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Half-cock safety!
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ME
Posts: 484
February 14, 2023 - 1:43 pm

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Was recently asked by another lever enthusiast who’s new to pre 64 Winchester’s about half cock safety. I also found a few threads how other lever folks explained it. If anyone can add anything or experiences please feel free to reply.

“The half-cock position is the traditional “safety” for lever action rifles. It works well and is easy to use. When I am simply carrying a loaded levergun and not expecting to fire it, I carry it hammer down on an empty chamber. But If I’m expecting to fire, I’ll chamber a round and go to half-cock. Cocking the hammer the rest of the way as I bring the sights on target is easy and quiet — more so than working the lever.”

“If you wish to carry a lever action with a round in the chamber* the hammer should be in the safety notch. Lever actions do not have inertia firing pins, at least not until the recent copies of Winchesters and nontraditional rifles like BLR. So if the hammer is all the way down, it is holding the firing pin against the primer. Would not take much of a lick against the hammer for it to fire.”

“Do what works best for you, but I don’t recommend carrying a lever gun with the hammer down on a loaded chamber, or fully cocked unless you also use a cross-bolt safety.”

 RickC 

   

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NY
Posts: 6154
February 14, 2023 - 3:38 pm

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Western movie-makers never heard of the half-cock–wanted viewers to see those levers being cranked.  But the idea of two sear notches for full & half-cock precedes lever guns by several centuries; invented with the flintlock.  The cross-bolt safety illustrates how you fix something that wasn’t broken.

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ME
Posts: 484
February 14, 2023 - 5:26 pm

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I was thinking there still has to be a few guys or members on here that actually hunt with their vintage lever guns and wondered if they use the half-cock safety or take their chances with it loaded and hammer forward. I personally use half cock but others I know will only lever a round in when needed, which I find often disturbs the element of surprise!

 RickC 

   

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Posts: 76
February 14, 2023 - 5:35 pm

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I have always used the half-cock safety with a round in the chamber. Worked for me.

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NY
Posts: 6154
February 14, 2023 - 5:59 pm

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RickC said I personally use half cock but others I know will only lever a round in when needed, which I find often disturbs the element of surprise!
  

Of course–utterly stupid; guess they’ve watched too many of the Western movies I referred to. 

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Posts: 541
February 14, 2023 - 7:07 pm

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Many years ago I hunted Coues’ whitetail deer in the Huachuca Mountains of south east AZ, with my 1894 in .38-55.  I carried it with one in the chamber and the hammer at half cock.  I also watched where the muzzle was pointed as I was taught as a kid.  I didn’t desire the noise and motion of working the lever if I encountered a deer in the brush.  Tim

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Posts: 4098
February 14, 2023 - 11:00 pm

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My family had a long tradition of always carrying a round in the chamber and at half cock.  We hunted in the deep woods were keeping noise to a minimum was everything.  We would slip out to the deer stands well before light.  The idea of making that kind of racket was not something any of us could have fathomed.  In my mind, the larger concern was emptying the rifle at the end of the day.  The standard method is to work each round through the action and have them fall to the ground.  The rifle is of course at full cock during each racking of the lever.  I recall modifying this a bit.  Not because of safety concerns – I would have the muzzle point toward the ground as I emptied it, but when there was snow on the ground, I hated digging through the snow looking for each round, or picking the wet rounds out of slushy snow.  So, I would partially allow the bolt to move back and then pick the round from the extractor before the round was ejected.  I would then partially chamber the next round and pick it out of the action.  I had a couple Browning BLR’s – a .308 and a .358 – I found the unloading much easier.  

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NY
Posts: 6154
February 14, 2023 - 11:25 pm

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steve004 said In my mind, the larger concern was emptying the rifle at the end of the day. 
  

Why bother unless you’re putting it away for the season? 

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Posts: 4098
February 14, 2023 - 11:32 pm

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clarence said

steve004 said In my mind, the larger concern was emptying the rifle at the end of the day. 

  

Why bother unless you’re putting it away for the season? 

  

The house was very crowded with hunters.  Way short of enough gun cabinets or gun racks.  Leaving loaded guns propped up in corners or where ever was beyond our risk tolerance.  Plus, we weren’t worried that it would spoil a chance at a deer.

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Posts: 4520
February 15, 2023 - 6:00 pm

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When I was a kid our house always had a few loaded guns sitting around.  We were taught all guns are always loaded.  As far as a safety the rule was keep your finger off the trigger.  With lever guns and revolvers the hammer was safely dropped and all that you had to do was cock it when needed.  When I was hunting if the gun had a safety I would use it.  My Dad lived to 87 and when we went through the house we found at least 5 loaded guns.  He never knew which window the game would appear or maybe a 2 legged varmint.  He would say that in the country anyone that showed up at night was either lost or trouble.

