The safety aspect of shooting is very important to me. 1. Because I don’t want to be hurt or killed 2. Because I don’t want to hurt or kill anyone and 3. Because I don’t want to hurt the sport of shooting.

The first two are pretty self explanatory and I hope you all share those views. The third is something all responsible sport shooters must consider. Everything we do creates a reaction. That could be positive or negative. With stories in the media focusing mainly on the shocking and negative we must think very carefully about shooting safely and urging others to do the same. This article aims to teach the novice some basic range safety. Please also check regulations with your range and range officer as procedures may differ depending on environment and competition shoot.

The Basics

Most non shooters imagine that there is only one dangerous thing that can happen with a gun – you point it at someone and it goes bang and kills them. In fact there are multiple risks involved including risks to the shooter. Luckily for us these risks are all reduced significantly with a little knowledge of them. To diminish risk you must first understand that it exists. A bit of Zen for you!
Let’s begin by looking at what happens when you pull the trigger on a loaded firearm.
The trigger releases a pin which flies forward and hits the primer (the circular disc on the bottom of your ammunition, or the rim of a RimFire round). This causes a reaction similar to a match head being struck. The material in the primer ignites and thus ignites the powder within the brass case. The ignition of the propellant produces gas and heat. The round should be sealed firmly in place by the rifles bolt/action therefore the gasses can only exit in one direction. The bullet is pushed down the barrel by the gases as it is the path of least resistance. The bullet and gases/heat exit the barrel at high speed and hopefully end up striking the target you are aiming at.
Once that sequence of events has started it will take milliseconds for the bullet to leave the barrel. It will appear instantaneous. Anything in front of the bullets path (possibly several miles of path dependant on trajectory) will end up with a hole through it..


This picture (thanks to Hornady ammo) shows the round in the rifle as the firing pin strikes. The gases generated propel the bullet forward down the barrel at great speed.

Lesson 1.
A firearm should only ever be loaded if you are pointing it at something you want to shoot or would be happy to shoot in case of a negligent discharge. You should never load your gun for fun at home or to “practice” if you are not pointing it down range. I’m aware that in some countries firearms are kept loaded for self defence. I am not covering self defence in this article, this is range safety only. It will also apply to hunters and recreational shooters on legal, private land. Once the gun is loaded it must ALWAYS be kept pointing at the target/butts. Not up in the air. Ranges are designed to have areas behind the butts which allow for errant bullets to fall harmlessly to the ground. However many rifles can send bullets a very long way if pointing at the right angle. Don’t risk putting a bullet over or out of the ranges danger areas. It may land in a populated area. Someone may die. Negative media would be generated even if nobody was hurt. In some disciplines you may need to move with a loaded firearm (practical shooting). In these instances the barrel/muzzle must always be pointing toward the target/butts. Practical disciplines require safety guidance of their own concerning movement and muzzle direction. Again you should check with the range officer if you are unsure on protocol. That’s what he is there for. You should treat all guns as if they could be loaded in regards to where you point them. Do not imagine pointing a gun at a car door or a wall means those behind are “safe”. A standard .308 will penetrate both obstacles and still retain enough power to kill when it exits them…

Lesson 2.
A firearm should always be treated as if it were loaded. To make safe keep it pointing towards the target and release the magazine first. Then slide the bolt to the rear and check the breech is empty. Action the bolt and then open it again. Recheck the breech to ensure nothing has been chambered. In some disciplines you will be asked to “ease springs” at this point. This generally means pulling the trigger on an empty chamber and selecting safety “on”. Check with the range officer as safety drills are different in disciplines/countries/clubs.

Lesson 3.
Sometimes firearms go bang in the wrong way. There are a variety of situations which could cause a rifle to explode. Examples would be – cleaning rags stuck in the barrel, incorrectly loaded ammunition, the wrong calibre ammunition, bullet stuck in barrel due to lack of propellant, muzzle pushed into mud and blocked… The list goes on. Every time you use your rifle or kit you should double check it. Can you see clearly down the bore? Does it operate smoothly and consistently? Is you ammunition appropriate for your rifle? When you operate the firearm, try to feel any inconsistencies. If a round is hard to chamber, disregard it. Better to waste a round than the whole rifle. Whatever the inconsistency just stop, make safe and double check everything.

Lesson 4.
Store your firearms and ammunition in a safe, secure, dry place. You do not want your kids to start messing with them. Keep the location to yourself. Do not let anyone handle your firearm unless it is to do so and 2. They understand firearms safety.

Lesson 5.
Fingers and trigger. Keep them away from one another until you are ready to take a safe shot. A safe shot means you have checked what is in front of you and what is behind your target. You do not want a round to travel through/over the target and into a populated area. Also be aware that rounds can ricochet. If you shoot at a rock 50 yards away do not be surprised when bullets come zinging back towards you. They will likely retain enough velocity to kill or seriously wound.

Lesson 6.
Keep you firearm and kit/ammo clean, serviced and organised at all times. You should always know what your scope is zeroed at and where the bullet will impact before you pull the trigger. Lazyness can be lethal when combined with a gun. If you reload Your own ammunition then be double sure of all the loading data and check everything. Badly loaded ammo can cause dangerous hangfires (see below) or worse, blow up your rifle..


This happens when you pull the trigger and it just goes click. There could be several reasons it happened but you should conduct the hangfire drill whichever reason you think it may be. I have had two “hangfires”. Both of them turned out to be a failure to chamber a round due to short bolt stroking. The worst case scenario is a round which has deteriorated due to age or has been made incorrectly. It may take a few seconds to go bang. I’ve seen it happen to others several times, usually with badly reloaded ammo. If you try to open the bolt as it goes bang then the bolt could be blown back and into you causing injury or death. The procedure is fairly simple.

Warn the RO and those either side of you that you have a hang fire. Wait 30 seconds maintaining aim at your target. Rest the rifle securely and ensure it points downrange. Move to the side of the weapon away from the bolt. Put your hand over the rifle ensuring when you lift the bolt your hand and fingers are not behind it. Remove the round.

If you want a short and easy to remember version of all the above then you might want to copy this.

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. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

Most ranges use those 4 simple rules.

Giving a good impression

Last but not least please consider the impression you are giving others. If you are a firearms owner/user then portray a sensible attitude in all things. If people know you have a rifle at home and see you down at a bar shouting and being aggressive they are likely to call the police. Bad publicity for you and for all gun owners. Encourage others to try target shooting by example. Show them you are an intelligent, responsible person. That is how we can ensure our lovely sport grows. Don’t give the politicians and the media the ammunition they are looking for.

Be safe and most of all, enjoy yourself while doing it.