General Hunting Tips

Preparing For The Hunt: How To Carry Hunting Rifles Safely

A rifle laying on a deer, carry hunting rifles safely concept.

Whether you're a seasoned hunter or a novice heading out for your first hunt, firearm safety will always be a top priority. 

Competent hunters do everything they can to mitigate risks and prevent accidents when rifle hunting. This involves the way and strategies they employ to use, carry, and transport their rifles

Here's how to carry a hunting rifle safely when out in the field. 

Two hunters in blaze orange holding firearms, carrying hunting rifles safely concept.

The Basics of Firearm Safety

All gun owners must abide by universal safety rules. In some branches of the armed forces, this is known as the "treat, never, keep, and keep" rules. 

These rules are:

  1. Treat every firearm as if it's loaded at all times. 
  2. Never point your gun at anything you don't plan on firing at.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to fire and have your sights lined up at your intended target.
  4. Keep your safety on until you want to fire.

Lastly, it's important to note that you should always keep your rifle unloaded until you're ready to fire. This ensures that you have full control over your firearm and minimizes the risk of accidents. 

Rifle Handling Techniques

Comfort, landscape, safety, and preference all play a role when carrying rifles. 

While hunting, you generally traverse a landscape, including walking, climbing, and crossing obstacles. Carry aids such as a rifle sling, a backpack with a hip belt for weight distribution, or a scabbard that can also be attached to the backpack are all popular and safe options. 

A carry aid helps ensure the rifle is pointed up or down at a safe 90-degree angle. 

Using a Rifle Sling

The rifle sling is a popular option for carrying firearms. It keeps the rifle pointing in a safe direction and provides greater control over the gun while moving through the landscape. 

Think of a sling as a functional holster, holding the rifle tightly to your body until you are ready to take your shot. 

There are three types of rifle sling designs available: 

  1. Single-Point Slings: This sling attaches at a single point, usually on the rear of the receiver or buffer tube, and comprises two loops. This sling type facilitates faster shoulder transitions and is less likely to cause tangles. However, it is less stable, meaning it is not a comfortable option for long-range hunts and climbing.

  2. Two-Point Sling: A two-point sling attaches at two points on the weapon, commonly near the front of the trigger and the stock. Similarly to a single-point option, this is a hands-free carry option, meaning you can distribute the weight evenly and hold it close to your body, making it a great choice for a more extended carry period. The rifle is commonly carried with the muzzle facing down against the torso or on the back. 

  3. Three-Point Sling: The three-point sling is a more advanced option that attaches to the rifle at three points. While highly adaptable and great for keeping the gun in place, especially during long periods, it takes some getting used to and is certainly prone to tangle. 

How to carry hunting rifles will depend on personal preference, hunt duration, and experience. In addition, there's a great range of variation within these types, such as materials used (synthetic, natural), design (black, camouflage), adjustability and functionality (quick release), and much more. 

Determining the suitable sling requires consideration of comfort, carry needs, and the environment in which you will be hunting. 

Remember: When crossing obstacles or fences, always unload your firearm, double-check that it is empty, pass it through the fence, and lay it on the ground with the muzzle facing safely before crossing through. 

A whitetail buck on the other side of a fence, carrying hunting rifles safely concept.

Safe Loading and Unloading Procedures

Following our golden rules above, additional safety procedures must be applied, especially when loading and unloading rifles.

Familiarity with your firearm is crucial, and it's important to remember that every firearm has specific loading and unloading procedures. 

Unload Your Firearm When Not In Use

Always ensure your rifle is unloaded before handling it. This includes checking the firearm when receiving a gun from somebody – even if they've assured you it is unloaded. 

To check the firearm is unloaded, open the action and check the chamber, receiver, and magazine to ensure they do not contain any ammunition. Check and then double-check, and never make assumptions about the rifle. 

An experienced hunter will always inspect a weapon as the first step. 

Be Sure of Your Target Before Loading

Ensure your target, engage the safety, and keep your finger off the trigger. 

Before loading, you should be sure of what you're aiming at and what is beyond that point. Keep the safety engaged and your finger off the trigger until you're ready to fire. 

Check that your ammunition is the right caliber and is not water-damaged before loading it into the chamber, and double-check that you can identify the whole animal. 

Empty the Magazine

Empty the magazine, open the action, and run the action. Then, double-check the chamber and magazine to ensure the rifle is unloaded before handling it and preparing to move. 

Situational Awareness and Communication 

Vigilance and awareness are essential when carrying hunting rifles. When hunting, this means understanding the environment and type of terrain you'll be operating in. 

In the field, you should constantly analyze the landscape for other hunters, dogs, obstacles, and wildlife. If hunting with partners, always know how many people you are hunting with and any animals in use, and always keep a head count going. 

Also, a shooting line of fire and predetermined fire zones should be established to prevent accidents. Always trust your instincts; if something feels off, there's another shot. 

As a responsible hunter, you must always maintain the highest standards of safety and personal accountability. Lead by example and share knowledge and insights with new hunters, especially regarding gun safety and protocols. 

A hunter aiming a firearm, how to carry a hunting rifle safely.

Hunter Safety Is On You (but Hunter-Ed Can Help)

You can never have enough gun safety training, practice, and refreshers. If you're new to hunting or firearms or feel like it's been a while since you've had a refresher, consider taking a hunter safety course from Hunter-Ed.

From adopting the right carry positions to using situational awareness and communication, every component plays its part in maintaining the highest standard of gun safety. While the tips in this blog should help you in the field, there's much more to learn about staying safe in the field! 

state-approved course through Hunter-Ed covers these basics and more, including helping you stay current with the latest laws, restrictions, and regulations for hunting in your area. So, before the season opens, make sure you're certified. Find the course for your state and start learning.