CategoriesRule of the Week

Rule of the Week: Unsafe firearm handling and the 170° rule.

I have noticed while shooting stages such as the Mine at the Oklahoma Territorial Marshals, the Fort at Indian Territory SASS, and the Ghetto Mine at Lincoln County Cowboys, that it is quite common for shooters to return back uprange once having finished the stage in such a way as to no longer have the barrels of their long gun(s) pointed in alignment with the 170° rule.

This confused me. As written in the Shooter’s Handbook the 170° rule is always to be observed at any particular time while on the range. But again, I’ve observed seasoned cowboys and cowgirls with years of Range Officer experience under their belts return uprange on one of these stages with their barrels pointed in a safe direction, but not within the 170°. So I did what I thought would be the most sensible thing in this situation: I called Roy’s Creek Dan.

Among other skills and accomplishments, Roy’s Creek Dan is an excellent cowboy gunsmith, a SASS End of Trail World Champion, and a Range Officer Instructor. From years of SASS experience and communication with the Range Officer Committee, Roy’s Creek Dan is virtually a walking SASS Shooter’s Handbook encyclopedia.

As soon as I brought this up with Roy’s Creek Dan, and before I could even finish describing my question, he knew where I was going. And his answer certainly did simplify things. According to Roy’s Creek Dan, the 170° rule only applies from the time the buzzer goes off until the last shot of the stage is fired. At all other times, the applicable rule would be Unsafe Firearm Handling.

Unsafe Firearm Handling is a bit of a catch-all, and is not exactly defined in the Shooter’s Handbook, other than as a reason for a Stage Disqualification Penalty. The spirit of the rule is contained within the Safety & Handling Conventions — All Firearms (page 15 of version 25.1 of the Shooter’s Handbook). With regards to the handling of your firearms other than during the shooting of the stage, this largely means pointing the barrels in a safe direction at all times while carrying them. From the Shooter’s Handbook:

The muzzles of all long guns must be maintained in a safe direction at all time (generally “up” and slightly downrange)

Rather than the 170° rule, it is Unsafe Firearm Handling which covers the shooter returning uprange, and this explains why I’ve never seen anyone penalized for breaking the 170° while doing so. This seems like common sense, but I’m glad to have this clarified for myself and I hope you find value in it as well.