Stick to them rigidly
A loaded shotgun is a lethal weapon and so every shooter must follow the shooting safety rules governing the use of a gun to the letter.
Shooting has an excellent safety record but all shooters have a personal responsibility to keep it that way, so that they do nothing to bring shooting into disrepute.
I often show a novice just how destructive a shotgun cartridge can be by firing at a watermelon. A beginner who sees the devastation and destruction that follows – even at a range of 10 or 20 yards – learns a memorable lesson.
The shooting safety rules
1. Always be on the alert
Know where your fellow shooters are. Not everyone might be as familiar with the layout of the shooting ground as you are, and their ‘short cut’ to their next stand might be right in your line of fire. Look around every time you walk onto the stand – it only takes a second and could save a life.
2. Check the chambers
If any one hands you a gun, (especially if they’re stupid 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 it’s empty. This habit should become instinctive behaviour.
3. A loaded gun
Always treat guns as if they were loaded. The only truly safe gun is an unloaded gun.
4. Broken and unloaded
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. Don’t turn around
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. Break it
When you’re out on a shooting ground all over-and-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 gunslip.
7. Stop accidents happening
Accidents can’t happen 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.
Semi-autos and pump actions can be a worry as it’s really difficult for other shooters to know for certain whether they’re loaded or not. Some shooters use a high-viz tag they insert into the breech to indicate the gun is unloaded.
9. Slip it
There’s always going to be some walking between stands, even on the smallest shooting ground. Be safe, 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. Don’t 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.