Safety mechanisms, who uses them?


Recently I was having a discussion with a friend about which actions we prefer for our bolt rifles. I was somewhat surprised when he mentioned his preference, not because it was a Ruger Mk2 but because one his reasons for favouring it was due to its superior safety mechanism over other models (in his opinion of course).

Remington’s model 700 safety lever

That got me thinking about the safeties on my rifles and I have to admit that I don’t really know that much about how they work. I know there are safeties that lock the bolt and others that lock the trigger sear, but I’d probably have go and look at the rifle to know which ones are which. Some rifles have been in my safe for nearly 15 years and I wouldn’t know off the top of my head which mechanism they have.

My lack of knowledge doesn’t come from lack of use of the rifles but more from never using the safeties themselves. I was taught gun handling from someone who never used (and therefor never relied on) a guns safety so I guess it was just a normal process that I picked up some of his ideas. The bolt was either cocked or it wasn’t and coupled with always having the muzzle pointing in a safe direction meant the rifle was as safe as humanly possible.

Each to their own of course and as long as a safety is not solely relied on then I have no problems with which method shooters prefer to use.

Recently I was watching a friend get ready to take a shot on a long range Rabbit. He got down into a prone position and used his bipod to get himself steady. He then cycled a round into the chamber and activated the safety. Once he was on target he deactivated the safety and squeezed the shot off. Nothing out of the normal there but if it was me I would of cycled the bolt when I was roughly on target and then simply squeezed the trigger.

The tang safety on a Ruger Mk1

Both methods are a safe practise in this instance but what about if we change the situation to hunting heavy timber for pigs? Any shots taken are going to be quick and a rifle needs to be in your hands and almost ready to go. Some shooters might chamber a round and activate their safety which means that at the flick of a switch they are ready to shoot. Providing they keep the muzzle in a safe direction they are convinced that their rifle is safe.

The safety lever on this CZ Model 2E is located on the the bolt itself!

In this instance I prefer to push the bolt forward so that it grabs (or pushes) a cartridge but not so far forward that it’s fully chambered. As the rifle is being cradled there’s no chance of the bolt opening and ejecting the cartridge and the firing pin will not be activated until the bolt is fully closed. I find that it’s now a natural movement to close the bolt as the rifle is being lifted to the shoulder and I feel no disadvantage in how quickly I get my shot off.

So what’s the point of this article you may be wondering? Well it’s basically to demonstrate that we each need to establish our own safe methods of firearm handling. What works for some people may not work for you and in this instance you need to adapt to a method that does. Always put some thought into others ideas but ultimately it’s up to you to ensure the safety of yourself and fellow shooters.

20 thoughts on “Safety mechanisms, who uses them?”

  1. Thats an interesting point. I was always taught to use the safety but never to rely on it, and even now i always use it. I had a “friend” who was with me doing a little bit of plinking with a diana mod.34 .177, and he thought it would be funny to aim at my feet and pretend to shoot me to make me dance, classic cowboy style, i said something along the lines of “what in the hell are you doing you idiot”, to which he replied “don’t worry, the safety’s on” and then proceeded to (accidentally?) squeeze the trigger, which sent a high velocity piece of lead towards my foot, which entered my shoe, nicked the side of my foot (leaving only a mild scratch luckily) and exited the sole, turns out the safety was never on, 10mm further and i would have been going to an emergency room. Needless to say he was severely reprimanded and hasnt shot with me since, and i tell that story to impress upon people that A SAFETY IS NOT FOOLPROOF, safety is all up to the shooter.

  2. No such thing as a Mk1 Ruger. It’s an M77 as pictured.
    Your method of partly chambering a round is (in my opinion) extremely dangerous. A trip and fall could see a bolt handle cammed shut and you rolling around with a loaded rifle.

  3. Never trust a safety to be safe. Treat every firearm as if it is loaded and you will be safe.
    I’m in your camp for the most part Jase.

