Making the Rifle Safe, Safely

A funny story from a club member at the range the other day. While he was in boot camp undergoing rifle training, one recruit had a negligent discharge while unloading after a stage of fire. The drill sergeant appeared instantly beside him, grabbed the rifle, made it safe, and took the recruit behind the line. It’s funny how a DI always appears instantly, no matter where he was one second before.

“Tell me exactly what you did.”

“I did what the Lieutenant (the instructor that day) told us: Rack the bolt, drop the mag, and pull the trigger.”

“Say that again.”

“I did what the instructor said – rack the bolt, drop the mag, and pull the trigger.”

“Stand here and don’t move. The investigators will be here in a few minutes.”

The drill sergeant walked up to the LT: “Sir, what exactly did you tell these recruits about making a rifle safe?”

“Same as always: Rack the bolt, drop the mag, and pull the trigger.”

“Sir, would you please go stand next to the recruit and wait for the investigators…”

Yes, there is a correct way to make the rifle safe, and there are wrong ways, and the difference is important. Whether you are in competition, at an Appleseed, or just at the range when Cease Fire is called, doing the correct things in the correct order will ensure that you are safe. In Appleseed we have Six Steps to a Safe Rifle:

  1.  Magazine out
  2. Bolt locked back
  3. Safety on SAFE
  4. Chamber flag installed
  5. Rifle grounded (so it cannot fall from its position, whether on the mat or the bench)
  6. Nobody touching the rifle.

Dropping the magazine is the first step. This way, if the bolt should slip forward while you are locking it back, there is no way a fresh round can be chambered. This is what the soldiers got wrong in the story. The recruit actually chambered a round, dropped the mag, and pulled the trigger.

With the magazine out, lock the bolt back. Any round that may have been in the chamber should be extracted and ejected. Look at the chamber to ensure it is empty.

Put the safety on SAFE. On our 10/22s, the safety can only move to the SAFE position when the hammer is cocked. If you pressed the safety immediately after you ceased firing, do it again now to make sure it’s all the way to the right. See below for details.

Install your chamber flag. If it doesn’t go into the chamber, check again for an unextracted round. I recommend using a chamber flag whenever you aren’t actually in prep or shooting. It provides an unmistakable signal to you and all around you that your rifle is empty. Leave the bolt locked back whenever the chamber flag is in. Closing the bolt on the chamber flag can break the flag (dangerously bad – you’ll have to push the broken post out of the bore before shooting), or cause the extractor to fly out of the bolt (bad – you might not find it).

You should do all these steps while still in your shooting position, whether standing, seated or prone. And you should do them with the muzzle pointed downrange and below horizontal. That’s the safest direction.Having an ND while messing with the sling or getting up out of position could easily send a around over any normal-size berm. Only after the chamber flag is inserted and the safety is on SAFE should you rise up and remove your sling.

Once we get the video editing thing figured out we will post a video of this process.

The photos below from The 10/22 Companion show why you have to cock the hammer to push the safety to SAFE. The left photo shows the trigger group after the shot is fired. Note how the sear is below the hammer, and the front leg of the sear is below the top of the safety. (It is sitting in the cutout portion of the safety) When the hammer is cocked (right photo), the sear is pressed up against the sear hook of the hammer, and its leg is above the safety which allows the safety to slide below it to the right.

Trigger firedTrigger disconnected

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