Good Shooting is No Accident!

This is one you cannot afford to get wrong because of the potential consequences.  If you are cavalier or demonstrate poor gun safety without remorse and commitment to learn from your mistake, you will not be welcome at any shoot or on any shooting ground.  Good gun safety is essential and manifests itself in many ways; it needs to be practiced from the outset of your shooting journey so it becomes second nature.

Squeaky Clean!

Keep your gun clean, in good condition, and well maintained at all times.  It should be serviced regularly according to use and its condition and stored in a suitable environment that is not damp or cold.  The better the condition of the gun, the less likely it is to malfunction, thus reducing the likelihood of an accident.

Gun Safe!

When not in use your gun should be stored in an approved gun cabinet.  The key should be hidden and its location known only to those with the gun on their license.

Clear and Present Danger!

Check frequently that your barrels are clear, for instance when game shooting mud or snow can easily lodge in the end of the barrels.  This could be not only a disaster for your gun but also for yourself or other people.  If you are using a semi-auto, you need to be extra vigilant about the gun being empty and how you carry it safely.

There’s Always a Catch!

All guns come with a safety catch.  There are two types:

1          An automatic safety comes on automatically when the gun is loaded and closed.  It needs to be physically “taken off” for the gun to be live. 

2          With a manual safety the safety catch is manually put on otherwise the gun is live when closed.  It then needs to be manually taken off.

Safety catches are 99.9% reliable, but don’t rely on them entirely in case they fail.  It is better to open the gun than have it closed for any unnecessary period of time.

Don’t Choke!

If you have a multi choke gun, make sure the chokes are in before you shoot and are tight enough.  Loose chokes can damage a gun and a damaged gun is dangerous.

Don’t Slip Up!

One of my great horrors is seeing guns taken, unbroken, out of the slip.  Pulling a closed gun from a slip is cumbersome and difficult to control with one hand placed somewhere around the trigger area!  The gun often ends up being wafted about and pointing at someone before it is checked to be safe.  Always break the gun inside the slip before removing it; then reverse the process when putting it back into the slip by breaking the gun first, inserting the barrels into the slip and then closing the gun inside.

On the Rack!

Here’s another gun handling horror!  The gun is sitting in the gun rack closed with barrels pointing upwards; it is then picked up by the barrels, dropped to a horizontal position for convenience for opening with no regard as to whether a closed gun is pointing at anyone! 

Always lift the gun upwards out of the rack and break the gun whilst the barrels are still vertical, and then check the gun is empty.  When putting the gun into the rack, with the gun broken, check it is empty, then drop the stock down in a vertical position and lift the barrels up to close the gun so the whole gun is vertical, with the barrels pointing upwards and then put the gun into the rack.

I have heard first hand from a witness, of a gun being taken out of a gun rack in a clubhouse, the gun not being opened and the gun going off because it was loaded! THINK!

Beware the Yellow Peril!

Most people know to never mix 20 bore cartridges with 12 bore cartridges or worse still with 12 bore guns.  A 20 bore cartridge can too easily drop down the barrels of a 12 bore gun and get wedged blocking the barrels and potentially causing a horrific accident if it went unnoticed and then a 12 bore cartridge loaded on top.  20 bore cartridges are nearly always yellow or buff colour and this should be a warning sign when loading a 12 bore gun. The same awareness should apply to 16 bore guns.

I was at a charity shoot where one team loaded for another.  I had a 12 bore and my loader had, unbeknown to me, been loading for his son who shot a 20 bore.  Partway through the flush, a yellow cartridge appeared from his pocket.  Fortunately, we both spotted this simultaneously so no damage was done.  He was profusely apologetic for the rest of the day.  He thought he had emptied his pockets beforehand but obviously hadn’t done so carefully enough.  But disaster was averted helped by the prominent colour of the cartridge.

Gun Proof!

Be aware that you cannot use any cartridge in any gun; it depends on the gun and for what it is proofed.  You need to check the proof markings on the barrels and understand them to know what they mean and the implications.  It may affect the length of cartridge you can use, and now with the introduction of steel shot, this adds another dimension to what cartridges are compatible with what gun to avoid a potential accident.  Most modern guns can cope with most cartridges and shot material within limits.  You run into more problems with older guns/side by sides, but this is a whole other topic!   The best advise is to check your gun first!

It’s an Open and Closed Case!

Always open a closed gun as soon as possible to check it’s safe and remove any cartridges and check the barrels are clear.  Depending on the situation, and especially if you had unspent cartridges in your gun, you may need to re engage the safety catch to bring the barrels down to a safe position to open and unload the gun.

When closing a gun (loaded or not) make sure that the barrels are pointing in a safe place in front of you (say the ground 10 feet in front of you) where if a cartridge were to discharge for whatever reason it will not cause any damage or harm.  Again, depending on the circumstances eg game shooting, the safety catch may need engaging as a precaution to lift the barrels up to the starting position.

I have seen a gun discharge on closing due to a gun malfunction.  This is very scary and exceedingly dangerous and demonstrates why this routine is essential. 

Trigger Freeze?

Sometimes you can pull the trigger and nothing happens at all.  It’s usually either a duff cartridge, in which case you will hear the click, or you have forgotten to take off the safety catch, but there may be other reason.  It is possible to get a delayed firing so it is recommended if you have this problem, that you wait 20 seconds at least before opening the gun, and it is recommended that you keep the gun in your shoulder until then to take the recoil if the gun does go off.

