Shotgun Safety Placement

By Randy Wakeman

The physical placement of the safety on a shotgun is not talked about much, but it can be critical to the usefulness of a firearm in the field. If you are seated in a duck blind or goose pit, the safety may not matter as much to you as to those who enjoy flushing upland game. Certainly, for target shooting, safety placement is relatively unimportant, as they are rarely, if ever, used. Some break-open type trap guns do not even have safeties.

One of my favorite safeties on a shotgun is the safety found on older Browning A-5 semi-autos, which was placed in the front of the trigger guard bow. Its use, to me, is intuitive and effortless. Your finger (supposedly) stays out of the trigger guard until the pheasant hits the air, your forefinger enters the trigger guard and nudges the safety lever forward as you shoulder the gun, then your finger moves back to the trigger to shoot your bird. It works regardless of cold or gloved hands and it is also ambidextrous.

The worst front of the trigger guard safeties are found on the Benelli Vinci and Beretta A400 shotguns. What were they thinking? Yet, it is not strictly brand-specific, for Benelli M2s, for example, do not have this problem.

Safety placement is one of the reasons I prefer the Ruger Mini-14 platform to the AR platform. The The Mini-14's Garand type, trigger guard bow mounted safety is far more intuitive, to me, than flipping a receiver-mounted lever.

On a recent muzzleloader bear hunt, there were several rifles that would have done the job, but anything with an external hammer was out of the question. When you see (and smell) a 400 pound black bear from your tree, the last thing you want is an audible click. That is one of the reasons that we bagged our last four bears with Savage 10ML-II's, with their silent tang safeties. (Most hammer guns can be cocked in complete silence if you hold the trigger back while you cock the hammer. -Editor)

There is nothing quite like the sickening feeling of watching a wild rooster (okay, an evil Chinese Communist rooster that tastes good) fly away cackling without a shot fired. That situation compelled my brother-in-law to dump his beautiful new Beretta vertical double. He found it to be as worthless as a weed-whipper for pheasant hunting, as he could not consistently release the safety. A bird-saving tang safety is also something that afflicts the Browning BPS. (I guess it is a matter of what you are used to, as everyone else on the G&S Online staff, apparently except Randy, thinks a top tang safety slider is the most convenient type of safety and the fastest/easiest to use. -Editor)

As a generalization, the rear of the trigger guard cross-bolt safety is probably the most common general hunting safety put on repeating shotguns today. It is popular with gun makers, because it is a cheap and easy way to block the trigger's rearward movement. However, the rear of the trigger guard safety is not immune from issues. The Browning Maxus safety, which is at the rear of its large trigger guard, is just exactly at the wrong place, for me. When carrying the gun, the knuckle of my forefinger continually knocks off the safety. I will not hunt with a Maxus for that reason, although this is not a problem for everyone.

Nor are cross-bolt safeties consistent with the amount of pressure required to disengage them. The CZ720 20 gauge shotgun that I tested was a 6-1/2 pound gun with a 9-1/4 pound trigger and about a 20 pound safety.

Safety placement and ease of use, while rarely discussed, are among the factors that can turn the gun you thought you wanted into a real cow pie. They are easy to overlook when you're enthusiastically shopping for a new shotgun. However, if added to your mental checklist, they might prevent an unsatisfying purchase.

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Copyright 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.