Shotgun Safety

Nothing — repeat nothing — is more important than safety when handling your shotgun.

Many shooters get so focused on making the shot, that they lose track of what’s going on around them. Once that happens, it’s simply a matter of time until an accident happens with your shotgun.

In this section, you’ll learn about everything you should do and should not do when handling a shotgun. You’ll also discover the most important safety tips regarding children and shotguns.

Ignoring or forgetting the safety basics is very easy to do. Shooters get complacent, over-confident or distracted. Eventually, every shooter at one time or another does something unsafe with a shotgun. This section makes you realize when you do it, how to prevent it and how to spot safety slip-ups in others.

This section is a must-read for every shotgun shooter — and for anyone who is even contemplating owning a shotgun or being around others who are shooting shotguns.

Nothing is more important than safety when it comes to shotguns.

The doctrine of shotgun safety prevents you from accidentally firing your gun — either through human or mechanical error. There are no shortcuts to safety and the rules are never relaxed.

Ignore the rules of shotgun safety and a negligent moment can turn an enjoyable outing into a nightmare.

Always remember that shotguns are inherently dangerous and command respect. Your goal is to make safe shooting instinctual — that you practice it constantly. It starts with common-sense shooting, vigilance and over time becomes ingrained in the shooting experience so that you are constantly aware of it in yourself and others.

Please take the next few moments to read the rules of shotgun safety. You’ll see three sections: Keep, Never and Children.

Thanks for taking the time.


  • The muzzle pointed in a safe direction (upward or downrange).
  • Your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot..
  • Wearing ear and eye protection.
  • Thinking that your shotgun is loaded even when it isn’t.
  • Your action open or the breech cracked to show the gun is unloaded, until you’re ready to use it.
  • The proper gauge ammunition in your gun. Don’t improvise or carry shells of different gauges in the same pouch. Ammo specs are usually stamped on the barrel of your shotgun near the receiver.
  • Your barrel clear of obstructions. If you have a misfire, check the barrel for a stuck wad or hull. Don’t clear the barrel by firing a fresh load through it. The results will be disastrous.
  • Aware of what’s beyond the target. If there’s any doubt, don’t shoot.
  • Familiar with your gun and its workings, especially the safety and barrel selector.
  • Aware of ejected hulls. They are hot, fast and dangerous.
  • Your shotgun unloaded when cleaning it.
  • Your shotgun properly maintained. Fouling, rust and improper oiling can make your shotgun unsafe.
  • Your shotgun unloaded and open when passing it to someone else. Pass it stock first.
  • Aware of where your hunting partners are at all times.
  • Aware of where your hunting dogs are at all times.
  • Maintaining a straight line when hunting with others.
  • Your safety orange on at all times when hunting.
  • Your gun safety back on after the game has flushed.
  • Your muzzle pointed downrange of other hunters — even when a quarry flushes in their direction.
  • Your emotions in check. Remember, you and your companions have shotguns and ammo at hand.
  • Aware of circumstances that could jeopardize your safety and the safety of others. If someone you know is doing something dangerous, it’s best to tell them. If you see a stranger doing something dangerous, notify the range safety officer immediately.


  • Point your shotgun at another person (even if you think it’s unloaded).
  • Shoot into water. Something hard under the surface could deflect the shot in a dangerous direction.
  • Climb or jump over anything with a loaded shotgun.
  • Shoot under the influence of alcohol or of drugs that impair your motor skills.
  • Transport a loaded shotgun. Even if the law says it’s OK, the shotgun could accidentally discharge.
  • Lean a loaded shotgun against anything other than a gun rack. If the gun falls, it could accidentally discharge.
  • Fire your shotgun unless you feel your stance is well-balanced.
  • Push or pull your shotgun against another person (even if you think it’s unloaded).
  • Leave your shotgun unattended.
  • Handle a shotgun without the owner’s permission.
  • Dry fire a shotgun unless you are absolutely convinced it’s empty. And when you dry fire the shotgun, do so a safe direction.
  • Store a loaded shotgun in a safe or cabinet.


  • Set the best possible example for your child when it comes to safety.
  • Make sure your child wears ear and eye protection at all times.
  • In the field, make sure your child wears safety orange at all times.
  • Always pay attention to your children when they are handling shotguns or are in the vicinity of shotguns.
  • Make sure the shotgun fits your child reasonably well to avoid misfires and other dangerious mistakes.
  • Store your shotguns so that children can’t gain access to them: locked safes, closets or cabinets.
  • Store shotguns and ammo separately in locked places.
  • Don’t leave your shotgun lying around.
  • If a child handles a shotgun it must be in the presence of an adult familiar with the gun and the rules of safe handling.
  • Instill in your children that shotguns are not toys. They are extremely dangerous. When it comes to shotguns, children must distinguish between reality and fantasy.
  • Replace the mystique of the shotgun with knowledge and discipline.
  • Teach your children to respect shotguns rather than fear them.
  • Teach your child that if they find a shotgun readily accessible they should leave the area immediately and alert an adult. If there are no adults available, the child should call 9-1-1 immediately.
  • If your child has questions about shotguns, keep your answers short and to the point in order to avoid confusion. Demonstrate often.
  • Don’t lose your patience with your children when it comes to teaching them about shotguns.
  • “No” means “no.”

Helpful links:
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