The seven firearms safety rules

7 safety rules



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.
  • Never 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 and keep clear of the muzzle.
  • If the firearm belongs to someone else, ask them to show you it is empty.

Rule 2: Always point firearms in a safe direction

Always point the muzzle in a safe direction, whether the firearm is loaded or unloaded.A safe direction depends on where you are. Remember bullets can go through walls and ceilings.

  • Never point a firearm at anyone else or at yourself.
  • Always stay focused when handling firearms.
  • Never lean firearms against vehicles or in any place where they could slide or fall.
  • Always take extra care 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
  • opening a loaded firearm.

Rule 3: Load a firearm only when ready to fire

  • Only load a firearm when you need to use it.
  • Only load a firearm in an area where it can be safely and legally discharged.
  • Remember to unload the firearm when you have used it.
  • Only load your ammunition into the magazine when you have reached your shooting area. 
  • Carry a loaded firearm 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 you have unloaded.

Semi-automatic shotguns and rifles

  • When you have seen or expect to flush game at any moment, 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 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 and have it checked by a gunsmith.
Note: No matter what type of firearm you use, be cautious when using the safety catch. In most cases, safety catches lock the trigger or the bolt. But like all mechanical things they are subject to wear and tear and might 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 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.
  • Keep your finger away from the trigger until you are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN it is safe to fire.
  • Use binocular vision (instead of just rifle telescopic sights) to identify your target. Beware of the ‘tunnel vision’ that limits your view to each side when you are using binocular or telescopic sights. Sweep the telescope or binoculars from side to side to ensure no person is close to your field of fire.

Target identification issues

When you are tired or excited, 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 – can 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 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 expecting to see an animal.

Stand out to stay safe

Bright coloured clothing and gear can help you to be seen, especially in dim or fading light. Keep in mind that 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 can minimise your risk of being shot, it will only do so if other hunters properly identify their targets.

Remember – it is ALWAYS the responsibility of the shooter to identify clearly the target.

Rule 5: Check your firing zone

  • Never fire when people are ahead of you, especially when you have lost sight of them.
  • 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?”
  • Never shoot when there is stock, human activity, or buildings 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.
  • Be extra careful when shooting at a moving target, particularly with telescopic sights, because your field of view is limited and changes quickly. There is a greater danger of someone moving into your firing zone without you noticing.
  • Remember you may not be able to see your whole firing zone when shooting near thick bush or scrub.
  • 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.

Night shooting

  • 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.

Extreme range

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.

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 is especially important when shooting with shotguns. Duck shooters sharing a maimai can drive vertical poles into the ground to prevent an ‘over- swing’ that may put others in danger.

Rule 6: Store firearms and ammunition safely

You are required by law to have a safe and secure place to store your firearms.
Store firearms and ammunition separately, out of the reach of children and out of view. They must be either:


  • in a lockable steel and concrete strong room; or 
  • In a lockable cabinet, container or receptacle of stout construction; or 
  • in lockable display cabinet or rack, in which firearms are immobilised.  
These must be approved by Police.
Ammunition must also be stored in a separate secure storage container (such as a cash box or an ammunition box that is in secure storage or in a stout locked cupboard) with a different key or combination lock to the container for your firearms.
Restricted weapons must be rendered inoperable by removing a vital part. It is best practice to store the removed vital part in a separate cupboard constructed to the same level of security.
A complete firearm is dangerous in the wrong hands, so lock away your unloaded and disabled firearm and ammunition separately when not in use. Do this immediately when you return to camp or home from shooting. Securing firearms out of sight will help prevent them being stolen.

Changes to firearm storage requirements

On 1 February 2022, the Arms Amendment Regulations 2021 (link is external) came into force and introduced further changes to firearms storage requirements.

The following areas of firearms storage are affected by the changes to legislation:

  • premises and buildings
  • secure storage requirements for mobile homes, caravans and campervans
  • security requirements for firearms and ammunition in vehicles during transportation
  • carriage of firearms on public transport

Read the Secure Storage Guidance for Firearms and Ammunition (link is external) (PDF 945KB) to understand your responsibilities for storing firearms and ammunition as a firearms licence holder or applicant.  

Arms Regulations storage standards

Firearms licence holders must take reasonable steps to secure firearms against theft. These steps include: 
  • Lock your firearm away in one of the following places:
    • A lockable cabinet, container or receptacle of ‘stout construction’.

“Stout construction" means it must be strong enough to stop a child or thief getting access. Putting a lock on a cupboard, wardrobe, or gun-case is not enough. The storage space must be able to withstand attack from unpowered hand tools for a minimum of ten minutes. Wooden or MDF cabinets/receptacles are unlikely to meet this requirement. Seek advice from your Police Arms Officer before purchasing any cabinet, container or receptacle to store firearms, as it might not meet the standard. The cabinet/container must only be used for storing firearms and must only be accessible to the licence holder. All cabinets, containers, safes, and receptacles must be securely fixed to the frame of the building to prevent theft.

  • A display cabinet or rack that locks in and immobilises firearms so they cannot be fired.
  • A steel and concrete strong-room of sound construction that is approved by your Arms Officer.


  • Unload and lock your firearm away whenever it is not in use or not under the immediate supervision of a licence holder.
  • Never leave your firearm in an unattended vehicle.

Firearms in vehicles

If you are travelling with your firearm(s), then they must be:
  • concealed from view
  • made inoperable if possible by removing the bolt or other vital part, either keeping this with you (as the licence holder) or hidden out of sight
  • not loaded with ammunition in the breech, barrel chamber or magazine
  • stored separately from ammunition (ammunition stored in a locked glovebox or similar storage area where practical).
Your vehicle can be left unattended during a break in a journey for up to 60min provided:
  • you remain in the immediate area or vicinity of the vehicle
  • the firearms or ammunition are still secured and out of sight
  • where a vital part is removed, such as a bolt, it should remain in your possession
  • your vehicle is locked, windows close and keys are in your possession.
It is good practice to have your vehicle fitted with an immobiliser and/or alarm. 

Keep children safe

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 to teach children that firearms are not toys and they must be treated with respect. Teach children not to touch a firearm without an adult present, and to get help from an adult if they find a firearm.

More information

Anyone owning pistols, restricted weapons or prohibited firearms must have a higher standard of security than for sporting firearms (‘A’ category) owners.


Contact your local Arms Officer for more information (link is external).

To understand the security conditions for firearms and ammunition storage for firearms licence and endorsement holders, read the Secure Storage Guidance for Firearms and Ammunition (link is external) (PDF 945KB).


Rule 7: Avoid both alcohol and drugs when handling firearms

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


Some prescription and over the counter medicines can affect your mental and physical reactions so read the label and seek medical advice. If the information on the medicine advises against driving or using machinery, do not handle firearms.
Alcohol and firearms never mix! 

  • 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 drink alcohol or take drugs. 
  • Do not shoot with others who are, or have been, drinking alcohol or taking drugs.




Helpful information

Watch the NZ Mountain Safety Council video series on the Seven Basic Rules of Firearms Safety. Read the Secure Storage Guidance for Firearms and Ammunition (PDF 945KB), designed to assist firearms licence and endorsement holders and firearms licence applicants understand how the security conditions may be met.


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