The Seven Firearms Safety Rules

In this section:

Rule 1: Treat every firearm as loaded
Rule 2: Always point firearms in a safe direction
Rule 3: Load a firearm only when ready to fire
Rule 4: Identify your target beyond all doubt
Rule 5: Check your firing zone
Rule 6: Store firearms and ammunition safely
Rule 7: Avoid alcohol and drugs when handling firearms

Rule 1: Treat every firearm as loaded

  • Keep your finger off the trigger; always point the muzzle in a safe direction; open the action and inspect the chamber and magazine.
  • Do not take anyone’s word that a firearm is unloaded. Check every firearm yourself. Only pass or accept a firearm that has the muzzle pointed in a safe direction; the action open; and is not loaded.
  • If you do not know how to open a firearm, leave it alone. Keep clear of the muzzle.
  • If it is someone else’s, ask him/her to show you that it is empty.

Rule 2: Always point firearms in a safe direction

Loaded or unloaded, always point the muzzle in a safe direction.

  • A safe direction will depend on where you are. Remember that bullets can go through walls and ceilings.
  • Never point a firearm at anyone else or at yourself.
  • Always stay focused when handling firearms.
  • To avoid unintentional firing or damage, firearms should never be leant against vehicles or in any place where they could slide or fall.
  • Always be particularly careful when placing firearms in, or removing them from, vehicles, boats and storage.

Be aware that firearms can go off unintentionally when:

  • Closing the action
  • Releasing the safety catch
  • Uncocking
  • Or opening a loaded firearm

Rule 3: Load a firearm only when ready to fire

Only load a firearm when you intend to use it, and only in an area where it can be safely and legally discharged. Remember to unload it when you have used it.

Only load your ammunition into the magazine when you have reached your shooting area. (The firearm is then carried with the bolt or action closed on an empty chamber. The cartridges are readily available from the magazine and it only takes a second to open the action and feed a round into the chamber.)

  • Do not load the chamber until you are ready to shoot.
  • Unload the chamber if the game gets away. (Put the round back in the magazine and close the bolt on an empty chamber.)
  • Unload completely – no rounds in the magazine or chamber – before leaving a shooting area or entering a hut or camp. Double check.

Semi-automatic shotguns and rifles

Because it is not practical to apply this rule to semiautomatic shotguns and rifles, it is recommended that when you have seen, or expect to flush game at any moment, you load the firearm and place the previously tested safety catch on ‘safe’. If you release the safety catch but decide not to shoot, re-apply the safety catch. Whenever a round is in the chamber, you must be absolutely sure that the muzzle is pointing in a safe direction. Test the safety catch before loading any ammunition into the chamber. If you have any doubt about the safety catch don’t trust it. Have it checked by a gunsmith.

Note: No matter what type of firearm you use, you should be cautious when using the safety catch. In most cases, they lock the trigger or the bolt but, like all mechanical things, they are subject to wear and tear and may not work properly. The safety catch is only one of several safety precautions you should use when handling firearms.

Rule 4: Identify your target beyond all doubt

  • You must positively identify your target beyond all doubt before firing. If in doubt, do not shoot! The shooter, and anyone supervising an unlicensed shooter, must both positively identify the target.
  • Make absolutely certain you identify your target correctly. Identify the target animal/game using at least all the characteristics of  the movement, colour, sound and shape.

    Identify all of the animal.
    - Do not fire at movement only
    - Do not fire at colour only
    - Do not fire at sound only
    - Do not fire at shape only

Target identification issues

When a hunter is tired, or excited about sighting game animals, emotions may override rational thinking (buck or stag fever). Perception can play tricks and you may ‘see’ what you expect to see. Objects – often people – look like game animals.

There could be other hunters nearby. They may make noises imitating the calls of game. Even the definite sighting of skin and antlers is not positive enough – hunters have been shot while carrying a deer. BEFORE you shoot! Ask yourself: “Is this a person?” This will focus your mind toward expecting to see a person, rather than assuming it is an animal.

Keep your finger away from the trigger until you are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN it is safe to fire. Bright coloured clothing and gear can help you to be seen, especially in dim or fading light such as that in the early morning, late evening or under the cover of bush. However, no one colour will be easily seen at all times of the day and in all surroundings. Wear a colour that stands out from the background you are shooting in, and is different from any game animals in that area. While this may minimise your risk of being shot, it will only do so if other hunters properly identify their targets.

Hunters should use binocular vision, rather than rifle telescopic sights only, to identify their target. If using binoculars or telescopic sights, beware of the ‘tunnel vision’ that limits your view to each side. Sweep the telescope or binoculars from side to side to ensure no person is close to your field of fire.

Remember – it is ALWAYS the responsibility of the shooter to identify clearly the target. This is regardless of whatever strategies other hunters may or may not use to be seen.

Rule 5: Check your firing zone

Be aware of what you could hit in the area between you and your target, and in the area beyond your target.

