When going back to basics, the first rule of good shooting must always be safety

Shooting has an enviable safety record and we must all strive to keep it that way, so we must follow these 10 shooting safety rules.

Never forget a loaded shotgun is a lethal weapon and, if used inappropriately, can kill. It will also maim in the most horrible fashion. When a beginner comes to me for their first lesson I often demonstrate the awesome power behind a cartridge by firing it at, say, a cabbage or watermelon, for instance. The sheer devastation and destruction that ensues – even at a range of 10 or 20 yards – serves as a lesson the novice will never forget.

1. Be aware

Always keep an eye on where your fellow shooters are. Not everyone might be as familiar with the layout of shooting ground as you are, and their ‘short cut’ to their next stand 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.

2. Check

If any one hands you a gun, (especially if they’re daft enough to hand you one that’s closed), make a habit of opening it and checking to make sure the chambers are empty and the barrels are clear – even if you know damn well it’s empty! This must become an instinctive habit.

3. Loaded

Following on from the previous point, always treat guns as if they were loaded. The only truly safe gun is an unloaded gun!

4. Ready, steady

When you’re on a shooting ground your gun should always be broken and unloaded when it’s not in use. Only load the gun when you’re actually on the stand – with the muzzles pointing ahead towards the intended firing zone.

5. No U-turns

A frighteningly common, but potentially deadly, mistake sometimes made by the inexperienced in the heat of the moment. With both barrels loaded they fire the first shot – then they turn round to ask advice from their fellow shooters. With the muzzles pointing at groin height, I can’t think of a quicker way to give anyone a heart attack! Never turn round on a stand with loaded gun, always break it first.

6. Broken at all times

When you’re out on a shooting ground all over-unders and side-by sides should be broken at all times. The only exception is when the unloaded gun is safely put away in its slip. If it ‘ain’t broke… break it!

7. No slip ups

Everyone knows accidents can happen, but they can’t if a gun is broken. Never, ever leave cartridges in the gun when it’s not being used. To make doubly sure you’re safe you should always break the gun as you’re taking it out of the slip. With the muzzles pointing towards the ground, flick the top lever to break the gun while the barrels are still in the gun slip before removing the gun completely.

8. Semi-safe

Semi autos and pump actions can be a worry as it’s really difficult for other shooters to know for definite whether they’re loaded or not. I’ve seen some shooters use a high-viz tag they insert into the breech to indicate the gun is unloaded – a great idea.

9. Slip it

Even at some of the smaller, compact sporting layouts there’s going to be an element of walking between the stands. Make sure your gun is unloaded and carry it in its gun slip whenever possible. This way everyone knows they’re safe. If the gun’s not in a slip, make sure it’s broken.

10. It’s rude to point

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. Even when I’ve double-double checked and know 110% the gun is empty, it’s still unnerving. Never point a gun at anyone. This is probably my golden rule. If it ‘aint pointing at anybody, it ‘aint going to kill anybody!