Are you sure you are safe?

Published on 14 May 2021
Author: Massimo Vallini
Driven hunt Advice Tracker
Oh, I know, the topic is a thorny one. But there is little to joke about. In all activities where guns are used, especially hunting, either you follow precise safety protocols, or you get hurt. How many times do you hear or read in the media of “accident” or “fatality”? There is no fatality: there are only behaviors, perhaps habitual, but potentially dangerous. The fact that the habits and customs adopted so far have not caused accidents does not mean that they are to be considered safe behaviors. First of all. Firearms should be loaded only when you are in the field or on the target range or shooting area, ready to shoot. When not in use, firearms and ammunition should be secured in a safe place, separate from each other. It is your responsibility to prevent children and unauthorized adults from gaining access to firearms or ammunition.


Jeff Cooper (1920-2006), a United States Marine, the creator of the “modern technique” of handgun shooting and influential figure in modern firearms training, formalized and popularized “Four rules” of safe firearm handling. Here you have:

  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Always be sure of your target.


Handling the weapon

“Active” safety is that provided by the hunter during the handling and use of the weapon and depends exclusively on the preparation and attention of the hunter himself. Keep these 4 simple rules in mind and always check them out. Do you really treat your guns as if they are always loaded? Do you check if there is a cartridge in the chamber and always keep the safety on until you have to fire? The use of the safety can be learned, even if you have never used it so far. It is used during movement, in difficult terrain, crossing creeks or climbing over rocks. You cannot ignore it.

Direction of the barrel(s)

In addition to these virtuous behaviors, always check in which direction you are pointing the muzzle of your firearm: it is a form of additional safety.

Finger away from the trigger

And, then, there is the question of keeping the finger out of the trigger guard, away from the trigger: in a famous photo taken in just after the attack on President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, we see Secret Service agent holding a submachine gun with finger well out of the trigger guard, resting on the body of the weapon. It is an example of a procedure that must kept in mind even when hunting, at the shooting range, always.

Identifying the target and the environment

Three safety rules are easy to learn and remember, but there is the fourth which, when hunting, is the most important of all: you must always be sure that you have positively identified the target and everything behind and around it, before shooting. In short, think! If you see the animal clearly, it does not mean that you clearly see what is behind it. If it is standing on a ridge, there may be hundreds of meters behind it that you can’t be sure of, and your bullet could hit a person if you’re not in deserted area. It has happened, so think about it! You have to give yourself a method and, when you shoot, you have to have evaluated everything.

If you are posted during a driven hunt, keep the rules in mind: never shoot inside area where beaters are, always outside! And watch out for the shooting areas, watch out for beaters, for the other posted shooters and for dogs. If you get excited, you must have already checked everything, you must comply with the procedures.


Safety of the gun

There is also “passive” safety which concerns guns, ammunition, accessories and personal protective equipment, and finally places and contexts. As for weapons and ammunition, you must always check them, preferably a few days before your hunting trip. Is the gun in perfect working order? You must know how it works, dry fire to check it and to verify the operation of the safety systems, you must perform maintenance, if you have not already done it (as you should) when you put it away.

Ammunition safety

The ammunition must be appropriate, that is, of the caliber and load suitable for use, particularly if it is rifle ammunition it is necessary to know its ballistic performance because it can affect the zeroing of the rifle. They must be safe in terms of operating pressure, origin (whether factory or handloaded), and must have been properly stored. Occasionally, a cartridge may not fire when the trigger is pulled. If this occurs, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Keep your face away from the breech. Then, carefully open the action, unload the firearm and dispose of the cartridge in a safe way.

Preparing for transport

And don’t forget how you intend to transport your guns and ammunition: use appropriate cases, check the sling, the swivels and other accessories attached to the gun such as optics and red dot sights.

Equip yourself for the job

And you yourself, yes you, use hearing protection and protective eyewear, but also clothing and footwear suitable for the environment and climate. Adapt your behavior to the presence of several hunters or even other people in the hunting area. High visibility orange is good for being seen by other people.


A question that may seem trivial: how do you carry the rifle? There are six ways.

  1. Elbow, side carry: when you go hunting with an over and under or side by side shotgun you can even carry it open. The pivot of the open action rests easily in the crook of your elbow and down over your forearm. In this manner the barrel naturally points down;
  2. Trail carry: one arm to carry the firearm on the center of gravity, leaving the other free for balance;
  3. Cradle carry: the gun rests across your forearm and elbow. The hand easily secures the firearm by grasping the stock. It is a comfortable carry that reduces arm fatigue;
  4. Two handed or “ready” carry: the gun is held by both hands in front of the body with the barrel up. It provides the best control of the muzzle, particularly in thick brush or weeds, or when you need to be ready to take aim;
  5. Sling carry: uses a sling placed over your shoulder to support the gun. Keep your hand on the sling while walking to keep the rifle or the shotgun from slipping. The sling carry is good for long walks in open cover. If brush becomes dense, the barrel tip can get caught in shoulder-high branches and twigs so you may need to switch to a different carrying method. It is a good carry when walking with others;
  6. Shoulder carry: balances the rifle on your shoulder, controlling the firearm by a hand on the grip. This is a good carry when walking beside or behind others. It is not a good carry if others are behind you.

Always keep the barrel and the muzzle under control. Check the status of your firearm often, especially as you move or get ready to cross an obstacle. Check to see if your safety is still on and keep the chamber empty. If your magazine is loaded, when you are ready to fire, it is easy to chamber a round for the shot.

Don’t be shy to ask others about the safety status of their firearm.

What is your most important safety point?