Being a good shot means being safe; make it second nature and if it isn’t, practice until it is.  Awareness of how to handle the gun, where the barrels are, checking they’re empty and use of the safety catch, is vital.  No one can afford to be complacent and nothing will give people the hebee jeebees more than someone with a gun who does not have proper control of it, and justifiably so!  We have all heard some horror stories; make sure you are not that person!

If you are pulled up on a point of safety, apologise and let the person know that you take gun safety seriously and take it on board.  Likewise if you see something that concerns you, approach that person, when it is safe to do so, and politely but firmly let them know what they have done wrong.  It may just prevent a future accident.

So here are the essentials of gun handling and safety to check yourself against:

General Gun Safety

★ Ensure your gun is in proof; if you’re not certain take it to a gunsmith to check.

★ Ensure your gun is in good condition, regularly cleaned and serviced.

★ Never point a closed gun at anyone, loaded or unloaded, except for gun fit or eye dominance purposes and both parties have checked the gun is empty.

★ Always check the gun is empty before putting it into a gun cabinet, gun rack or gun slip or and again when taking it out, or if you have just been handed a gun.

★ Never mess about with guns; always treat them with respect.

★ Always keep your finger away from the trigger unless you are about to shoot and it is safe to do so.

★ Always make sure the gun is broken and empty when passing it to someone else; pass it stock first so they can see the empty chambers clearly.

★ Only load the gun when you are sure the barrels are clear of any obstructions and you are in a safe place to shoot.

★ Know how to close a loaded gun safely.  Keep your finger away from the trigger, hold the gun firmly between your hip and your right elbow and close the barrels to the stock, angled to the ground 3 or 4 metres in front, avoiding solid surfaces that would cause a ricochet should there be an unplanned discharge.

★ Know how to carry the gun safely.  Place the empty, broken gun over your crooked arm with the barrels stabilised by your other hand.

★ Know how to place the shotgun safely in a gun rack.  Lift the empty, broken gun so the barrels are vertical with muzzles uppermost.  Close the gun keeping the barrels vertical, and lower it in to the rack.  When removing a gun from the rack, lift it out and break it whilst the barrels are still vertical, allowing anything in the gun to fall out.  Bring the barrels down, avoiding pointing at anyone.

★ Know how to put the shotgun safely in to a gun slip.   Check the gun is broken and empty, then place the barrels in the slip muzzles down; close the gun by bringing the stock up to the closed position.  Zip up the slip and carry the gun with the barrels pointing downwards so the gun cannot fall out if the zip fails or is not done up properly. When removing the gun from the slip, break the gun whilst it is still inside the slip, check it is empty and then pull out of the slip.

✪ Never mix 12 and 20 bore cartridges; the consequences are unthinkable. 

Gun Handling and Safety when Game Shooting 

✪ For each drive, know where the beaters, pickers up and flankers are as well as the guns; do not lift the gun in their direction, turn the barrels to a safe direction so no one is in danger should there be a misfire; use the safety catch.

✪ Having loaded and closed the gun, put the safety catch on before mounting the gun or lifting it to the upright position adopted whilst waiting to shoot.  

✪ Having taken a shot, put the safety catch on again before bringing the barrels back down and breaking the gun and unloading.

✪ Never shoot in to a hedge or trees or bushes, only shoot in to clear sky.

✪ Never shoot if you are unstable on your feet eg on a slippy muddy slope; you do not want to lose balance with a loaded gun.

✪ Never shoot low birds in front, to the side or behind, putting beaters, flankers, pickers up or fellow guns in danger or making them feel they may be in danger.

✪ Never shoot when under the influence of drugs, medication or alcohol which will impair your judgment or reactions.  Small volumes of alcohol are acceptable, as with driving, but this should be kept to a minimum.

✪ Never climb a fence whilst holding a shotgun; ensuring it’s unloaded, put it down safely and climb the fence unencumbered.

✪ Never attach your dog to you whilst shooting; you may get pulled off balance.  

Written By Nicki Wakeford