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Posts: 4098
February 15, 2023 - 6:14 pm

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Chuck said
When I was a kid our house always had a few loaded guns sitting around.  We were taught all guns are always loaded.  As far as a safety the rule was keep your finger off the trigger.  With lever guns and revolvers the hammer was safely dropped and all that you had to do was cock it when needed.  When I was hunting if the gun had a safety I would use it.  My Dad lived to 87 and when we went through the house we found at least 5 loaded guns.  He never knew which window the game would appear or maybe a 2 legged varmint.  He would say that in the country anyone that showed up at night was either lost or trouble.

  

Most of our situations are different.  Growing up, we never hunted out of the house I lived in.  We were semi-rural but with neighbors next door, there we fired a gun in our yard.  My grandparents had a large (very rural) acreage and that’s where the extended family hunted.  Having a variety of people (including children) coming through (with varying degrees of experience and intelligence) made it prudent to not have loaded guns inside.  There is one downside to this.  If the procedure is that guns in the house are to be kept unloaded, it’s easier to slip into the practice of not treating every gun as though it were loaded.  This safety practice is less likely to slip if indeed, the guns are kept loaded.

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Posts: 4098
February 15, 2023 - 6:15 pm

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steve004 said

Chuck said

When I was a kid our house always had a few loaded guns sitting around.  We were taught all guns are always loaded.  As far as a safety the rule was keep your finger off the trigger.  With lever guns and revolvers the hammer was safely dropped and all that you had to do was cock it when needed.  When I was hunting if the gun had a safety I would use it.  My Dad lived to 87 and when we went through the house we found at least 5 loaded guns.  He never knew which window the game would appear or maybe a 2 legged varmint.  He would say that in the country anyone that showed up at night was either lost or trouble.

  

Most of our situations are different.  Growing up, we never hunted out of the house I lived in.  We were semi-rural but with neighbors next door,  we never fired a gun in our yard – nor did our neighbors.  My grandparents had a large (very rural) acreage and that’s where the extended family hunted.  Having a variety of people (including children) coming through (with varying degrees of experience and intelligence) made it prudent to not have loaded guns inside.  There is one downside to this.  If the procedure is that guns in the house are to be kept unloaded, it’s easier to slip into the practice of not treating every gun as though it were loaded.  This safety practice is less likely to slip if indeed, the guns are kept loaded.

  

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NY
Posts: 6154
February 15, 2023 - 6:22 pm

13sp_QuotePost

Chuck said
When I was a kid our house always had a few loaded guns sitting around.  We were taught all guns are always loaded.  As far as a safety the rule was keep your finger off the trigger.  With lever guns and revolvers the hammer was safely dropped and all that you had to do was cock it when needed.  When I was hunting if the gun had a safety I would use it.  My Dad lived to 87 and when we went through the house we found at least 5 loaded guns.  He never knew which window the game would appear or maybe a 2 legged varmint.  He would say that in the country anyone that showed up at night was either lost or trouble.

  

Chuck, that describes my upbringing exactly, & also my present attitude.  As you’ve heard before, it’s always the “unloaded” gun that becomes the cause of an accidental shooting.

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Posts: 488
February 15, 2023 - 8:24 pm

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clarence said

steve004 said In my mind, the larger concern was emptying the rifle at the end of the day. 

  

Why bother unless you’re putting it away for the season? 

  

In some states it is illegal to possess a loaded rifle or shotgun in a vehicle. Could be a big problem if one drives back and forth to their hunting spot.

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Posts: 4520
February 16, 2023 - 8:11 pm

15sp_QuotePost

clarence said

 

Chuck, that describes my upbringing exactly, & also my present attitude.  As you’ve heard before, it’s always the “unloaded” gun that becomes the cause of an accidental shooting.

  

I don’t keep any loaded guns even in my safe.  But I do have a shotgun and a box of shells at the ready.  When I first started collecting I would keep the guns in one closet and the ammo in another.  Most of my friends and family have never seen inside my safe.  I do have guns stashed in several different rooms but none are loaded. My wife knows how to shoot and my daughter has done some shooting years ago with a boyfriend.  Neither has an interest in shooting with me. My daughter has expressed some interest in keeping a couple of my guns.  My wife would sell them all except the family guns but she knows who to give them to.

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Posts: 4098
February 16, 2023 - 10:43 pm

16sp_QuotePost

RickC said
Was recently asked by another lever enthusiast who’s new to pre 64 Winchester’s about half cock safety. I also found a few threads how other lever folks explained it. If anyone can add anything or experiences please feel free to reply.

“The half-cock position is the traditional “safety” for lever action rifles. It works well and is easy to use. When I am simply carrying a loaded levergun and not expecting to fire it, I carry it hammer down on an empty chamber. But If I’m expecting to fire, I’ll chamber a round and go to half-cock. Cocking the hammer the rest of the way as I bring the sights on target is easy and quiet — more so than working the lever.”

