180 Degree Rule
The 180 Degree Rule is universal in action shooting sports and is an extension of the Second Rule of Firearms Safety: Never Point the Gun at Anything You Don’t Want to Shoot. Action shooting courses of fire are usually constructed inside a three-sided shooting bay with bullet-stopping berms on the shooter’s left, right and front. This range construction allows the shooter to safely engage targets to his left and right in addition to his front. However, there is no protection for people and property behind the shooter.
The 180 Degree Rule prohibits the shooter from orienting the muzzle of his weapon behind an imaginary plane parallel to the rear berm extending from the shooter outward in all directions (left, right, up, and down). This imaginary plane moves with the shooter as he moves up and down the range through the course of fire, and the shooter may not break this plane with his muzzle at any time whether he’s engaging targets, moving between shooting positions, or performing weapon manipulations (drawing, reloading, clearing malfunctions, etc). Any break in this 180 degree plane will result in an automatic disqualification from the match.
The harshness of this safety violation is due to the extreme danger of orienting a weapon muzzle in an unsafe direction which can easily result in a round impacting a spectator or property uprange. Even if the bullet impacts a side berm, there is still substantial risk of the round ricocheting further uprange and striking someone or something if the muzzle is behind that 180 degree plane. The protection of the rear berm, which can safely absorb ricochets from the side berms at less than 180 degrees, does not exist once the muzzle moves beyond 180 degrees.
The most common occurrences of 180 Degree Rule violations are engaging forgotten targets, drawing, moving between shooting positions, reloading, and clearing malfunctions. However, this can be easily avoided. When a shooter realizes that he has moved forward of a target without engaging it, he must resist the temptation to quickly swing the muzzle back uprange to engage. Instead, he should move back uprange of the target (with the muzzle pointed downrange) first then engage the target with it safely downrange. Some courses of fire begin with the shooter facing uprange or to either side. The shooter should not attempt to draw his handgun before his body has turned and is fully oriented downrange. Many courses of fire involve moving slightly or completely uprange between shooting positions, and the shooter may need to break a two handed grip on the weapon and move with the muzzle pointed in a different direction (downrange) than where the shooter is moving. The most common reloading technique involves orienting the muzzle upward to the shooter’s support side to provide the shooter access to the weapon’s magazine well. From this position, even a slight rotation toward the shooter’s support side will cause the muzzle to break that 180 degree plane, so the shooter needs to make sure that his upper body remains facing downrange during a reload. Lastly, malfunction clearances often involve the same weapon position as a reload, but the mental acuity involved with weapon diagnostics during an already stressful course of fire further distracts the shooter from his muzzle orientation. The shooter must ensure that his upper body is oriented downrange before conducting any weapon malfunction clearances.
The 180 Degree Rule must be a constant consideration during every course of fire. Not taking the slight extra time spent to ensure the muzzle does not break that imaginary 180 degree plane during any shooting or weapon manipulation is not worth risking a match disqualification or, worse, inadvertently shooting a bystander uprange.