Ultimate Guide to Air Rifle Safety

Ultimate Guide to Air Rifle Safety

The most important part of airgun ownership for the beginner, young or old, is understanding the basic safety rules when operating Air Rifles (or Air Pistols of course). Once learned, they quickly become second-nature and you’ll find the earlier you teach these tips to the beginner, the easier they’ll adopt the practices.

In this article, I’ll cover all the safety aspects of Air Rifle ownership so you can not only have fun but be safe in the process.

Airgun Safety Tips

There are some simple steps to Airgun safety such as always assuming the gun is loaded, only putting your finger on the trigger when ready to fire and ensuring children are well supervised. Follow the below steps (some of them surprising) to ensure you (and your family) are kept safe!

…assume the gun is loaded

If just one piece of advice can be adhered to, this is probably it. Never just assume the gun has been left unloaded. Mistakes can easily be made and we’re all human after all. If you’re using a break-barrel, then lower the barrel an inch and check to see if a pellet has been loaded. With other types of rifles, it might not be so easy but still make the assumption, you’ll soon know if you try and re-cock and insert another pellet.

…keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction

This point ties in quite nicely with the one above. Assume there is a pellet loaded in the breech and the gun is cocked at all times. If you can acquire this habit there will be no risk of you doing it when it is actually loaded. I compare it to a radio DJ! No, hear me out here for a sec. With a Radio DJ, if they swear live on-air they’ll end up in a whole heap of trouble. This can be difficult for them to do so if they’re used to swearing a bit at home so what a lot of them do is to stop swearing when they’re not on-air. This way, they’re out of the habit of swearing and there’s little chance they’ll do it on-air.

So, exactly the same applies to a lot of airgun safety. Make the changes part of your natural routine and it will become second-nature in no-time.

…load and cock your gun only when ready to shoot

This forms part of your basic steps when preparing to shoot. You will eventually not have to think about this at all. Get your target set-up and make sure everything else is in place first. Ensure there’s no one else around and if there are then ensure they are behind you and have eye-protection on (more on this in a sec). Once you have everything ready, you can load your gun with the pellet, and cock it. From here, the only place you’re going to go is in your firing position. Whether that’s the artillery hold or lying down, whatever you prefer is up to you.

…ensure everyone wears glasses

So, here’s a story. Earlier in the year my son was shooting in the garden with his CO2 .177 and having great fun. I was inside, watching out. I wanted to help him with re-arranging some of the targets so between shots I caught his attention and went outside to fix things. I then walked back and behind him before instructing him to continue. He shot a .177 plinker pellet at the target, which wasn’t far away – maybe 30 feet or so. He missed the target and hit the tree behind it. The pellet bounced off that tree and flew back. I was looking slightly sideways at the time and that little pellet hit me just below the ear. It was still traveling at some speed and I was shocked. What was worse, I wasn’t wearing any eye protection. I’d become complacent as, in my many years of shooting, this has never happened before. If that pellet had hit me in the eye, it would have caused damage.

So, I got lucky – I didn’t think that a .177 pellet would still have that much velocity after hitting the tree but it obviously hit it at just the right angle so it absorbed hardly any energy at all.

I won’t be making that mistake again, make sure you don’t! If you need some glasses, look no further than these ones (click to get the latest price). They have awesome reviews and won’t cost you a packet also.

…shoot within your boundaries

If you have a small backyard or garden then you just need to be a little careful where you shoot. You don’t need a lot of space but you do need to be considerate if you have neighbors. If you shoot a pellet and that pellet goes into someone else’s property then you could find yourself in legal hot water.

Make sure you have a good backstop and prevent your pellets from going anywhere except where they’re meant to go!

…have permission from the land-owner

Well, this is trespassing, right? Turn it around and imagine some stranger wanders onto your land with a gun, you’d be pretty happy about it,  right? Of course not and actually, most people, when you approach them and ask if you can shoot pellets on their land, will be perfectly fine about it. People, in general, want to be nice and if you make an effort they will too. Just be courteous and treat others how you’d like to be treated yourself.

…store the guns in a safe place

Remember the assumption that a gun is always loaded and cocked you don’t want to leave it any place where a child could find it and do something bad with it. Ideally, a locked cupboard or safe somewhere but that’s not always possible so just make sure your airgun is hidden and put somewhere that children can’t get at it. Also, if it has a magazine, keep it separate from the airgun. Don’t keep the pellets in the same place as the airgun also and if it’s CO2 powered keep the cartridges separate also. The point being, even if they manage to find their gun it will be as dangerous as a brick without the other things.

Just be sensible and make sure your children (and other people’s children) can’t find them and use them.

…use a safe backstop

I’ve touched on the reasons for this already but the problem with not having a decent metal (or concrete) backstop is you don’t know where the pellets are going to end up. I don’t just mean them whizzing past your target and ending up in the backside of your nearest neighbor. If you’re just shooting into a tree or something equally as absorbing then there’s a good chance the pellet will just either bounce back in your direction (as if someone is shooting at you) or ricochet off in any direction. You will never have a clue where the pellet will end up.