“If you wish to carry a lever action with a round in the chamber* the hammer should be in the safety notch. Lever actions do not have inertia firing pins, at least not until the recent copies of Winchesters and nontraditional rifles like BLR. So if the hammer is all the way down, it is holding the firing pin against the primer. Would not take much of a lick against the hammer for it to fire.”

“Do what works best for you, but I don’t recommend carrying a lever gun with the hammer down on a loaded chamber, or fully cocked unless you also use a cross-bolt safety.”

  

After thinking about this thread a while, I recall several hunters (and maybe a gun writer or two) mentioning the ’94 carbine (half-cock safety) being, “the most dangerous gun in the woods.”  I suppose they were primary referring to the unloading.  We know of course that the gun by itself is not dangerous, but in the hands of the multitudes (thinking back to when the ’94 carbine was high on the list of America’s most popular deer rifle) jacking all those live rounds through the action to unload it had some risk.  Particularly for that large subgroup out there that don’t pay good attention to where their rifle is pointed. Ultimately, Winchester’s addition of a second safety added a margin of safety.

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ME
Posts: 484
February 16, 2023 - 10:59 pm

17sp_QuotePost

Appreciate the great responses and memories. I personally always load and unload in a safe manner and direction and always use half cock when hunting. When I’m buying a vintage Winchester, I always ask if it holds half cock. If it doesn’t, I almost always decline as I know I will need a gunsmith to make it correct & if half cock is worn it probably means more parts are needed in other places. Also if you think about it, as a seller, you’re selling a firearm with a safety that doesn’t work. Jmo

 RickC 

   

February 16, 2023 - 11:03 pm

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One in the chamber, half cocked, and muzzle discipline is how I’ve always carried my pre-64 when afield. 

I have two contemporary Winchesters with the tang safeties. An 1892 Short Rifle and a 94 Trapper, both 45 Colt. While I find JMBs original design to be more than sufficient and lament the move away from it, I don’t find the tang safeties too bothersome to work around. I just let the rebounding hammer rest in the down position and leave the tang safety off. Cock the hammer when preparing to fire as per usual

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South Texas
Posts: 1041
February 16, 2023 - 11:15 pm

19sp_QuotePost

After thinking about this thread a while, I recall several hunters (and maybe a gun writer or two) mentioning the ’94 carbine (half-cock safety) being, “the most dangerous gun in the woods.”  steve004 said

  

Steve, Ive heard the same stories since I was a kid. Maybe there were more folks hunting with them back in the day, being absent minded dropping them on the ground or from a tree stands and shooting themselves or someone else, who knows. 

IMHO, the most dangerous while unloading is by far the 1892 when you discover they have a worn out hammer face where the bolt rides over the hammer and doesnt push the hammer back far enough to engage the trigger sear, allowing the hammer to fall upon closing the bolt. 

As far as the 1894 is concerned, I carry my carbine just about everywhere I go and have done so over the past 15 years.  Its my go-to for protection and hunting and is always in the truck (unless Im carrying concealed).  Almost always carry it with an open chamber.  About the only time I use the half-cock safety is when there is a round chambered and Im hunting.  As far as unloading, I never go so far as to empty the magazine, just bring the bolt back far enough to extract the round, then close the lever, and run the round back into the loading gate/magazine.

My dad had a gun store and was a collector, and I started shooting at an early age, so guns and gun safety have been ingrained from an early age.  They were always in the house, same as now with my kids.  Both of them were shooting guns by age 5, both killed their first deer by 7, and they continue to shoot and hunt.  So, guns have always been in the house and they were taught they should always be considered as loaded, whether loaded or not.  Never had an issue with kids and curiosity about guns because those curiosities were satisfied at an early age.  Its like kids and matches, give them a box of a thousand and watch them burn through them, more than likely (hopefully) their curiosity is satisfied and they move on to something else. JMHO. 

CH

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1892takedown @sbcglobal.net ......NRA Endowment Life Member.....WACA Member

"God is great.....beer is good.....and people are crazy"... Billy Currington

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NY
Posts: 6154
February 16, 2023 - 11:59 pm

20sp_QuotePost

1892takedown said

As far as unloading, I never go so far as to empty the magazine, just bring the bolt back far enough to extract the round, then close the lever, and run the round back into the loading gate/magazine. 

Doing this would be even simpler if these models were equipped with magazine cut-offs, as is common on bolt-action military rifles.  Browning designed one for his great Auto-5, a feature I’ve used when I wanted two quick choices of shot size.

If I thought a gun was “unsafe” with a full mag (I don’t), I’d go shopping for a single-shot.

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