When handling any firearm, a little common sense go a long way to prevent an accident.
In the shooting community, firing an unintentional shot is called an AD (accidental discharge), maybe it is not entirely the correct word to use. Unless the firearm is in perfect working order, and you should not be using the firearm if it is not, there is no such thing as an accidental discharge. A firearm is just a tool, it cannot decide for itself when to fire, a person need to manipulate the necessary controls on the gun to make it fire. So an AD is in fact an ND (negligent discharge), and by the very definition of the word, it is in the operators power to prevent a negligent discharge.
Keeping the above in mind, here is a few pointers (Not listed in order of importance) to help prevent a ND:
1) Always assume that any projectile weapon is loaded. Be that a firearm, air gun, crossbow or any other device capable to launch any form of projectile. (In the following paragraphs firearm means any projectile weapon)
2) Never handle a firearm without the owners’ permission. Apart from it being rude to handle another person’s firearm without his/her consent, there may be something wrong with the firearm that make it unsafe to use.
3) Never point a firearm at someone or something you do not wish to harm or destroy. In most countries around the world it is illegal. It also shows the person doing the pointing as being uncaring, insensitive, rude and stupid.
4) Before shooting at a target, always be sure of what is in the background. There is no rewind button on a firearm, once the bullet has left the barrel, it is too late. If there is something behind the target that you do not wish to harm or destroy, pass up the shot, or work your way into a position where the background is safe to take the shot.
5) Before shooting, always ensure there are no foreign objects in the barrel. This is known as a barrel obstruction, and discharging a center/rim fire rifle or handgun and shotguns with a barrel obstruction will destroy the firearm.
6) Always use the correct ammunition. Using incorrect ammunition can be just as dangerous as a barrel obstruction.
7) Never handle a firearm if you do not know how to operate the firearm. You will not look stupid if you ask someone to show you how. You will look, and are very stupid if you cause an accident or damage the gun because you did not know how to operate the firearm, but were too proud to admit it.
8) Never handle a firearm if you are emotionally distressed, like I said before, there is no rewind button on a firearm. If you use a firearm in the ‘heat of the moment’ you are certain to regret it later.
9) Never use a firearm if you are under the influence. Any intoxicating substance, no matter how small the quantity, will slow your reactions and impair brain function.
10) Keep your finger away from the trigger until you are ready to take the shot.
11) Keep the safety on until you are ready to take the shot.
12) Never enter a vehicle or structure with a loaded firearm.
13) Open the bolt or breach of your firearm when you are with other people. Only close it when you are actually hunting, or laying on the firing line ready to shoot.
14) Know and respect the law. Be sure it is legal to discharge a firearm in the location you want to shoot.
15) Know and respect the nature conservation laws were you are hunting. Honor the bag limits and other restrictions set by the authorities. Those laws are there to protect the animals, and ensure our wonderful activity is available to future generations.
16) Take good care of your firearm. A well looked after firearm will provide years of trouble free and safe enjoyment for its owner.
17) Respect your quarry, fellow hunters and the land. We are only custodians of our surroundings while we are alive. Give our children the same opportunities we have by taking care of our environment.
18) Take care when shooting with a telescopic sight. The sight is higher than the muzzle, and if you line of sight clear the object does not mean the muzzle does.