Muzzle Direction – Muzzle Up Or Down Which Is Safer?

By John Farnam

Muzzle Up Or Down
Muzzle Direction – Muzzle Up Or Down Which Is Safer?
Defense Training International, Inc
Defense Training International, Inc

Ft Collins, CO –-( Muzzle Up or Muzzle Down?

In our Urban Rifle (UR) and Armed Response to a Terrorist Attack (ARTA) Classes, students come to us from numerous divergent training backgrounds.

We, of course, run a hot range, so rifles carried by students are loaded (round chambered, manual safety “on,” fully-charged magazine inserted) continuously. All drills start, and finish, with loaded rifles.

There is no specific command to reload at any particular moment, so all students are expected to keep rifles they are bearing continuously loaded, magazines charged.

I have adopted a universal “muzzle-down” doctrine for all our Courses.

A “safe” direction in which to point a gun is mostly imaginary! Even on an established firing range, a “safe” direction, such as at a dirt berm, is only “relatively” safe. When any gun discharges in any direction, intentionally or accidentally, a bad outcome is always a substantial possibility! Of course, some directions are blatantly unsafe, and these need to be recognized and carefully observed.

So, on shooting ranges (and all other places), we endeavor to constantly keep muzzles pointed in “relatively safe” directions. We call this practice and philosophy “muzzle consciousness,” and every student is expected to be continuously aware of the direction in which his weapon is pointed.

The ostensible “condition” of the weapon never relevant. Sloppy gun-handling is, at no time, tolerated!

With the foregoing in mind, which is safer, muzzle up or down?

Logical arguments are made for both practices, but I see muzzles inadvertently pointed in unsafe directions much less often when “muzzle-down” is the prevailing and accepted doctrine.

Our rifles are always slung (one-point or two-point) with the muzzle down. The rifle is never allowed to come up to horizontal unless the student is on the line or otherwise facing a “safe” direction.

Even when facing downrange, we don’t do “port arms,” nor do we allow the rifle’s muzzle to point upwards during reloading. It is always, “Heads up! Muzzles down!” A muzzle-up posture during reloading is a “gun give-a-way,” plus it greatly increases your profile, particularly when you’re behind cover.

Sending a rifle bullet over the berm and off the property is a real danger on any shooting range. NDs are always the result of poor finger discipline, but an ND (negligent discharge) into the dirt downrange of the shooter is always preferable to one that sends a bullet high enough to clear the berm!

There is nothing we can do, and no policy we can implement, that will guarantee nothing bad will ever happen during training. Any “training,” worthy of the title will always be (1) painful, and (2) dangerous. “Risk” can be “managed,” but never eliminated. I believe a “muzzle-down” philosophy and training doctrine represents appropriate “risk management.”

Thus, “Heads up! Muzzles down!” is, in my opinion, the correct philosophy during serious rifle (and pistol) training, and should be universal.

“The pervasive expansiveness of the (Roman) Empire which we see today did not come about as a result of accident nor precipitous good fortune. These (Roman) Legionaries do not sit around congratulating themselves in the wake of every victory, nor are they idle in peacetime. Rather, they are constantly training and refining their warrior skills, so as to be ready at a moment’s notice.

Indeed, they seem to have been born with weapons in their hands!” ~ Josephus Flavius, circa 90AD


John Farnam
John Farnam

About John Farnam & Defense Training International, Inc
As a defensive weapons and tactics instructor John Farnam will urge you, based on your own beliefs, to make up your mind in advance as to what you would do when faced with an imminent and unlawful lethal threat. You should, of course, also decide what preparations you should make in advance, if any. Defense Training International wants to make sure that their students fully understand the physical, legal, psychological, and societal consequences of their actions or inactions.

It is our duty to make you aware of certain unpleasant physical realities intrinsic to the Planet Earth. Mr Farnam is happy to be your counselor and advisor. Visit:

  • 7 thoughts on “Muzzle Direction – Muzzle Up Or Down Which Is Safer?

    1. In biathlon the rule is always muzzle up. This is done as the rifles are carried in that fashion while skiing, and for best practice while moving the rifle from rack to firing point in order to eliminate pointing problems. Some ranges have adopted a safe area for uncasing from hard cases, but carry style cases are also muzzle up, and thus easily placed on racks for uncasing. In field use, I generally prefer muzzle down for hunting and military style carry, but as long as one is in control of one’s firearm, and especially it’s muzzle either muzzle up or down are perfectly safe.

    2. I think muzzle up or muzzle down depends on the surface that you are standing on. Out in the grass or dirt then muzzle down makes sense to me but if standing on concrete or asphalt and then muzzle down seems to enhance the ever so slight chance of a ricochet.

    3. I get it, if you are in a defense or worse offense position muzzle down is an easy carry and quick on target. However hunting which teaches the use of A Safety is not usually life threatening, and muzzle up has always been the safest carry. In either if you have to hit the ground or trip your muzzle needs to come up and down range, or you stuff it in the dirt. Hunting always up and safety on. If hunting in a group it makes everyone feel better as they don’t have anyone’s muzzle pointing at their feet of worse. I use both up and down depending on the situation. Practice and use your safety, and not just the one between your ears.

    4. Muzzle UP makes a load more sense in a crowded area than muzzle down; a shot to foot hurts just as bad as any gunshot and can inflict permanent crippling damage to the foot/leg of the accidental target.

    5. The position of my rifle muzzle will vary with the conditions…
      While hunting I carry at “Port Arms” (muzzle up).
      Distance walking, “Sling Arms” the muzzle is up.

    6. The military has a plethora of acronyms that apply to the question of “muzzle up or muzzle down”. “Situational Awareness”, or simply “SA” would apply. So would part of “METT-T”, ‘Mission, Enemy, Time,Terrain, and Troops available. They also use a decision making process to minimize accidents called “Risk Assessment/Risk Management”. I carry both ways, depending on several factors. Training is very important but, to imply there is only one “correct” way is counterproductive at best. Ten different people can be sent to do one task and, it may get done ten different ways. The point is, there are many techniques to accomplish the same task and if the task is completed to standard, they’re all right.

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