Activity remains quiet until the range officer signals “Clear” indicating any malfunction has been corrected.

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