Safe shooting is the responsibility of all of us, says top Holland & Holland coach Steve Rawsthorne. We should be safe and be seen to be safe at all times
Shooting, in all its forms, enjoys an enviable record of safety. When you consider that we are using guns in all sorts of weathers and environments, sometimes alone, at others surrounded by scorers and other shooters, there is a potential for disaster. It is up to each of us to not only be safe but to be seen to be safe and demonstrably so, whenever we are shooting. We need to be whiter than white in today’s climate: there are people who are just looking for an excuse to close your local shoot or get in the way of shooting as a whole.
I see hundreds of clients each year and I see many more people shooting around me – several thousand a year. Some demonstrate barely adequate gun handling safety, very few are excellent and a considerable percentage are below an acceptable standard of safe gun handling. The attitude of “I know it’s not loaded so what are you worried about” is fairly commonplace.
I am not talking about taking dangerous shots, just how we handle our guns when we’re getting them out of, or putting them into a slip, moving between stands or handing them to others; or getting into or out of a vehicle.
For maximum safety you should start from the premise that every gun is loaded unless it can be seen to be unloaded. Even then, be aware of where the barrels are pointing: just because a gun was unloaded a few minutes ago doesn’t mean it can be assumed to be unloaded now.
If it is open – broken – and you and I along with everyone else can see that it is unloaded, then, and only then, can it be considered ‘safe’. How often at a shoot have you seen someone pick a gun up from a rack and walk towards the cage with it closed for much of the distance before it is opened? I suggest that this is simply not acceptable: safe gun handling is simple, takes no time at all and should become automatic.
Each time we shoot, we all take our guns out of a slip. If you open the zip two thirds of the way down, holding the top end in the left hand, slide the open right hand down the side of the gun until the thumb rests on the lever. With the muzzles still inside the slip, open the lever, so the gun is open; lift the gun out of the slip. You will be holding an open, unloaded gun in your right hand, which everyone can see is unloaded, and the slip in your left.
The gun will not have pointed at anyone at any point and if there was accidently a cartridge left in it, the operation was conducted safely and responsibly. When replacing the gun, lower the muzzles of the open gun into the slip, then close the gun and fasten the zip.
When taking a gun from a rack, pick it up by the forend with your left hand, so that it is pointing straight up and there’s nothing near the trigger. Before you turn around, open the gun, still pointing straight up – if there was anything in it, it would have dropped out. Throughout the process, the gun points straight up and poses no threat to anyone. Placing the gun back in the rack, keep it pointed straight up and open, as you place the gun in the rack, close it so it is visibly safe until the last possible moment.
When moving around with a gun not in a slip, it should be open at all times. If you see someone with a closed gun – maybe because of rain – as shooters we should have the confidence to ask them to open the gun immediately. There can be no compromises on safety, no matter who the owner of the gun is or how ‘important’ they may be. Ground owners and shoot organisers have a role to play in ensuring safe behaviour and gun handling, and should not tolerate unsafe handling.
One of my least pleasant moments is turning round to find someone with a closed gun having a practice swing at a target and pointing the gun at me. They usually say “but it’s not loaded” – I don’t care!
Safe shooting is no accident – it comes from thoughtful safe behaviour.