Get yourself something that will absorb the energy of the pellet, obliterating it on impact ideally. That way, it will go nowhere and everyone will be happy.

…use the correct pellet for your gun

Don’t try and stuff a .22 pellet into a .177 breech. I reckon with a hammer you could fit it in but your gun might not appreciate it. Similarly, if you manage to put a .177 caliber pellet into a .22 barrel, it will fit in, albeit loosely. However, when you shoot a lot of the air will rush past the pellet as it’s not a good fit for the barrel so it will leave the muzzle at a low velocity, pointless.

The main harm is done when trying to stuff a higher caliber pellet into a smaller breech and then pulling the trigger, something only beginners will do and this basic step should form part of their basic training.

…engage the safety

Not all my guns have a safety catch so it’s not possible but if yours does then make it one of the last things you disengage before putting your finger on the trigger. Then, make it the first thing you touch after squeezing it. This is something else that will soon, after a few tins of pellets become second nature.

…provide adult supervision for children

However much you think you can trust your children, remember that they are still children. Their brains haven’t fully developed yet and not only can they be annoying but they can still be, errr, children. What that means is that they can be irresponsible and do stupid things. What do you expect? They’re kids!

I’m not saying you need to stand next to them all the time when they’re shooting, they will need some space but just keep an eye on them. They’re more likely to become complacent and over-confident without supervision than adults and they don’t yet understand how dangerous this world we’ve made for them can be.

Watch them from afar, don’t crowd them but remind them if they make a mistake and make sure they’re safe. They’re still your responsibility remember so ensure they do things to the same high standard that you set for yourself.

…suppress your airgun if the noise causes problems

Well, this is true sometimes and you can actually see why. It depends where you live and in what kind of environment. If you’re shooting your Air Rifle in a built-up neighborhood and have something like an AirForce Talon SS (without the suppressor) then you’re going to scare the hell out of anyone nearby. Not just people but their pets and as soon as you start upsetting people you can start to get problems, which can make things a bit stressful.

Do everything you can to keep your neighbors happy and if that means getting a silencer for your somewhat excitable Air Rifle then just do it. Your neighbors will appreciate it, their pets will appreciate it and because they won’t be hassling you about the noise all the time, you’ll end up appreciating it also.


…ensure everyone remains behind the shooter

You don’t want to be able to see anyone in your peripheral vision really. Imagine a line that’s been drawn where your trigger-finger is, perpendicular to the direction you’re firing. If there’s anyone else out there that’s shooting, they should be behind this line. It’s one less thing to worry about and ensures the right level of discipline is being applied.

…keep the barrel clear (don’t stick it in the dirt)

It’s not a walking stick 🙂 Sometimes people like to point at things with whatever’s in their hands, in this case, it might be an Air Rifle. Or, you might be holding it a bit low and then, splosh, the muzzle gets a visit to the mud. It does happen and it’s no big deal but just make sure it’s cleaned afterwards, before firing your next pellet.

Use a few cleaning pellets or a pull-through (I hope you have one with you!) and get rid of whatever’s in there. Remember, don’t be tempted to look up the barrel – look down it from the breech end if you must. Another thing that may help you out is some compressed air. It’s probably unlikely you’ll have some if you’re out and about but if you’re at home, these things can be very useful.

…ensure you follow CO2/Compressed Air safety guidelines

Just make sure you don’t do anything stupid when working with carbon dioxide. You want to ensure that any air tanks are secure and can’t tip over. It’s unlikely, but if you damage a value then your compressed air tank would very quickly turn into a smaller version of the Saturn V.

Be careful when transporting them to ensure they don’t move around much, especially when you’re going around corners or if you have to stop quickly. Don’t try and carry one on your shoulders!

If you’re using a scuba tank then make sure you have the correct yoke for the valve.

…leave a gun loaded

This tends to happen when you’ve been distracted. Maybe you’re all set in position when the phone rings or someone knocks on your door. You end up getting involved in something else for 30 minutes or so and forget that you were about to shoot. You then need to do something else so decide to put your Air Rifle away, loaded. Obviously not a good idea, as when you pick it up next you’ll assume it’s not loaded.

Part of your safety process will be to ensure there’s no pellet in the breech and the gun hasn’t been cocked prior to storage.

…display in public

We have a Sig MPX Semi-Automatic CO2 Air Rifle and it feels and looks like the real thing. There is literally no indication to anyone that what you’re carrying isn’t a real firearm. You must never take your airgun out in a public environment. Not only is it illegal in many environments, but it could also cost you either a lot in fines, or worse. Imagine if you’re a policeman and you see someone in a public field get something out of a bag that looks like a semi-automatic rifle, what are you going to do?

