Firearm Safety in the Field
When do you load your firearm? That is, when do you chamber a round from the magazine into the action? There's no rule to tell you exactly when it is the right time. It depends on the situation as well as your experience and skill. Obviously, you never want to have a round chambered until you are actually hunting away from buildings and vehicles. However, if you wait until you are about to shoot, then the noise of loading may spook the animal. Also you may not focus your full attention on loading your gun safely since you are looking to see what the animal is doing. A reasonable and safe compromise is to chamber a round with the safety of the firearm on “safe” when you get close to an area where you expect to find game. Never walk around with a loaded firearm and the safety in the “fire” position.
A fall or stumble while hunting with a firearm can lead to severe injury or even death. To minimize the likelihood of a fall or stumble, follow these guidelines:
- Never jump or run while carrying a loaded firearm.
- Always unload your firearm when on poor footing such as loose rock, steep hillsides, or when crossing obstacles such as fences, streams, or ditches.
- Do not try to cross a stream by walking on a fallen log! Find another place to cross or wade if possible.
- Wear proper footgear! Deep treaded lace-up hunting boots provide good traction and ankle support.
- If you do stumble or fall, make every effort to control the firearm and maintain muzzle control so that it is pointing away from you and your hunting companions. After a fall, point the firearm in a safe direction, open the action, unload the firearm, and check for any barrel obstructions. Even a tiny amount of mud, snow, or other debris can be extremely dangerous. Placing one layer of adhesive tape over the muzzle keeps snow and dirt out.
Firearms in Tree Stands
Follow these steps to get your firearm safely into and out of a tree stand:
- Unload your firearm, and open the action. PROVE it safe.
- Lay it on the ground with the muzzle slightly elevated to prevent dirt and debris from getting into the barrel.
- Tie a short rope or cord around the stock, and attach the other end to the barrel. This “bridle” will give you a means to attach your haul line. If your firearm has a sling, use it instead.
- Tie or attach the haul line securely to the sling or bridle so that the firearm hangs with the muzzle pointed down. Make sure the haul line is a bit longer than the height of the tree stand above the ground.
- Slip the end of the haul line through your belt. Leave it untied so that it can pull free if you fall.
- Put on your fall-arrest system, secure yourself to the tree, and climb to your stand.
- Once you are secure in your tree stand, haul up the firearm. Untie the haul line and bridle.
- Check the firearm barrel for obstructions. Reload it.
- To lower the firearm, attach the haul line the same way you did when bringing the firearm up. Gently lower the firearm to the ground on the opposite side of the tree from your climbing route. Once you are back on the ground, check the barrel for obstructions.