Rifle Safety – How I treat my rifles and shooting in general
By Chris Parkin
You are only ever as safe as your next shot and gun safety has to be both ingrained within your psyche as a shooter, yet never taken for granted that `autopilot` will cover you in all circumstances. I tend to follow the same rules and procedures throughout my work which although perhaps different to yours, seems logical to me as an assessment of guidelines from governing bodies and shooing associations as well as what seems to occur to me. Never be afraid to double check anything, there is always another day to try again.
To break it down reasonably simply, I always treat any gun, regardless of whether I have handled it or not as loaded until proven so or not. Even when proven to be clear, I was taught never point one at anyone or anything I’m not willing kill, muzzle awareness is vital at ALL times. Be absolutely sure of your quarry species and targets BEFORE you point the rifle, you cannot call the bullet back. Hunting in poor light or total darkness requires additional considerations from night vision or thermal imaging tools for safety and identification. Knowing range to target is an important safety and moral obligation for a safe shot and clean kill when hunting.
Before loading any rifle, it should be checked to be in safe condition with an unobstructed bore, if unsure, clean it, it takes just moments and removing the bolt to visually inspect for any obstruction before a shooting session should become second nature. Loading and unloading should always be done pointing in a safe direction, it is a time when accidents are possible and be sure to familiarise yourself with all the control of your rifle. It’s not uncommon for additional force to be exerted using other controls as levers and this is to be avoided at all times. If anything unusual happens when shooting, odd noises or no appearance of bullet on target, check the bore again to make sure any kind of dry fire has not dangerously lodged a bullet in the bore that on the following shot, could cause the barrel or action to burst. Are old guns still in proof? This may need a specialist to check or use of the Proof house themselves if necessary. Ammunition to be used should be in good condition and in the correct chambering for that firearm. Home loaded ammunition can perform exceptionally well but do not share it with others and make sure safe procedures are followed for its assembly, it is often unique to it’s own rifle’s dimensions and tolerances. Factory ammunition is made to uniform specifications safe for any firearms with the relevant proof markings, according to international specifications.
If at any time the trigger is squeezed and all you hear is a click, treat this as a slow fire and maintain the rifle’s safe point of aim until you have counted to 30 in your head. Upon which time, with the gun still pointed safely, look away from the firearm to protect your eyesight and lift the bolt or open the action in such a way that should the bolt or handle blow back, your hands and fingers are not in its way. Burst primers can blow hot gas from the rear of any bolt which is designed to gradually vent pressure in the case of a burst cartridge, similarly from the side of the action in an escape hole on some designs.
Never fire any gun without knowing where all projectiles it will discharge are going to end up, be sure of legal requirements over your land and proximity with public rights of way. The safe backstop is mandatory as bullets will fly many thousands of metres if negligently discharged depending on the angle at which the muzzle is pointing in the air. Only ever load the rifle when it is pointed in a safe direction and be sure to use all safety catches, but never rely on them as a perfect method of ensuring no accident can happen. Never assume a rifle is correctly zeroed and do not disengage the safety catch or place your finger inside the trigger guard or on the blade until the rifle is pointed at what you intend to shoot and if you miss, miss safely. Consider what the bullet may encounter on its flightpath to the target, especially when the line of an optical sight is higher than the bore itself. Even if the shot is perfect, consider what remnants of the bullet or pellet may pass through the quarry. The quarry itself is not `the backstop` and must never be treated as so, with animals in herds, it’s not unknown for fragments or whole bullets to hit additional animals not even directly behind them. Consider the backstop and whether it will absorb the bullet entirely or potentially allow it to ricochet off a hard angled surface and skim off elsewhere whining!
Ensure that you or anyone in close proximity to any firearm is wearing appropriate hearing protection which should be considered mandatory, eye protection is also advisable if slightly more scenario dependant. Hearing damage is a fact, happening cumulatively with every shot or noise above 85dB and although quieter guns may seem less aggressive, it all adds up especially with high volumes of low intensity noise not considered uncomfortable, yet still aggressive. When carrying firearms, be sure of footings and balance and if you have to cross obstacles or climb walls, fences or tree stands, I always unload the rifle as anything dropped can potentially fall in any direction and if it does go off, you have no idea where the bullets may go. It is also not unknown for items like tree stands to be deliberately sabotaged to injure likely users so be fully familiar with the laws that surround your shooting activities, quarry, and locations. Consider noise and disturbance to surroundings along with the general public perception of shooting, you may be well aware of people well outside safety areas. People can react badly to being surprised by gunfire and hunters who are generally operating discreetly in pursuit of quarry, well within the law we understand but they may not. Lastly, I’m pained to suggest it, but firearms do not mix with drink or drugs. Be aware of any side effects of prescription medication and finally, be aware or diminishing capability as you become tired during or after a long day hunting.
Shooting in all its forms is one of the safest sports possible, let’s all keep it that way.