10 essential air rifle shooting safety rules

A Bagpuss toy behind a yellow air rifle target to depict the safety rule of awareness of what's behind the target

Always be aware of what is behind the target - Credit: Archant

Gary Chillingworth lists the 10 essential air rifle safety rules that all airgun shooters should follow to keep themselves and others safe while shooting

Hello everyone! OK, I’m sorry, I know last month I promised to have part two of the rangefinding article this month, but I have run into a problem. What I need to do is take photographs through my scope and no matter what I do, I can’t seem to get accurate pictures. Can any of you advise me on how to do it without spending hundreds of pounds on scope cameras? If you can, please drop me an email at garychillingworth36@gmail.com.

This month, I am going to answer a question sent to me on our new YouTube channel, Shooting & Country TV and which we have been discussing at length on ‘lifeattherange’ on facebook. The viewer asked: ‘Hi Gary, Can you make a video on the basics of gun safety, a piece that would be good for new shooters and a refresher for the more experienced?’

This is a great idea, and demonstrating safe shooting safety is something that a lot of us do naturally, but we could all do with a top-up of knowledge every now and then. Below are 10 air rifle safety rules, and here is my video going into a little more depth with 15 safety rules... or points. You can also watch that video at the bottom of this page!

A man shooting a green air rifle in the woods holding his finger off the trigger, alongside it, for safety reasons

Finger off the trigger until its time to shoot - Credit: Archant

Rule no 1: Every gun is loaded
One of my biggest bugbears is people handing you a rifle and saying, ‘It’s not loaded’. This is a fair statement, but never, ever trust it! Every gun is loaded until you have proved otherwise. It takes a few seconds to crack the breech and check, and no one will ever mind you having a look. Also, my old editor, Phill Price, came up with a brilliant suggestion – Always check your gun when it goes into and comes out of a cabinet or storage. This is something I had never done, but something I do now. So – all guns are loaded, until proved to be otherwise.

Rule no 2: Never point the rifle at something you don’t want to shoot.
This is so important. Always think about your barrel and where it’s pointing. Unless the rifle is pointing over the firing line, the barrel should always be pointed safely at the floor. Now, for those of you who are ex-military, or shoot powder burners, this will seem odd, but for a sub-12 ft.lbs. rifle, there is very little danger that a discharge into the ground at close range could ricochet and cause harm. When you approach the shooting line, it’s good practice to place your bag pointing toward the firing line, so when you take the gun out, it’s automatically pointing down range. Liz Osman also made a great suggestion – Always think about what you are doing with your rifle when getting up and down from a peg or lane.

Rule no 3: Finger off the trigger.
There is only one time that your finger should be on the trigger, and that is just before you take the shot. I have a very specific system for what I do; I line up the shot and only when my crosshairs are in the kill zone, do I place my finger on the trigger, and over the years, this has earned me valuable points. I guarantee that one day you will be lying down and it will be cold and wet, your fingers will be numb, and when you go to place your finger on the trigger, the gun will go off. You might have nudged it, or had a twitch, or just not felt the trigger, but the pellet is gone. However, if your crosshairs are in the kill, the target might fall, or you should at least get a plate. So, finger off the trigger until cross hairs are in the kill.

Rule no 4: What’s behind the target?
This is as much for airgunners as it is for powder burners. If you are shooting HFT, you should be on a course where you are expected to miss, so there is safe ground behind the target. However, if you are hunting, training or shooting in an area that is unknown to you, always think, ‘If I miss, where will my pellet land? If I’m shooting high in a tree, could my pellet come down on a road or a footpath?’ So, look beyond the target, always have a backstop and shoot appropriately.

Rule no 5: Treat all rifles and pistols with respect.
This is a weapon, and if it is disrespected it could kill you or someone else. A 12 ft.lbs. air rifle will blow through a metal can of kidney beans at 40 yards with ease. It will shoot through a fence panel; it will kill a small animal, and if you hit a person in the right place, you could kill them. It may be a pellet gun, but it’s still a gun, so if you see a shooter being unsafe, bring it to their attention and if they don’t like it, speak to the range officer or a marshal. Luckily, our sport is incredibly safe and it’s only through people like you who are reading this, that the sport will stay that way.

Rule no 6: Never trust a safety catch.
Most modern rifles have safety catches and even though I applaud the use of these, never trust them. I have known safetys to fail. Once, I had a gun go off very close to me and the chap said, ‘Sorry, the safety was on.’ Luckily, it wasn’t loaded, but because he nudged the trigger, it went off and I needed new underwear. So, use the safety, but never every trust it because they do fail.

Rule no 7: Be aware of your surroundings.
If you are on a range, know the shooting procedures. Do they use whistles of klaxons for ceasefires? Do they have a flag system? Is the ground soft or stony? If you have to discharge safely into the ground, could the pellet come back at you? Know where the first-aid kit is, and the entrances and exits of the range. 
If you are out hunting, know where the footpaths and roads are. Can you see areas that have been trampled by dog walkers, who are taking short-cuts where they shouldn’t be? Let someone know where you are going to be, and how long you will be out. Load what3words on your phone because this free app will pinpoint your location within three metres and will help people to get to you if you are hurt.

Rule no 8: Treat air tanks with respect.
Air tanks for PCPs contain a huge amount of potential energy and must always be treated with care. Having one rolling around in the boot of a car if very unsafe. God forbid, if you have an accident and a car fire, you must tell the fire brigade that you have a air tank in the boot because an exploding 12ltr 300 bar tank will rip through a car – and a fireman.
Make sure your tanks are in test and that the whips used to fill the guns are undamaged and in good condition. Fill your guns slowly and always get them filled from a reputable filling station.

Rule no 9: Store your gun safely.
When you have finished shooting, you must place our rifles and pistols out of reach of under 18s. You can use a gun cabinet, a locked case, or even chain your rifles to a post, by way of a bike lock. If you have to store them under the bed or in a cupboard, use trigger locks, and chain them to the bed frame. Try to conceal them and do your best not to advertise their presence.

Rule no 10: Look after each other.
If you see someone doing something wrong, guide them and help them. There is never any need to be rude. However, if they are pointing a gun the wrong way, a raised voice is sometimes called for because that’s a safety issue. 
Well, these are 10 rules to help us stay safe whilst shooting. If you have any more, please let me know and maybe we can do a ‘part two’. Stay safe, shoot straight and I promise that next month we will conclude the rangefinding review.