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How to Unload a Shotgun | 5 Easy Steps

Unloading your gun is an important part of taking care of it and being safe. You should never put a gun in your vehicle or home without unloading it. The good thing is, unloading a shotgun is really easy.

How to unload a shotgun:

  1. Point the Gun Away From Yourself and Other People
  2. Press the Bolt Release
  3. Release the Bolt Grip
  4. Open the Hinge
  5. Remove All Shells

After checking that the chambers are empty, clean the gun before putting away.

While there are several types of shotguns and they hold bullets in different ways, unloading each shotgun is similar. This article will discuss the tips to help you safely unload your shotgun.

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Unloading the Shotgun

Single Barrel Shotgun Unloaded

There are a few steps that you can take to help make unloading your shotgun as easy as possible. Even if you are a beginner with guns and have never used one, these steps will help you safely unload the gun without any issues. Some of the steps you can use to unload your shotgun include:

1. Point the Gun Away

Always start this process by pointing the gun in a safe direction. This means pointing it away from your body and anyone else around you. If possible, try to unload the gun when you can do it alone. Having other people around isn’t necessarily a deterrent, but it is often safer to unload on your own if the gun misfires. While you are at this, keep your finger off the trigger, so you don’t accidentally make the gun go off.

2. Press the Bolt Release

Once you are sure the gun is faced away from you, press the bolt release on any pump-action shotgun. You can find this located behind or in front of your trigger guard. When you do pull back on this, the gun will automatically empty one shell. As soon as you see the shell fall out, cycle the pump action. Repeat until you no longer see any shells visible in the magazine tube or the chamber.

Most pump-action shotguns have only one barrel, but the magazine tube can hold onto multiple shells at once. Always check thoroughly for this. Press the bolt release a few times to be sure if that makes you feel more comfortable.

3. Release the Bolt-Grip

Next, we need to pull back and release the bolt-grip if we have an auto-loading shotgun. When you do this, the gun can empty one shell for us. Like with the other step, continue this action until you no longer see any shells visible inside the chamber or the magazine tube. Always double check your magazine tube. Multiple shells may be found inside, and you don’t want to forget one in there.

4. Open the Hinge

If you use a break action shotgun, you will need to open the hinge. This should be found somewhere between the stock and the receiver. You can then remove the shell from the chamber part of the barrel before closing the hinge. With a break action shotgun, you will usually only load one shell at a time. If you have a double-barrel shotgun, you should check for shells in both chambers.

5. Remove All the Shells

No matter what type of gun you plan to use, once the shells are out, put them in a safe place to use later. It is best to leave these shells far away from where you plan to work. Having the shells in another room while you clean the gun may be a good idea and add another level of safety. Before cleaning the gun or putting it away, do one final check to ensure the shells are taken out of the gun. Put the bolt action button back in place to ensure no ammunition is still in the gun.

Clean the Gun

This is the time where you may want to clean your gun. Taking the barrel off, wiping everything down, and spraying solvent through all the components is a good idea after each use. This prevents build-up inside the gun and makes it easier to use for a long time. Guns that are not properly cleaned and maintained can get stuck, have rust, and other issues that make them wear out faster.

Take special care to clean out the chambers where your shells and ammunition go. This makes it easier for the shells to go out during shooting. It gives you one more chance to check the barrels and make sure all ammunition is out of the gun before you put it away again.

Related How Often Should You Clean a Gun in Storage? | Best Practices.

Put the Gun Away

Once the gun is unloaded and cleaned, it is time to safely put the gun away. Choose a safe place to store the gun so no one will use it or get hurt. Even an unloaded shotgun can be dangerous when swung around, left on the floor to trip over, or if it falls over. A gun safe is usually the best option for storing your gun. Pick a gun safe with a good lock and leave the keys in another location for safekeeping.

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Tips to Make Unloading a Gun Safer

While it is easy to unload a shotgun, it is best to do so with an abundance of caution. Most people who use guns regularly know how to do this already, but refreshing your skills is good. For those who have never handled a gun, learning how to unload the gun will make it easier to keep safe.

  • The first step is to treat every gun as if it is loaded. It doesn’t matter how sure you are that the gun is unloaded. Pretend it is and work from there. This helps you to treat the gun with the respect it deserves. If you assume the gun is unloaded, and you are wrong, you may do something that hurts yourself or another person. If you assume the gun is loaded, and you are wrong, then no one gets hurt.
  • While handling the gun, keep your finger off the trigger all the time. Unless you plan to fire the gun, never put your finger on the trigger. Accidents happen, and a little slip will make the gun go off at the wrong time. If the finger is nowhere near the trigger, then this isn’t a problem.
  • When unloading the gun, always point it in a safe direction. To determine this, pick the direction that will cause the least amount of harm, usually away from other people. The ground or floor is fine unless you are on a concrete floor or somewhere other than the first floor.
  • Finally, be careful when removing cartridges.

Once you have the right location to unload the gun and have taken the time to observe all the gun safety rules, it is time to unload it. You can follow the guidelines above to make sure you unload your shotgun properly.


Unloading your gun is a critical part of gun safety. It is never a good idea to take your gun and put it away in a closet or even a gun safe without first removing all the shells. This makes an accident more likely to happen with the gun going off. Checking a few times to get the shells out, cleaning the gun, and leaving it somewhere safe is the best way to make sure your gun is ready to be used again without harming anyone else.

Thanks for reading.

For more, check out How to Safely Store a Gun for Home Defense | Best Practices.