Shooting is one of the safest sports in the world, and Mike Morton offers 10 important tips to ensure new shooters get safe and stay safe
1. Keep Your Gun Pointed In A Safe Direction
Of all the rules to follow, this is the most fundamental because if it’s followed correctly it will protect both people and property in the event of a gun going off unintentionally. A safe direction is any direction in which a pellet would cause no injury or damage should it be released accidentally. A pellet leaves the barrel at the muzzle, so being aware of where it’s pointing is often termed ‘muzzle awareness’. Shooters must control where the muzzle is pointing at all times.
2. Never Point A Gun At Anything You Don’t Intend To Shoot
It may be tempting to train the sights of your gun on ‘alternative’ targets such as the dangling lightbulb at your indoor range or the corner of an angled piece of rusty metal left abandoned in a field on your permission. You might kid yourself that you’re just practising quick target acquisition and it’s all perfectly safe because you have no intention of actually taking a shot. But what you’re actually doing is completely ignoring rule No 1. You are not keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction.
3. Always Treat Your Gun As If It’s Loaded
This is another fundamental safety principle that will help ensure you never have an accident with your airgun. Treating a gun as if it’s loaded means sticking to the safety rules all the time – not just when you know it to be loaded. It means having respect for your gun and your surroundings. It also helps foster the good gun-handling practices that make up points 1 and 2 above. And even if no ammunition is present, an airgun is still capable of delivering a burst of high-pressure air without a pellet being anywhere near it.
4. Check Clear
On picking up your own airgun – or being handed one in a shop, at a range or in the field – check to ensure that it’s been neither cocked, nor loaded. In the case of a PCP, that means ensuring no magazine has been inserted, opening the sidelever or bolt to ensure no pellet has been chambered, and squeezing the trigger while pointing the muzzle in a safe direction to ensure it’s not been cocked.
5. Keep Your Gun Unloaded Until You’re Ready To Use It
Of all the airgun disciplines, hunters are the ones who’ll need to load soonest as they will require their rifle to be ready for use when a shot at a quarry animal presents itself. In this case it’s a good idea to choose a safe area to load your gun at the start of your hunting session, then another safe area to unload and check clear at the end, regardless of how many shots you may or may not have taken in between.
6. Keep Your Finger Away From The Trigger Until You’re Ready To Take The Shot
Whenever you hold a gun, rest your finger above the trigger guard or along the side of the gun. It needs to be near the trigger for quick, easy and comfortable operation, but not actually on it. Don’t put your finger on the trigger blade until you are actually ready to fire. A safety catch should only be a back-up safety measure. Good trigger discipline always comes first.
7. Know Your Target And What’s Beyond It
Make absolutely certain that you have identified your target beyond any doubt. Of equal importance is being aware of the area beyond the target. This means looking over your prospective area of fire, including to the side as well as behind your target, before you take a shot. Never fire in a direction in which there are people or the potential for any other type of accident. Be aware of the possibility of a ricochet, especially when shooting at metal targets or around farm machinery.
8. Be Aware Of Your Surroundings
Look carefully around you whenever you have a gun in your hand to make sure you don’t trip or lose your balance. If you do, you might end up accidentally pointing the gun at someone – or even firing off a shot. Outdoors, mud, loose gravel, fallen branches and thick undergrowth all pose potential slip or trip hazards, any of which could see you lose control of your gun. But you need to be aware around a range too, where stairs, chairs and table legs all offer you the chance to take a tumble.
9. Never Put Down A Loaded Airgun Or Leave It Unattended
This rule could be extended to include any airgun – loaded or not. There are two issues here, the first being someone coming across your unattended gun, interfering with it and either hurting themselves, you or someone else. The second reason may sound silly, but it has happened, and that’s putting a gun down in the undergrowth, walking off a short distance and then not being able to immediately find it again.
10. Understand How To Use The Gun Properly.
It’s important to learn the mechanical characteristics of the gun we’re using as well as the way it handles, so that means reading and understanding the manual before handling the gun, finding out how it operates, and how to locate and use the controls. It’s also vital to know how to load it and unload it, how to cock it and how to remove any ammunition from the gun or magazine after shooting.
Shooting is one of the safest sports in the world, and that’s down to responsible shooters paying attention to gun safety at all times. Anyone starting out should learn how to get safe and stay safe.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) has a simple assessment carried out by accredited assessors called the Airgun Safe Shot Award. The assessment takes just 20 minutes and can be done at a game fair or organised by you anywhere in England and Wales.
To find out more about the Airgun Safe Shot Award contact BASC’s Training and Education department on 01244 573018.