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Fundamentals of Safe Hunting: Firearm & Treestand Safety

Here are some basic firearm and treestand safety tips everyone should review before heading to the field or range

Fundamentals of Safe Hunting: Firearm & Treestand Safety

Photo credit Jacob Oliver

Do you know someone who wants to learn how to hunt or target shoot? Maybe a friend or family member is more interested in hunting to put locally sourced protein in the freezer. Or they may just want to feel more confident at the range. Below are tips you can share with a new hunter or target shooter or review yourself before heading afield or to the range.

1. Think S.A.F.E

We want all hunters to think S.A.F.E., so the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) hunter safety program uses this acronym to remind hunters to focus on these four major rules of preventing hunting accidents:

  • Safe Direction – Always point the gun in a safe direction.
  • Always be sure of your target and what lies beyond.
  • Finger is outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.
  • Every firearm must be treated as if it is loaded.

2. Loading/unloading a firearm safely

fwc teacher shows student gun safety

The following steps should be practiced so diligently and consciously that safety is permanently ingrained in the hunter's mind.

  • When loading and unloading firearms, always point the muzzle in a safe direction.
  • Check your gun's safety. If it is possible to place the gun on safe while loading and unloading a round, it is best to do so.
  • Keep your fingers off the trigger and outside of the trigger guard.
  • Before you load your gun, check to make sure the chamber and barrel are free of any debris or obstruction. Then, make sure to load the correct ammunition for that gun, close the action, and make sure the safety is on.
  • When unloading, remove the magazine if it has one, open the action and eject all rounds. Physically and visually check the chamber and magazine to be sure the gun is not loaded. Then, make sure the safety is on, and store unloaded until you are ready to use it again.

3. Safe firearm carries

6 types of safe field gun carries diagram
There are 6 types of safe field carries with the safest carry changing depending on your firearm, the environment, what you are hunting and your position in your hunting group.

There are several safe ways hunters can carry a firearm and the carries most appropriate to use may depend on the circumstance.


  • Trail carry – Hold the gun with one hand on the forestock so that it's balanced and pointing forward, where your arm is down by your side. This carry method should not be used when someone is in front of you or when walking through heavy brush because debris may obstruct the muzzle.
  • Elbow or side carry – This carry should only be used when no one is in front of you. Rest the gun on the inside of your elbow, pointing downward. This carry is comfortable but has the least muzzle control. Like the trail carry, it's not the best method in heavy brush.
  • Sling carry – Carry the gun over your shoulder using a sling with the barrel pointed up, making sure to always keep your hand on the sling. This is a good carry if you have a long way to walk.
  • Two-handed or ready carry – One hand is on the grip and the other is on the forestock. This carry position provides the best control and is the safest. However, be mindful to always point your muzzle in a safe direction if others are walking alongside you.
  • Cradle carry – One-handed carry with your hand on the grip and the forestock cradled on the inside of your elbow with the barrel angled upward. Avoid this carry if your muzzle would be pointed in an unsafe direction when walking side by side.
  • Shoulder carry – Hand on the butt of the gun and the gun leaning back with the forestock resting on your shoulder. This is a good carry method if others are walking alongside of you, but never use it if someone is behind you.

4. Zone-of-fire

close up of hunter in camo with gun

When hunting in a group for species such as quail or rabbit, hunters should first talk about and agree upon the zone-of-fire each person will cover. A zone-of-fire is the area in which a hunter can shoot safely. Zones of fire depend on many factors, including the hunter's shooting ability, the animal being hunted, the lay of the land, and the hunting strategy being used.

safe zones of fire diagram
Firearms have a 45-degree zone-of-fire, plan your positions accordingly.
  • When quail hunting, limit the group to three hunters and make sure there's an adequate amount of space between each hunter. Hunters should walk in the same direction at approximately the same speed, while maintaining the same distance of separation. All hunters should be able to see each other at all times.
  • Each hunter's zone-of-fire is about 45 degrees directly in front of them, however, it can change with every step. With a hunting party of three, the hunter in the middle of the group will only shoot at birds flushed directly in front that fly straight away within a 45-degree zone-of-fire. The hunters on the ends will only shoot at birds flying in their respective zone-of-fire. The hunter on the left side can shoot straight ahead and to the left – the hunter on the right side can shoot straight ahead and to the right. Hunters should only shoot when they are sure they can make an effective shot.
  • A hunter should never swing their gun or shoot outside of their zone-of-fire. If a bird turns and flies back across the line of hunters, they should not swing on the bird and should hold their fire.
  • The same zone-of-fire rules apply to rabbit hunting. Always pass up a shot rather than risk injuring someone.
  • Wearing a fluorescent orange shirt or vest and hat can help hunters see each other.

5. Treestand safety

hunter sitting in a tree stand with gun pointed ready to fire

There are many safety factors to consider when hunting from an elevated platform such as a treestand.

  • Before the start of the season and prior to each use, carefully inspect your treestand to make sure it's safe and has not been damaged. Check for any rust and that ratchet straps don't show any signs of wear or dry rotting.
  • When choosing a treestand location, only pick live trees with straight trunks, and don't hang your stand any higher than necessary.
  • When hunting from an elevated position, always wear a full-body fall arrest system. Stay attached to the tree from the ground all the way up to the stand and back down by using the FAS tree strap and tether to attach your FAS full-body harness to the tree.
  • When climbing up and down a ladder, always maintain three points of contact with your hands and feet. Also, do not climb with anything in your hands or on your back. Instead, use a haul line to raise and lower all hunting equipment from the ground to the stand.
  • The tree strap should be attached around the tree, so it is above your head when you are standing. Once you are at the top of the stand, adjust both the tree strap and tether so you don't have any slack when you sit down.
  • Always inspect your FAS and discard it and get a new one if it shows any signs of wear and tear. Stay within the weight limit and follow the expiration date sewn on by the manufacturer.

Learn more about treestand safety.


treestand safety diagram
There are many safety factors to consider when hunting from an elevated platform such as a treestand.

For more information on hunter safety requirements in Florida, visit MyFWC.com/HunterSafety. For opportunities to visit an FWC-managed shooting range, visit MyFWC.com/Ranges.

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