  4. I disagree Fred. It would be much easier to fall and flick a safety lever over than it would be to fall and force the bolt forward and then fully down.

    I’m not saying that’s how I keep the rifle at all times whilst hunting but if I’m sneaking up on something I find it works for me.

    Thanks for the advice on the M77, my apologies if I confused anyone!

  5. The safety only gets in the way on my bolt action…
    considering to take it off you have to have the streangth of 1000 men…
    (its a mosin nagant)

    And on my .22 it still only gets in the way… if im not taking a shot then there is simply no round in the chamber.

    i might change when i get new rifles but until then no round in the chamber and keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

  6. I knew a bloke who would cock his .30-06 and fire it into the air (without warning and sometimes behind us) to ensure it was safe. Needless to say, this was his first and only trip with us. I agree with Ed, it’s either cocked right before you shoot or not cocked at all.

  7. I was taught the same thing about using the safety, never trust them. Use them, just don’t trust them. Just like you never trust an ‘unloaded’ firearm.

    JCV hit the nail on the head with his story, I have a near identical story where an ‘unloaded’ air rifle with the ‘safety on’ shot a friend in the foot.

    I use my safety frequently but briefly. The time between closing the bolt and pulling the trigger.

  8. I find that those who maintain that you should never use a safety, have done very little hunting with shotguns (particularly self-loaders) , or with rifles in situations where snap-shooting is required.

    Jason is incorrect. Walking with a bolt half-closed requires you to physically control the bolt-handle at all times. Lose control of it, or even have your arm bumped in the fall, and your action is most likely to become fully open or fully closed. The safety is less likely to be knocked on, being smaller.

    Carrying a rifle with the action open, or partly open, through scrub is absolutely begging to have loose material fall into either action or chamber… which at best results in a jam.

    If you must rely on something other than sensible gun-handling for safety in those situations requiring the ability to shoot instantaneously, then a better choice is probably a lever-action, carried with the hammer at half-cock.

  9. I’m not sure I follow there Pete. You’d prefer to take a fall with a cocked rifle and put your faith in that the sear or bolt stop won’t disengage?

    Personally I’d prefer to take a fall with a non-cocked rifle. Your arm would have to be bumped forwards and held there long enough for a downwards bump to fully cock the rifle. If anything the bolt is most likely to slide backwards.

    Most falls are going to result in the rifle being dropped pretty quickly because of our instinct to use our hands to stop ourselves. I’ve only had a couple of falls and both times the firearm was dropped. In any case your hand is not going to be gripping the bolt handle during a fall.

    I’ve never had any problems with debris getting into a partially closed action.

    I think falls are pretty rare in the field if you compare hours spent walking to the amount of actual falls that occur. It seems that most accidents happen when someone relies on a safety that is both on and functional. That’s another reason why I like a partially closed action because a quick glance at someone’s rifle shows you the rifles status clearly.

    Interesting how many of us have differing opinions and experiences.

  10. Jason, similarly, i don’t use a safety. I’ll either have it empty or worse case i’ll have the bolt 1/5 cocked and my thumb underneath it. I’ve taken many a tumble and bruised that finger but i knew that the rifle could never fire. I’ve lost a few rounds as well. I had a safety that failed once and i’ll never trust one. As for using any type of auto, i think they are in a category of their own and the safety is necessary. Levers or pumps i’ll happily make some extra noise in racking the round as opposed to trusting a safety. Each to their own as long as every firearms is treated as loaded and all precautions are taken.

  11. With all due respect mate, if you don’t know how to operate the safety catch on rifles you have owned for 15 years, I really wouldn’t want you walking behind me out in the field

  12. Ur kidding right cruisey! Maybe you should re-read the original post and point out at which stage I said I didn’t know how to operate one!

    Do I know off the top of my head how the mechanism works for each rifle I’ve owned, ie trigger lock, bolt lock, sear lock etc…. nope, not really.

