The Basic Rules of Firearm Safety
As you learn these rules, keep in mind that they encompass a number of safe handling practices.
Treat Every Firearm as if it Were Loaded
This is the cardinal rule of firearm safety. Many firearm incidents occur when a person assumes the firearm they are holding is not loaded. Every single time you pick up a firearm treat it as if it were loaded. Open the action and check to see whether ammunition is present. When another hunter hands you a firearm, do not accept it unless the firearm is unloaded and the action is open and visible.
Keep the Muzzle Pointed in a Safe Direction
It is your responsibility to always control the muzzle of your firearm and ensure it is pointed in a safe direction. This rule should be followed at ALL times, even if the firearm is unloaded or in a protective case. If you remember and obey this rule, you will not have to worry about hurting any person or damaging property.
Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger
Safe hunters always protect the trigger. Your finger should be inside the trigger guard and on the trigger only after you have identified your target - as well as what's in front of and beyond that target.
Only point the muzzle at something when you intend to take a shot
Never joke around with a firearm. Never use the scope on your firearm as binoculars and always maintain control over the direction that your firearm is pointing. Do not use the barrel of your firearm as a pointer for giving someone directions.
Making good decisions is part of being a safe hunter. Always identify the target and ensure it is legal and ethical to shoot before your finger goes into the trigger guard and onto the trigger. Take care not to mistake another hunter for a game animal. Always remember that once the trigger is pulled, you cannot call back that bullet. Be sure there is no one in front of or behind the animal that the bullet might hit. Always have a good backstop, such as a dirt mound to stop the bullet. NEVER shoot toward the top of a hill. You cannot be certain about what's on the other side.
Keep firearms unloaded with the action open
There is no reason to have firearms loaded before you are ready to start your hunt. Firearms should always be kept unloaded, with the action open, until you are ready to hunt, and can devote your full attention to the loaded firearm.
When to load or unload firearms
It is perfectly acceptable to walk in the field with a loaded firearm while hunting, provided you are in a situation where you are able to fully control the firearm, and you know where your safe zone of fire is located. However, you should ALWAYS unload your firearm in these situations:
When you approach others (other hunters, people out hiking, the landowner, etc)
When you approach a building, vehicle parking, or any public road
Before you set the firearm down for any reason
Before you cross a fence or any terrain where you might slip or trip (ice, mud, area with lots of rocks or roots, etc)
Before you enter or exit a treestand
Before you retrieve or carry the game animal out of the field
Before you return to camp, to your group, or vehicle