Carrying Your Shotgun
Safe Firearm Handling
One of the requirements to apply for a firearms licence in Australia is an approved Firearms Safety Training Course. Safe carriage and handling is a major part of firearms safety and is covered in these training courses.
One good piece of advice when handling firearms: they should always be handled as if loaded. This applies even if the firearm has been unloaded and the barrels proven empty. Good safety and confidence with handling a shotgun comes with practice and keeping good habits, such as:
- Immediately open any shotgun you handle, to ensure that it is not loaded
- Avoid putting your fingers on the trigger if you are simply handling the firearm (not firing)
- Maintain awareness of where the muzzle is pointed at all times
- Always carry a shotgun in a way that allows others to clearly see that the firearm is not loaded
- Unload a shotgun as soon as you are able – never carry it loaded
- Only load a shotgun once you are at the spot you intend to fire from.
Shotguns do not have the same internal firing pin locks that feature on modern rifles. If the gun is closed with a shell in the chamber, a sharp knock or jolt at either end of the gun, to the breech, or to the barrel can cause the pins to jump against their springs and the gun may fire.
Several unintended discharges have occurred when loaded shotguns have been dropped or knocked over.
Shotguns should never be left loaded when unattended, even if just for a few seconds.
Carrying a Shotgun
While on foot, shotguns can be transported and carried safely by:
- Using the crook of your arm to carry and secure the broken, open firearm,
- Dismantling the firearm and transporting it in a case, or
- Storing the unloaded firearm muzzle-down in a gun slip.
Using a Gun Slip
Slings on shotguns are normally not permitted on shooting ranges. The preferred carriage method is with the gun broken and open, or in a suitable gun slip.
Firearms in gun slips should be carried over your shoulder using the slip’s shoulder strap or sling, with the muzzle pointing down. Gun slips usually only have zippers or fastenings at the stock/butt end, and carrying the firearm muzzle-down will prevent the firearm falling out if the zipper or fastening should come undone.
When placing a shotgun into a gun slip, you should slide the barrels of the shotgun into the slip while the gun is open, checking the breech as you go. As you slide the barrels forward into the gun slip, close the shotgun.
When removing a shotgun from a gun slip, you should reverse this action, opening the gun as you extract it, ensuring that it is empty and unloaded.
When not in a gun slip or case, or being actively used, shotguns should be broken and open at all times, and can be carried over the crook of your arm. Experienced shooters may carry open shotguns over their shoulder or balanced on the toe of their boot. These carriage methods may not be as secure as carriage over the crook of your arm. However you carry your broken, open shotgun, you should:
- Be comfortable and confident with carrying the shotgun in the chosen manner, with no undue fatigue.
- Be aware of where the different parts of the firearm are – muzzle direction, and being aware of the butt or stock to avoid injury or damage.
- Ensure that you and those around you can see the breech and barrels, to confirm the firearm is unloaded.
Never pass a closed shotgun to another person. Before you hand a shotgun to someone else, you should:
- Open the firearm, and
- Check the firearm is empty and the barrels clear.
When you hand the shotgun to another person:
- Make sure the shotgun is open and empty
- Present the stock first, so the recipient can confirm the firearm is empty
- Make sure the muzzle is in a safe direction, not pointing at yourself, the recipient, or anyone else.
Crossing Fences and other Obstacles
While out hunting, or even at some clay target ranges, you may have to move over a fence or some other obstacle (such as fallen trees). Do not attempt to carry the firearm over with you as you cross the obstacle.
To cross an obstacle when you are on your own:
- Open the firearm, checking it is empty and unloaded, and the barrels clear.
- Securely place the firearm in a place where you will be able to reach it from the other side of the obstacle (this can be on the ground, or leaned against a support with the muzzle pointing up). Ensure that the firearm will not slip, fall, or be knocked over as you traverse the obstacle.
- Cross the obstacle, making sure you have firm footing on the other side.
- Retrieve the firearm, ensuring that the muzzle is pointing in a safe direction at all times.
- Check that the firearm is empty and unloaded and the barrels clear before moving off.
To cross an obstacle with another person:
- The first person to cross (Person 1) passes their open, empty firearm to the next person (Person 2).
- Person 2 holds the firearm(s) open, empty, and pointed in a safe direction while Person 1 traverses the obstacle.
- Once Person 1 is over the obstacle and has firm footing on the other side, Person 2 passes the firearm(s) over the obstacle, ensuring that the firearm(s) are open, empty, and pointed in a safe direction at all times.
- Person 2 traverses the obstacle.
- Person 1 then safely returns Person 2’s firearm. Everyone should check that their firearms are empty and unloaded before securing them for carriage and moving off.