This point really didn’t need to be said but for completeness, it’s here. Moving on…

…be tempted to look up the barrel

You will be sitting there thinking, “Well, I’m not going to be that stupid, am I?” – but you’d be surprised how many people do it. You may have a very good reason for wanting to look inside the barrel but always look from the end near the action, not the muzzle end! Obviously, depending on what gun you have this isn’t always possible. Just assume there’s a pellet in there. In the 40+ years of airgun ownership, I can honestly say I’ve not done this once. Mind you, I’m the person who always assumes the worst will happen!

…fire close to a highway

Imagine driving along the freeway (or the motorway for our UK cousins) when all of a sudden a .25 caliber pellet hits your window. Depending on the distance from where it was shot it could easily crack it. It could certainly scare the hell out of you at the least and potentially cause an accident. Depending on where you are there are different laws in place as to how far away you need to be. But just play it safe and steer clear of shooting near any roads.

…re-use ammunition

When I was shooting with my son the other day at some random fruits he found quite a few pellets that looked like they hadn’t been used at all. We were shooting into a watermelon and the soft inside slowed the pellet down without doing any noticeable damage to it whatsoever. I had to agree, they looked like new.

However, don’t be tempted to re-use any shot pellets. Just traveling through your barrel at 900 fps or whatever velocity will change their shape to some degree. Also, think about how much pellets actually cost. Your average pellet is only costing you around 2c or something so is it really worth re-using it? If you put it into the breech then more than likely it won’t fit as well as it did previously and a lot of air may escape around the now slightly deformed pellet.

It won’t shoot as accurately and it won’t have as much velocity. Worst case it’ll screw up your barrel, for 2c, is it worth the risk?

…use your gun during or after alcohol

But surely everything is better after a couple of beers, right? Well, a lot of things, yes and arguably most things but when it comes to shooting projectiles at near to the speed of sound out of a gun barrel, I’d rather be sober I think.

We all know that alcohol can affect our judgment, that’s why we’re not allowed to drive after drinking a couple of beers. When you have a drink you lose your inhibitions and you become a lot more relaxed about things, including a lot of the safety rules posted in this article. You become more confident, more brazen and think (or don’t care) that anything bad will happen to you. Except of course it can, which is why we have these safeties in place.

When you have a few drinks with your mates, talk about guns, play computer games and watch something funny on TV. Don’t use an airgun. It’s only fun until it’s not and that ‘not’ will happen a lot sooner if you’ve been drinking.

…ever run with a gun

Does this need to be said? Well, I wanted completeness with this article so yes it does. It’s usually a younger shooter or a child that breaks this rule. They forget. Children just love running everywhere, even if they’re not in a hurry. When they start to get more comfortable with the Air Rifle they forget about this rule. Usually, it will be after they’ve shot – they want to find out how accurate they’ve been before anyone else so they’ll run towards the target area. So the gun will usually be unloaded but it’s still a habit they need to shake off.

The risk here is that one day the gun will be loaded and cocked, they’ll run and fall and the gun will discharge.

…assume your pellet won’t ricochet.

Which, if you’ve read the bit about wearing glasses, you’ll understand the risks. If you’re shooting at a tree, from not a very far distance, then you might want to stop. What you need is a decent backstop to absorb the energy of your pellet. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tiddly .177 cal, it’s still moving at silly speeds and that little chunk of metal holds a lot of kinetic energy when traveling at high velocities. A metal backstop is good as it will absorb this kinetic energy and transfer it to heat and sound energy. You’ll find your pellet flattened at the bottom of it.

Fizzy drink bottles are also a bad idea, oh and before I forget – water. You’d think that a pellet would just shoot straight through but if you’re aiming at something in the water and miss, there’s a good chance that pellet will bounce off the water without losing much of its velocity. So, although it won’t come back to you it may go somewhere you don’t want!

…throw away those instructions

Although I might not always follow this one sometimes I wish I had. There can be specific instructions for some types of guns that you need to follow, maintenance wise and although you may never need them you just know that a week after you’ve thrown them away, you’ll wish you hadn’t!

…touch the trigger until it’s time to fire

Make it the very last thing you do when you’re going through the motions. You have your safety glasses on, everyone else is behind you, you’re in position and have the gun cocked and loaded. Now is the time to place your forefinger on that trigger and squeeze gently. Confident that you’re going to not only hit your target but no one will get injured in the process.


Final Thoughts

Safety is never an exciting subject, is it? But you don’t think of it after a while. I’ve mentioned this a few times in this article but it really does become second nature after just a short time.

Being safe won’t affect your enjoyment of the sport, not one bit. I should know, I’ve been doing this for many years and now you really don’t have to think about the safety impact as (like I said) it’s just normal.

Enjoy your sport and don’t get hurt (or hurt anyone else!). 

One last thing, if you’re interested in Air Rifles for pest control then please check out this article that’ll tell you all you need to know!