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 hunting, 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

Common ways to carry a firearm safely:

Two-handed or ready carry: 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: 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.

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 unload

During, the hunt, unload before climbing a fence, a steep grade, a slippery slope. After the hunt, unload before returning to camp or your car. – Courtesy American Hunters and Shooters Association.


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