Target shooting established its record as one of the safest of all sports because everyone in it must learn and follow basic safety rules. There are several thousand junior shooting clubs, JROTC unit rifle teams, 4-H Shooting Sports clubs, Boy Scout troops and Venturing crews, youth camps and junior shooting organizations that practice and compete in position air rifle shooting and other air rifle activities.  These programs have more than 100,000 participants in the United States.  These youth marksmanship activities have compiled an outstanding safety record where gun-related accidents are extremely rare.  Rifle marksmanship activities are indeed among the safest of all youth sports. Target shooting is a sport of control and discipline where everyone involved, including participants, instructors, coaches and range officers, is expected to know and apply the sport’s safety rules at all times.

Firearms Safety and the CMP

The federal law that established the Civilian Marksmanship Program makes firearms safety one of its highest priorities. This law specifically states that a primary function of the CMP is “to instruct citizens of the United States in marksmanship; (and) to promote practice and safety in the use of firearms.” To fulfill this responsibility, the CMP produces a variety of safety materials. CMP safety materials can be ordered through the CMP E-Store at or visit visit and click on the “Safety & Rules” tab.

Important Safety Tips

  • ALWAYS keep your guns unloaded until they must be ready for use. If there is no need to load a firearm until later, don’t.
  • ALWAYS check for any obstruction in the barrel whenever there is reason to suspect a blockage. Bore obstructions are a major source of gun explosions.
  • ALWAYS positively identify your target and be sure there is a safe backstop behind it before you shoot.
  • ALWAYS hold your gun so that you can control the direction the muzzle points if you fall or stumble.
  • NEVER mix alcohol or drugs with shooting. Anyone handling and firing a gun must have a clear mind and be constantly alert.
  • NEVER allow any gun to point at you or pull a gun towards you by grasping its muzzle.
  • NEVER attempt to load or unload a gun inside a vehicle or building (except a properly constructed indoor range); there usually is no safe direction to point the muzzle.
  • NEVER shoot at a hard object or flat surface or at water. Bullets can glance off hard materials like rock, glass or steel, or skip off the surface of water to fly in unpredictable and sometimes dangerous directions.
  • NEVER set a loaded gun down or leave an unattended gun loaded. When a gun is loaded it should be controlled in the hands of a person who intends to fire it. If you must set a gun down, always unload it first.

Rules for Safe Gun Handling

1. MUZZLE. Always keep gun muzzles pointed in a safe direction. Gun muzzles must never be pointed at other persons under any circumstance. On a range, the safest directions to point a gun muzzle are usually upward or downrange towards the target.

2. RIFLE ACTION. When handling any rifle or firearm, the action must be open with a CBI (Clear Barrel Indicator), ECI (Empty Chamber Indicator) or OBI (Open Bolt Indicator) inserted. Gun actions must remain open except when the gun is on the firing line and preparation or firing periods have begun. When shooting is finished, the action must be open and a CBI/ECI/OBI must be inserted, even when the gun is on the firing line. The gun action may be closed when it is placed in a gun case or storeroom, but must be opened and a CBI/ECI/OBI inserted as soon as it is picked up again.

3. TRIGGER.  Keep your finger off of the trigger until after placing the gun in the shooting position and preparing to fire a shot. It is especially important to keep the finger outside of the trigger guard when loading the gun and placing it in the shooting position.


TIP: An easy way to remember the Rules for Safe Gun Handling is to use the key word MAT. MAT, of course, stands for Muzzle-Action-Trigger. MAT is also useful because that is the order in which the three safety rules must be applied. Whenever you handle a rifle always start by controlling the muzzle.

When You First Pick Up a Rifle

When you pick up a rifle or take a rifle from another person, always grasp the rifle with your fingers outside of the trigger guard! Do not place your index finger on the trigger when you pick up or take a rifle from someone. Later we will explain that the only appropriate time to place your index finger inside the trigger guard and on the trigger is when you are starting to aim at an actual target. While holding the rifle with your fingers outside of the trigger guard, you can apply the three safe gun handling rules that are paramount to assuring that you will never fire an unintentional shot.