Ask yourself “What could happen if I miss my target?”

Extreme range for projectiles may be as much as:
.22 rimfire: 1.5 kilometres
.308 calibre: 4.5 kilometres
Airgun: up to 400 metres
Shotgun: from 250 metres to 750 metres (Depending on the type of cartridge.)

Sights need to be set correctly to prevent rounds falling short or going far beyond the target.

Safety points

  • Never fire when companions are ahead of you, especially when you have lost sight of them.
  • Never shoot when stock, human activity or buildings are in the area.
  • It is unsafe to shoot at a target on the skyline. Remember that rural and urban developments are close to many hunting areas.
  • Night shooting is dangerous, especially if using telescopic sights, so only shoot at night if you are certain it is safe to do so. Spotlights light up only a small part of the firing zone and the projectile’s range. It is forbidden to shoot during the hours of darkness in any state forest, forest park or national park.
  • Use extra care when shooting at a moving target, particularly with telescopic sights, because your field of view is limited and changes rapidly. There is a greater danger of someone moving into your firing zone without you noticing.
  • When shooting near thick bush or scrub you may not be able to see your whole firing zone.
  • A charge of shot from a shotgun has a wide spread, particularly at longer ranges.
  • Ricochets can be caused by any flat or hard surfaces – rocks, snow, trees and even water. Be especially careful in rocky river beds.

Firing zones

Your firing zone changes rapidly when you follow a moving target with a firearm. As you swing the muzzle around in an arc be aware of the position of other hunters.
Make sure they are not caught in the path between your firearm and the target, or beyond the target. This applies particularly when shooting with shotguns. Duck shooters sharing a maimai can drive vertical poles into the ground to prevent an ‘over- swing’ endangering a companion.

Rule 6: Store firearms and ammunition safely

You are required by law to have a safe and secure place to store your firearms at your premises. Store firearms and ammunition separately, out of the reach of children, out of view and in a secure room, rack or cabinet approved by your Arms Officer.

A complete firearm is dangerous in the wrong hands, so lock away your unloaded and disabled firearm and ammunition separately. Do this immediately when you return to camp or home from shooting. Securing firearms out of sight will help prevent removal by thieves.

The Arms Regulations require these minimum standards when storing your firearm:

  • A firearm must not be put in any place where a child has ready access to it.
  • Ammunition must be stored separately or the firearm made incapable of firing.
  • Police advocates taking the following steps to ensure safe storage of firearms:
    • Remove the bolt and magazine from bolt-action firearms and lock away separately from the firearm.
    • Make sure both the chamber and the magazine are empty before storing any firearm.
    • For lever, pump or semi-automatic firearms, you may not be able to remove the action. Use a trigger locking device in this case.
    • Dismantile break-open types.
  • Licence holders must take reasonable steps to secure firearms against theft. These steps include:
    • Locking your firearm away in:
      • A lockable cabinet, container or receptacle of ‘stout construction’.
        The Police interprets "stout construction" as strong enough to stop a child or opportunist thief getting access. Police recognises the international standard of thwarting attack by hand tools (unpowered tools) for a minimum of 10 minutes. Putting a lock on a cupboard, wardrobe, or gun-case is not enough. Wooden or MDF cabinets/receptacles are unlikely to meet this standard. Seek advice from your Police Arms Officer before purchasing any cabinet, container or receptacle of 'stout construction', as not all containers on offer will meet the standard. The cabinet/container must be used for storing firearms only and accessible to the licence holder only. All cabinets, containers, safes, and receptacles are to be securely fixed to the frame of the builsing to prevent removal.
      • A display cabinet or rack that locks in and immobilises firearms so they cannot be fired.
      • A steel and concrete strong-room.
    • Unloading and locking your firearm away whenever it is not in use or not under the immediate supervision of a licence holder.
    • Never leaving your firearm in an unattended vehicle.

Anyone owning pistols, restricted weapons or military style semi-automatic firearms (MSSA) is required to have security of a higher standard than that required for sporting firearms (‘A’ category) owners. Contact your local Arms Officer for specifications.

All family members, especially children, need to know what a firearm is, what it is designed for, and why it must not be touched. Letting children handle firearms when you are supervising them may help to satisfy their natural curiosity but it is essential that children realise that firearms are not playthings and must be treated with respect. Children should be taught not to touch a firearm without an adult present, and if they find a firearm to seek the assistance of an adult.

Rule 7: Avoid alcohol or drugs when handling firearms

When handling a firearm you must be able to think clearly. Alcohol and some drugs (even if prescribed) dull and slow your mental and physical reactions.

Alcohol and Firearms do not mix! Ever!

  • Alcohol and drugs must never be taken just before you go shooting or while you are shooting. Wait until your firearm has been safely locked away before you consume alcohol or drugs.
  • Do not shoot with others who are, or have been, drinking alcohol or taking drugs.