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The L.P.H. Companion: FIREARMS, Part 1: Safety & Firearms

By Gianni (Gee) Bauce

This is the first in a series of articles on firearms with specific reference to the Firearms syllabus of the Learner Hunters/Guides exams. The topics to be covered in separate posts are:

Part 1 – Safety and Firearms

Part 2 – Types of Firearm & the Parts of a Firearm

Part 3 – Ammunition

Part 4 – Ballistics

Part 5 – The Use and Care of Firearms

Part 6 – Firearms & the Law

A guide or a hunter must be able to handle a firearm in an efficient and safe manner, during everyday work as well as during a contact situation with potentially dangerous game, in a manner that effectively prevents risk of injury to humans.

Picture: Gianni Bauce


Newspaper report, “A mother has been charged after accidentally shooting her 5-year-old son while trying to shoot a dog that was running across the street in north Houston, according to police.”

There is a reason that a firearm is defined as a “lethal barrelled weapon”. A firearm is entirely designed to kill. It is therefore imperative that the use of firearms should be carefully regulated to ensure that such killing (or serious injury) does not take place accidentally. When handling firearms, safety is of paramount importance. But safety rules alone cannot prevent accidents.

Firearm accidents are prevented only if rules are applied all the time by people who use firearms, without exceptions.

Firearms safety rules are preceded by words “Always” or “Never” and should be followed automatically by everyone at all times.

There are two primary objectives of firearm safety rules:

  1. To prevent any “Accidental Discharge” – when a firearm is discharged or a bullet is fired unintentionally (and therefore in an uncontrolled manner)

2. To ensure the “Safe Direction” of the pointing of the muzzle (the mouth of the barrel) to ensure that in the event of an accidental discharge, no person shall be injured or killed.


These are the over-arching safety considerations in relation to firearms.

  • Always treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
  • When in doubt, do not fire.
  • Never use firearms when it is possible to achieve your objective by other means.


These are rules that must be followed in the use of firearms, all the time, without exception. There are in fact more than ten, but the name “TEN Commandments” refers to the Bible Commandments, in order to stress the importance of the rules.

All these rules are summed up in the first and most important one:

Always treat every firearm as if it is loaded.

To support this main rule:

  • Always control the direction of the muzzle;
  • Never point a weapon at anything unless you intend to shoot it;
  • Always be sure of your target and take into account what lies behind it, before pulling the trigger. (A bullet is capable of travelling a distance up to 2 km; you must therefore take into account where the bullet would come to rest in case you miss your intended target or if the bullet passes through the target.)
  • Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire;
  • Never climb a fence or a tree or jump into or over a ditch with a loaded firearm;
  • Never pull a firearm towards you by the muzzle;
  • Never shoot at a flat hard surface, including water. (The bouncing of a bullet against a hard surface can cause it to change trajectory in an unpredictable way, still maintaining energy – the technical term is the French word “richochet”  -pronounced “rick – oh- shay”)
  • Always avoid alcohol and drugs before or during shooting;
  • Always unload a firearm before handling it over to someone and never accept a loaded firearm from someone;
  • Always ensure the weapon is in perfect working order and always be sure that the barrel and action are clear of obstructions;
  • Always unload guns when not in use;
  • Always store your guns and ammunition in different places;
  • Always store your guns and ammunition so that they cannot be accessed by children and unreliable adults.

When you hand over a rifle:

  • Breech must be open;
  • Small finger is used to depress the magazine follower and inserted into the chamber to check that there is no round left in the chamber;
  • This is done in full view of the receiver, who is told, “Rifle safe!”.

(You declare the firearm safe, but the receiver must not take it for granted, and he must check again.)

When you receive a rifle:

  • Ensure that the magazine is empty and use the little finger to check the chamber;
  • Whilst holding the rifle upright with breech open, pull the trigger;
  • Holding the trigger, slide the bolt forward to close and lock the bolt down, to gently release the firing pin;
  • Then, holding the rifle with both hands in a upright position away from the body, pull the trigger again (as a double check).


All the above Commandments apply all the time. In addition the following precautions should be observed in the field.

  1. Carry out a general safety check every time you are about to set off into the bush. Check the barrel for any obstruction.
  2. Carry and handle your own weapon. (See below for safe carrying diagrams)
  3. Take care of your weapon and ensure it is not dropped, knocked or bumped. Should anu of these happen, carry out your general safety check again.
  4. Never rest the muzzle on your foot or place your hands over the muzzle.
  5. When guiding load your weapon only when a dangerous situation is perceived to be developing. Do not chamber a round or cock and lock it before setting out on a walk.
  6. When hunting, always load, cock and lock your rifle before leaving the vehicle.
  7. Identify your target with 100% certainty. Ensure that you do not shoot other animals or people by mistake, especially when shooting at moving targets.
  8. Warn your group if possible before firing.

Carrying your firearm

You will find more discussion of carrying firearms in Part 5 of this series.

Facing a Charge

 In a serious or critical encounter with a dangerous animal, where your rifle may be the difference between life and death for you and your clients, the following are essential:

  • As always, rifle and ammunition should be well maintained and clean.
  • Know and practice the correct drill for interpreting and facing a charge (taking into account people and animals) as well as swift and comfortable operation of the weapon.
  • Carry a rifle that is suitable for the job (calibre and type) – minimum .375 H&H.
  • Carry ammunition which is suitable for the rifle and the job (calibre, design, material, etc.).
  • Be able to deal with and manage a malfunction.
  • Understand correct, accurate shot placement for destroying the brain of the charging animal.

You might be interested in the following table in this regard.

Gianni Bauce

Gee Bauce - Safari guide specialising in guiding for Italian parties, and author of books on a wide variety of topics, including LPH support material.

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