Bag carry: barrel up or barrel down

| April 14, 2014 | 3 Comments

I was probably ten years old when my father first taught me about carrying a long gun safely. If I consider discussions about airguns, that age probably rewinds to maybe age 6. It’s hard to remember NOT knowing the three-and-a-half rules of firearm safety.

Anyway, from age 10 until about three years ago I was taught to carry and store a long arm with the barrel up.

This has changed for some safety and practical reasons, and now I carry muzzle-down.

This article isn’t about the advantages to carrying muzzle-down over muzzle-up, but here are some quick reasons why I’ve changed my practices:

  • In the case of a negligent discharge, muzzle-down will generally be safer than muzzle-up.
  • In the event of a struggle over a long gun, muzzle-down will allow you to cover at least some part of the attacker’s body with the muzzle. We practice “flat-stock” and low-body contact shooting with rifles and shotguns.
  • I don’t have to put my face near the muzzle of a long gun when I take it out of storage. Even if the weapon is unloaded, my father (and many instructors since him) have taught me to treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
  • You may encounter more obstructions when bringing a long gun from the muzzle-up ready position, depending on your environment, barrel length, if you’re crowding your cover or not, etc. Our primary firearms instructor tells of a law enforcement officer who was unable to bring his long gun into action because he slammed it down on the roof of a car. Deploying from muzzle-down would have prevented this.

Anyway, once you start carrying your rifle, PDW or AR pistol every day, muzzle orientation becomes even more important.

With the exception of my KPOS Glock SBR, I keep my firearms in a bag with the safety off, an empty chamber, and a fully loaded magazine inserted. The KPOS’s forward grip has a piece that fully encloses the trigger, much like a holster.

If you carry a firearm in a bag long enough, the safety will move on you. The big safety lever on an AK will migrate, but not so far (yet) to complete go from “fire” to “safe.” The safety switch on an AR is much smaller, but also has less distance to travel. Keep this in mind if you decide to carry a firearm in a bag with a round in the chamber.

If you decide to carry your bag firearm with a loaded chamber, you will have a higher chance of negligent discharge due to safety walk, any obstructions you encounter when drawing, and nervous / sloppy procedure.

Carrying a firearm muzzle up in this situation would mean blasting yourself instead of the bad guy. Don’t do that.


Another reason I carry muzzle down is that it means “grip up.” All of the SBRs, PDWs and AR pistols I own can be fired without the stock extended, and their firing controls can all be manipulated with the stocks folded. If necessary, I could chamber a round in my Mini Draco AK47 SBR and shoot it without unfolding the stock.

If I carried muzzle up, I would have to grab the forend or barrel first, then withdraw my firearm, then either switch grips (if I grabbed the weapon with my primary hand) or grab the grip last (if I grabbed the forend with my off-hand and/or shot off-side).


There’s already a ton of crap going on when drawing from a bag, and it’s not going to be fast. I want to minimize my procedure and decrease deployment time as much as possible. In one of my practice sessions in 2013 it took 17 seconds to unlock my bag and deploy my KPOS Glock SBR. Too long!

Muzzle up in a bag has one advantage. A muzzle up firearm is far less likely to print. Muzzle-down concentrates the weight of the weapon into a small (by comparison) point.

This is easy to test: without a reinforcement plate / laptop sleeve / whatever, put your rifle in your bag muzzle-down. Pick up your bag and look at it. Now put it in muzzle up and do it again.

You should be able to see the muzzle pushing against the fabric at the bottom of the bag. Depending on how heavy your firearm is and the construction of your bag this may be an unacceptable amount of printing.

In general, however, I think it is safer and more expedient to carry a firearm muzzle down in a bag.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.

3 Comments on "Bag carry: barrel up or barrel down"

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  1. Charles says:

    I’ve always felt that muzzle down is preferable.
    At my favorite “away” range, Billy the proprietor/range officer -insists- on muzzle down in his areas.
    As he puts it ” if a ND occurs, and you are unfortunate enough to be ‘muzzle up’ when it happens, you MUST determine which direction the projectile went and follow it -where-ever it goes- and don’t come back until you find it.” Period.
    With those sort of rules about muzzle orientation he has few scofflaws.
    At the Cowboy shooting match s that I really enjoy, and that seem terrificly concerned about safety in ALL circumstance, they have an entirely opposite attitude, ‘barrels UP’ with no arguement entertained. I find myself at odds when attending because there is SO MUCH noise generated about “sweeping” the range with your muzzle, and I just can’t figure how that ‘up’ attitude lessens the chance of someone being sweeped with a muzzle over the opposite ‘down’ attitude.
    And there’s also the likelyhood that any ND would hit the ground rather than sailing away to whatever resting place it ended up at.
    I think the Cowboys have got it wrong, but they just refuse to consider the merits of muzzle down.
    So far as bag carry, I stuff the .300Blk -or- 5.45 AR pistols in the ‘down’ direction. When I carry in the SafariLand shoulder sling it is muzzle down, and when I need to draw either of them from the Diversion racquet bag I expect to reach in and place my hand on the grip and pull the arm up/out-push the the bag down/off and be ready to present the arm READY for use.
    No juggleing, no wondering WHY AM I LOOKING INTO THE BARREL? or any other improper orientation of my loaded/cocked long barreled pistol to deal with. I run ambi selectors on all my AR s and have found that if I just leave the selector detent spring full length instead of cutting it to make the movement easier on the thumb that I have no problem with the selector migrating position due to rubbing on gear/bag ect. .
    As to the printing thing, I’m more concerned about the undue wear that the bag receives from the Troy muzzle break digging into the bag with the pistol’s weight behind it than the bag revealing it’s contents because of printing occurring. I might sew in a muzzle guard to prevent the wear and broaden the load bearing area for the muzzle inside the bag. The only other concern I have due to bag carry is how it affects the use of a sling. The AR pistol can be much more effective when utilizing a sling, and a bag makes using a sling onerous, and I just haven’t worked out how to overcome those difficulties and how these two pieces of gear impinge upon the effectiveness of each other.
    Now if I just looked more like the tennis type to go with the bag’s profile….

  2. Colorado Mtn Man, Deputy Sheriff says:

    Lots has changed in the last 35 years in gun safety. Now, I also carry most weapons muzzle down. Our handguns are always deployed muzzle down in the close-to-the-chest method. I still carry a full length shotgun muzzle up when hunting in the field to avoid filling the barrel with dirt if I stumble.

    One thing we have recently changed on our patrol rifles: we leave the chamber empty but we do not leave the breach open. On an AR-15 or AR-10, it is fairly easy for the bolt to slam shut when the cruiser hits a bump on the way to the scene. That results in a loaded chamber in a fast running squad car. We leave the chamber empty, the bolt forward, the safety on and the magazine fully inserted. It is quite easy to chamber a round on the way out of the car.

  3. B R KURTZ B R KURTZ says:

    I tend to carry chamber empty but with a loaded mag in place for my bag guns. It adds an extra layer of safety if my bay is compromised; especially since don’t use a lock on my bag.

    Barrel DOWN means less fiddling with the weapon if I need it. All I have to do is open it enough get a grip on the weapon; then depending on the bag and the weapon type, I can chamber a round without removing the weapon and fire while the weapon is still inside the bag. Obviously that’s not the preferred method but its faster than completely removing the gun in an emergency.

    I also make a point of padding or re-enforcing the bottom of the bag, to support the muzzle. It can be as simple as scrap cardboard or plastic cut to the shape of the bottom of the bag from a milk jug. Recently Ive been using a piece of closed cell foam (sleeping pad) cut to fit. The foam seems to keep the muzzle from slipping.


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