Two seasons ago my game gun decided to randomly, a few seconds after I had shot the first barrel, fire the second barrel.  This is alarming and at first I thought it I had caught the trigger by accident.  After the second time I was seriously beginning to doubt my own gun handling skills.  But after the third time in one drive, I put my gun away and took it to be serviced the next day.  Each time it happened however, I had been holding my gun high with the barrels pointing upwards, in a safe position.

It’s Rude to Point!

Never point a closed gun, even if it’s empty, at anyone. 

 It is not nice to be on the receiving end of this and nor is it funny.  The only time this should happen is when a coach or a gun fitter is looking at a closed mounted gun for gun fit purposes.  On such occasions, both parties should be absolutely convinced the gun is empty. 

Trigger Happy!

The safe position for your trigger finger when the gun is closed and you are waiting to shoot, is resting it across the trigger guard or on the stock just above the trigger.

Broken Gun?

When carrying a gun without a slip, it must be broken, empty and held over the crook of the elbow of your bent arm and the barrels held with the other hand.  

On most clay shooting grounds you will see people carrying their guns broken with the stock placed over their shoulder and the barrels pointing vertically downwards in front of them, stabilised by one hand.  The gun of course must be unloaded.  Generally this is deemed acceptable although it would be frowned upon out game shooting!  If you do hold your gun like this you must be very aware of the stock projecting out behind you and not taking anyone’s teeth out when you turn around! What is not acceptable is placing the broken gun over the shoulder with the barrels protruding out behind you.  You are much more likely to injure someone and it looks like you have no regard for your gun or other people and no control over the barrels.

Pass the Gun?

If you are passing an unsleeved gun to anyone, it must be unloaded and broken.  Both parties should check it is unloaded.  The only time you might pass a loaded gun to someone, with the safety catch on, is when a coach is coaching a beginner and still has control of the gun to the point that is in the shoulder of the tutee.

Chin Chin!

Be very aware of mixing alcohol and shooting and know your limits!  This is particularly applicable with game shooting where the hospitality often includes alcohol at points during the day from the moment of arrival to the time of leaving.  It is no different from drinking and driving; you need to be in full control.  Also be aware that if lose your driving license from being over the limit, you may also be in danger of losing your gun licence.

Have Gun, Will Travel!

If you are travelling with a gun in the car, keep it out of sight along with cartridges or any signs that you might have a firearm in the vehicle.  If you need to leave your gun in the car, secure it to the car, say using a bicycle lock; this is more easily done if the gun is in a hard case.  Remove the forend or the trigger mechanism too and take them with you, so if the gun is stolen it cannot be used.  Do not leave a gun in the car overnight.  When leaving the gun in a hotel room or anywhere else, again secure it to something solid, make sure it is out of sight and remove the forend or trigger.

Safety is No Game!

Things can start to get a little more tricky out game shooting as it is a less controlled environment to clay shooting. Here are some points of safety in the field: 

            –           Adhere to rules given at the Safety Briefing

–           Be fully aware of where the Beaters are coming from and going to

            –           Know the whereabouts of Flankers and Pickers Up

–           Know the the whereabouts of your neighbouring guns

            –           Regularly check your barrels are clear

            –           Do not shoot low birds

            –           Do not shoot when you cannot see blue sky around the shot

            –           Do not shoot into hedges or woods

–           Beware standing on slopes to avoid falling off balance when shooting

–           Beware standing on muddy slopes that you don’t slip when shooting

–           Ensure you use cartridges suitable for your gun

–           Do not attach your dog to yourself whilst shooting, however well behaved it may be.  A dog pulling you unexpectedly in one direction when you are holding a loaded gun is not a happy place to be!

–           For grouse shooting you must be extremely safety aware; no swinging through the line and gun up high when turning to shoot behind.

In the Rough

When you are rough shooting, you may be walking with a loaded gun.  Wherever possible have the gun broken until needed for shooting.  If you are walking through a wood and you need to be looking where you are putting your feet, the gun should be broken.  If the wood is covered with brambles and there is a possibility you might trip up, unload altogether; it is not worth the risk.  If you are walking in open ground and there is no danger of tripping or slipping, then with prudent use of the safety catch and the barrels pointing directly upwards and your finger in a safe place, and no one in close vicinity, walking with a loaded gun is acceptable.

Self Policing

The shooting fraternity is pretty good at policing each other when it comes to gun safety.  If you see anyone handling a gun in an unsafe way, please politely point this out to them, it may prevent an accident in the future.  If someone points out to you that they believe you have been handling a gun in an unsafe manner, accept their comments politely, apologise and learn from your mistake.

Top Tips

–           Never leave guns unattended; if stolen you may lose your licence

–           Never prop guns up against the wall; they may get damaged if they fall over

–           Always carry your gun licence with you when you have your gun with you

–           Always wear ear and eye and preferably head protection when shooting

–           When shooting in a cage, keep the barrels over the front bar of the cage 

This Little Piggy went to Market…..!

I know 3 people (men/boys) who have shot their own toe off, from messing about with a closed, loaded gun on their foot! When you meet them you would think they were perfectly normal, sensible men, but clearly they are not!  There is never a need to rest a closed loaded gun on your foot, ever!  Don’t even think about it!


Blog written by Nicki Wakeford