By Mark Russell
Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Shooting safety taught on the clay ground carries seamlessly onto the peg. In my opinion a lot has changed over the last few years.
Shooting safety tips.
Nowadays it’s much more likely newcomers to shooting get involved through a friend or work colleague, rather than being introduced to the sport, complete with instruction, with mentoring being handed down from granddad, to father, to son.
From memory, my dad was probably ten times stricter than any shooting instructor could ever be, but that’s how it should be, and he taught me how to handle a gun safely from an early age.
My own lad, Rob, is one of the safest shots I know - he should be, because he’s had ‘safety first’ drummed into him from the moment he could hold a shotgun.
This is why lessons and instruction are so important. As well as teaching you how to hit more targets, a coach will also show you how to be safe.
When a novice comes here for their first lesson I’ll sometimes demonstrate the awesome power behind a 12-bore cartridge by firing at some inanimate object, typically a cabbage or a watermelon.
The sheer devastation and destruction that ensues - even at a range of ten or 20 yards - leaves a lasting impression, an image imprinted in a shooter’s mind they’ll never forget.
It’s a salutary lesson to any pupil.
Generally speaking, shooting has an enviable safety record and we must all strive to keep it that way.
Never forget that a loaded shotgun is a lethal weapon and, if used inappropriately, can kill.
Anyway, and in no order of importance (because they’re all crucial) here’s my list of do’s and don’ts to help you shoot safely, irrespective of whether you’re game or clay shooting.
SAFETY TIP 1
Always treat guns as if they were loaded. The only truly safe gun is an unloaded gun!
When standing at a peg on a game shoot it’s customary to keep the gun closed, but with the safety on.
If you adopt this method you MUST keep the muzzles pointing either towards the ground or vertically.
Only flick the safety off when you are mounting the gun on a bird and ready to pull the trigger.
If, for whatever reason, you don’t take the shot, or you only fire one cartridge, take the gun out of the shoulder and put it back on safe with the barrels pointing skyward.
SAFETY TIP 2
Always keep an eye on where your fellow shooters are. Not everyone might be as familiar with the layout of the shooting ground as you are, they might get lost between stands or their ‘short cut’ to the next cage might be right in your line of fire.
Always have a quick glance around as you walk onto the stand - it only takes a second and could save a life.
This also applies with game shooting. Know exactly where your neighbouring Guns are standing, as well as the position of any ‘Stops’, pickers-up and bystanders.
Give them a wave to let them know you are aware of their presence.
Never point your gun in their direction and never ‘swing through the line.’
If you do need to shoot at a bird that has gone over the line of Guns, if it’s pricked with the first barrel, for instance, take the gun out of your shoulder, keep the muzzles pointing up, turn through 180° then remount and fire.
Swing through the line like this and you’ll probably never be asked on a shoot again.
Take gun from shoulder - turn, keeping the muzzles skywards - remount to fire.
SAFETY TIP 3
Make sure you know if a gun that’s handed to you is loaded or not.
Always check, then check again.
Don’t worry about offending people; if anyone passes you a gun (especially closed) make a habit of opening it and checking to make sure the chambers are empty and the barrels are clear.
Do this as a matter of course.
It only takes a second or two to squint down the barrels to see if they’re clear and the time spent could be a genuine lifesaver.
Remember, it’s not enough just to cast a casual glance to see if there are cartridges in the breech - there could be a 20-bore cartridge that had been accidentally loaded stuck ahead of the chamber, for instance, or the barrels have been blocked because the owner has unknowingly plugged them with mud or snow.
Always check to make sure the gun is clear.
SAFETY TIP 4
When you’re on a shooting ground and your gun’s out of its slip it should always be broken and unloaded when not in use.
Only load the gun when you are ready to fire.
Only load the gun when you’re actually on the stand - with the muzzles pointing ahead towards the intended firing zone - and when you’re ready to fire.
SAFETY TIP 5
Never turn round on a stand with a loaded gun. I’ve seen this scenario played out more than once and I can tell you it’s terrifying just to witness.
Always unload at the end of a drive.
Heaven knows what it must be like to be standing in front of the muzzles!
It’s a classic beginner’s mistake. With both barrels loaded they fire the first shot and then, irrespective of whether they’ve hit or missed the target, they might turn around to ask advice from their fellow shooters.
Always break it first and unload.
An equivalent scene on a game shoot might be at the end of a drive. As soon as the whistle/horn signals the drive’s finished the first thing to do is remove the cartridges and put them in a pocket.
Then either place the gun in its slip or carry it broken - over a crooked arm back to the transport.
SAFETY TIP 6
When walking between stands on a shooting ground, or towards your next peg on game days, over-unders and side-by-sides should be broken at all times.
Guns should always be broken when being carried.
The only time the gun can be closed is when it’s unloaded and safely put away in its slip. If it ‘ain’t broke… break it!
SAFETY TIP 7
Guns that don’t physically break open for loading, semi autos and pump actions for instance, can be a serious concern in a shooting environment as it’s difficult for fellow shooters to know for definite whether they’re loaded or not.
When not in use the bolt on a semi-auto should always be pulled back to show the gun is empty.
Some shooters use a high-viz tag that they insert into the breech to indicate the gun is unloaded - a great idea.
When this type of gun is not in use and out of its slip the bolt should be back and the gun held with the muzzles pointing either straight up in the air or down at the ground.
SAFETY TIP 8
We all know it’s rude to point, but with a shotgun it can be lethal. If I’m checking someone’s eye dominance, or doing photos for this article, for instance, I sometimes have to look fair and square straight down the barrel of an unbroken gun.
NEVER point a gun at anyone!
Even when I’ve double, double and even triple checked and know that the gun is empty it’s still unnerving. Never point a gun at anyone.
This is probably my golden rule. If it isn’t pointing at anybody, it isn’t going to kill anybody!
SAFETY TIP 9
Never leave cartridges in a gun when it’s not being used. In a similar vein, you shouldn’t use spent cartridges as snap caps as this is an obvious accident waiting to happen – are they live or aren’t they?
Just in case, and to make sure the gun is safe, always break it as you take it from the gunslip.
With the muzzles pointing to the ground, flick the top lever to break the gun while the barrels are still inside the sleeve to check that the chambers are clear before removing the gun completely.
When you’ve finished shooting, check that the chambers are empty and simply reverse the process when putting the gun away.
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