When carrying a hunting rifle decocked, the firing pin is in contact with the primer - a dangerous situation.

Safe Carriage of Hunting Rifles

Each week, resident expert Nick Harvey answers your questions about all things firearms. This week he discusses the dangers of carrying a loaded rifle.

Q: I read in an old magazine where the author of an article was in the habit of chambering a round in his bolt action rifle and lowering the bolt handle with the trigger pulled. He carried it this way in the bush when hunting with friends. It seems to me that this is an unsafe practice as the firing pin would be protruding from the bolt face, touching the primer. What do you think? Would it be safer to carry the rifle with safety engaged?

Bob Arnold

A: I agree with you. This is an exceedingly dangerous practice which has caused death and injury on several occasions. This is because when the firing pin and cocking piece are down in the cam notch, the firing pin protrudes from the bolt face and contacts the primer. All it takes to set the rifle off is a hard jar or dropping the firearm. I’ll admit there was a time when I was young and inexperienced that I carried a rifle in this way, but my mates soon cured me. Nor should one ever completely trust the safety. It is a good idea not to chamber a round and engage the safety until you begin to stalk. The retractor-type safety which retracts the firing pin and cocking piece from engagement with the sear and then locks them to the rear is by far the best design. Rifles which have this type of safety include the Mauser 98, Winchester Model 70, M-17 Enfield and the Ruger M77. This is more sturdy than any other design and it would require major damage to the rifle or malfunction of the parts before the firearm could be discharged. It allows the trigger to be adjusted to give a light let-off without any danger because the safety is separate from the trigger.It also allows movement of the trigger when the safety is secure. This means that if you pull on the trigger and it moves and the rifle does not fire, you know that the safety is on. I won’t hunt with a bolt action rifle equipped with any other type of safety.




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Nick Harvey

The late Nick Harvey (1931-2024) was one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He wrote about firearms and hunting for about 70 years, published many books and uncounted articles, and travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject was unmatched. He was Sporting Shooter's Technical Editor for almost 50 years. His work lives on here as part of his legacy to us all.