Are you ready? | Firearm States of Readiness Explained

17th March 2022|3min

As the Roar kicks off, the NZ Mountain Safety Council (MSC) want to refresh hunters on load safety knowledge to encourage safe practices this season.

Written for the NZDA Hunting and Wilderness Magazine Autumn 2022


States of Readiness’ are the basis for current safety instruction included in the mandatory course carried out by the MSC for NZ Police firearms training. Safety precautions, such as ensuring the firearm is empty, are a key part of this training that should be carried out every time you pick up a firearm. This covers techniques of loading and unloading, and fence crossing - all with the aim to keep the users and others safe in the field.

‘States of Readiness’ are used internationally by military and law enforcement agencies as a proven teaching method to communicate specific conditions of a firearm to new users. Helpfully, this clear language is also much more concise, as well as easier to use, than the old and often misunderstood versions. It is important for hunters to familiarise themselves with the safety states of their firearms so they can think, check and react in different situations or environments, below we outline the basics:

The States of Readiness in brief:

The most obvious state is the condition of a firearm after you have performed the safety precautions. It should be in the state referred to as unload. There should be no ammunition in the magazine or chamber, with the firearm on safe (if it will mechanically allow it).

Once any ammunition is introduced to the firearm, it is in a load state. The ammunition must be confined to the magazine only and not in the chamber yet, and the firearm should also be on safe.

When you are ready to fire you may chamber a round, this is the action state, and the firearm should still be on safe.

Only when you have identified your target beyond all doubt and have made the conscious decision to fire, you remove the safety and are in the instant state.

An example:

You have a hunting trip coming up; have your plan analysed, gathered your kit and notified your emergency contact. Your bag is packed and it’s time to take out your rifle from storage.  Open the safe and first perform the safety precautions, then place the bolt and ammunition in the top pocket of your pack and the rifle, in unload state, in a locked case in your vehicle.

*Note clarifications of transportation guidelines on Police and NZDA websites.

After you arrive at the property, where you are going to access the public hunting area from, you remove your rifle from its case and again, perform safety precautions - it is still at unload state. Heading off with your rifle slung on your shoulder, your bolt and ammunition are in your pack.

Up the hill behind the station you cross the boundary fence by; first checking the firearm is unloaded and placing the unload state rifle under the fence with the muzzle facing away from you, then climbing over, before finally picking up the rifle again and carrying on. After a couple kilometres of climbing, you are finally in your hunting area. You look around and confirm your location on your map and knowing the area ahead holds deer, you load the magazine and ensure that the firearm is on safe. This is now in load state.

After a few hundred metres of careful stalking, you see several deer. You drop to a knee slowly and put your pack down, the rifle is laying on your pack while you scan the clearing with your binoculars, observing a particular deer in the group. Looking closely, you can see the whole animal now, it’s a young spiker with a few others upslope.

Picking up your rifle, and settling into a good kneeling position, you slowly chamber a round and again check the safety is on. This is now in action state. You look around checking the firing zone, the slope up behind the deer minimises any danger from a miss. You have made the decision to fire, so you slowly push the safety into the off position. This is now the instant state. You carefully align the crosshairs and press the trigger.

To be safe, before heading off to recover the deer, you unload the rifle making sure the magazine and chamber are empty and the safety catch is on safe. You’re now back in the unload state.

Once you arrive back at your vehicle, ensure that the rifle bolt and ammunition are locked away and the rifle is locked in a case after performing safety precautions. Checking again you are in the unload state.

Reiterating these states and making this a standard procedure for yourself and members of your group can reduce the risk of a firearms incident.

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