The Goal—No Gun Accidents

In addition to learning to follow safe gun handling rules, range commands and established range and safety procedures, there are two additional safety concepts that must become part of your constant efforts to be safe with guns.

  • Everyone is a Safety Officer. In an emergency when a safety hazard occurs or when someone in your presence does something unsafe with a gun, you can and must become an “Emergency Safety Officer.” If you see someone close the action on a gun or fail to open the action of a gun while handling it, it is necessary for you to step in and make sure the action is opened.
  • Self-Discipline and Focus. Gun safety is not a matter of learning safety rules and then assuming you will always be safe with guns. Gun safety requires that you consciously practice safe muzzle control, check for open actions and keep your fingers outside of the trigger guard every time you handle a gun. That requires self-discipline and focus. You must discipline yourself to always pay attention to safety—for yourself and for those around you.

Everyone who completes marksmanship and safety training learns how to be safe while handling any type of rifle or firearm. By learning and following the rules of safe gun handling and by practicing those rules during target rifle practice, you will not only assure safety during your rifle marksmanship training and competitions, but you will ensure that any encounter you have with a firearm is safe and enjoyable.

Protect Your Eyes & Ears

Everyone on a range where firearms of any type are used is urged to wear eyeglasses or shooting glasses to protect their eyes and ear plugs or ear muffs to protect their hearing. Your vision and hearing are priceless and irreplaceable so protect them. At the range, it is common courtesy not to begin firing until everyone nearby has been given an opportunity to put on their eye and hearing protection.

Firearm Transportation

When you are transporting your rifle or other firearms from your home to the range or elsewhere, there are some precautions to take to be sure your guns are transported safely. Transporting firearms may also be governed by laws in your state so you need to make sure you are in compliance with your state or local laws. To travel with your firearms, follow these precautions:

  • Keep firearms unloaded. The action on a firearm may be closed during travel, but only after you double-check to be sure the chamber and magazine are clear.
  • Place firearms to be transported in a protective, locked case.
  • When using public transportation, check with the carrier prior to departure to find out what regulations apply.
  • As soon as you arrive at the range with your firearms, open the action of any gun you bring to the range (insert an ECI especially if required on your range).

Safe Storage of Firearms

Firearms that are not in use must be stored. The fundamental rule in storing firearms is to use a method of storage which ensures that no unauthorized or untrained person has access to them. Younger children and their friends or anyone who has not received firearms safety training should not have access to firearms. Firearms storage procedures are also intended to protect firearms from damage or theft. Keep these things in mind when you store your firearms:

  • Recommended firearms storage methods are a gun safe or a locked gun cabinet.
  • If firearms are not kept in a safe or locked cabinet, they should be secured from access by unauthorized persons by attaching a trigger lock.
  • Firearms should be cleaned and lightly oiled prior to storage.
  • When a firearm is placed in storage, check it again to be sure it is unloaded and clear. You may then close the action and pull the trigger to release tension on the hammer or firing pin spring.
  • When removing any firearm from storage, immediately open the action and handle it with the action remaining open.

Trigger Locks

A trigger lock is a two-piece device that clamps over the trigger and trigger guard so that when it is locked in place, the trigger cannot be accessed or pulled. Trigger locks are secured by a key or a locking mechanism. Trigger locks should never be used if the firearm is loaded or as a substitute for proper and safe firearm handling. A responsible adult who has had firearms safety training should retain control of the trigger lock key or combination. Trigger locks suitable for use with rifles sold by the CMP may be purchased from the CMP.

Ammunition and Ammunition Storage

ALWAYS use high quality ammunition made to American industry standards. Make sure it is clean, dry, in good condition, and of the proper type and caliber for your gun. Defective or improper ammunition is responsible for many malfunctions and blown-up guns. It is a good practice to store ammunition separately from your firearms. If unauthorized persons might have access to it, ammunition should be stored in its own locked containers.

Individual Junior Shooter Safety Pledge

This Individual Junior Shooter Safety Pledge should be reviewed and affirmed by every junior shooter who uses an air rifle in youth marksmanship programs.

For more information about target shooting and safety, contact CMP Programs at [email protected].