    So I guess that makes me an unsafe shooter in your opinion.

  13. PeteW,

    I know what you mean about shotguns. Yes, I do carry with the safety on and then flick it off to snap shoot bunnies. Where possible, I prefer to break it open.

    The lever gun with it’s “half cock” safety position is another matter. I prefer to keep rounds out of the chamber or the breech open but, will use the half cocked position when anticipating a target presenting itself.

    Still don’t trust them but will use them.

  14. Absolutely not.
    Carrying a rifle with a partly chambered round is a recipe for a disaster. Like I said, trip and fall could see you with a hot gun as the bolt cams forward, worst case scenario it jumps the sear and goes off before fully in battery. Alternatively,you have a chambered round, pin resting on primer… also bad.

    Guesswork as to whether the bolt slides back or forwards?
    No thanks!

  15. A gun is either loaded or unloaded meaning NO round in chamber until your ready to shoot and the safety depends on the nut behind the trigger

    rule 1 A gun is always loaded
    rule 2 Dont point a gun at anything unless you intend to shoot it
    rule 3 DONT put your finger until your ready to shoot

    The other ten comments are just common sense

  16. Sorry my kids just corrected me

    rule 1 treat a gun as its always loaded ‘dad’

    rule 2 and 3 are correct
    you have to Love them

    ps I never use or trust the safety

  17. I use the safety catches on my rifles & it becomes instinctive, I know if it is off or on by feel.

    If you have never used the safety on your rifles it is fair to say then that you are unfamiliar with their function, perhaps my wording above was a bit harsh.

    Not keen on having someone behind me with a half chambered round though.

    I think it is a mistake to not use a feature that has been purposely designed to make the firearm “safe”, this, of course is only my opinion.

    As others have said though, the ultimate responsibility for safety is the bloke behind the trigger

  18. i too never trust a safety device on a firearm..NEVER NEVER…i have had a few guns still go off on full safety.
    i use bolt actions and the best safety is an open bolt and point to the ground.this is automatic for me and a few mates i shoot with.

  19. think of it this way.
    if you travel with bolt open, it would require 2-3 actions to result in a reaction. 1 the bolt would have to close, and 2 the trigger depressed, as well as possibly feed the bolt in the first instance.

    Further to this all responsible shooting practices should be observed, it should be at the top of your mind above all other factors and events taking place.

    If you are just travelling with only relying on the safety, and you fall, it requires only 1 action to result in a reaction. Also if the safety fails to engage, due to any number of reasons, none the least of which poor maintenance, well you have no safety!

  20. I tend to agree with justin here, I own rifles and a couple of shotguns, the rifles are bolt and lever, with the bolt action when being carried the bolt is up and open at all times unless shooting.With the lever action its adifferent matter i would never trust the safety on these ever. when starting out the mag is loaded with the action closed and hammer down [think hunting pigs in heavy scrub] i know the pigs can come out quick but that lever is pretty quick too it only takes a second to crank one into the breach, once the first shot has been taken you then have a couple of choices, 1 leave the spent case in the breach hammer down and wait for next pig or 2 crank lever again loading breach then set hammer at quarter cock [this is for the marlin]. i dont really like to do number 2 option because the gun is actusally loaded so i only take this option when by myself.
    Now with shotguns its easy the only safe shotgun is one that is broken open, end of story safeties on shotguns are a recipe for disaster i have seen them fail on brand new guns. one of mine which i use for clay target has had the safety disengaged permanently, if they are broken open they are safe they cannot possibly fire. I have seen a few accidents with empty closed shotguns with the safety on, thankfully none where anyone was hurt and i will never be convinced that a safety on a shotgun is a good idea.Lastly if two or more shooters are walking together no one ever walks directly behind another we either walk beside each other or more commonly [if 3 or more people] flanked out in a V shape so everyone can see each other with clear rules as to the direction each shooter will shoot in. Safety is paramout and fools are not tolerated.

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