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First Trip to the Shooting Range: What You Need to Know

Intimidation. That’s likely the first word that comes to a new shooter’s mind when thinking about her first trip to the gun range. As with any new experience, the unknown can be scary. The tips below will hopefully help prepare you for what to expect, the rules and commands on the range, and proper etiquette.

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Safety Rules

It’s a good idea to have some knowledge of firearms ahead of time. At the minimum, you should know the 4 fundamental rules for safe gun handling:

  • All guns are ALWAYS loaded—period. Always assume the gun is loaded, and check for yourself if someone hands one to you.
  • ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction, downrange. Never let the muzzle cover anything you’re not willing to destroy. This is the primary rule of gun safety.
  • ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. Your trigger finger is your safety device. Unless you’re aiming at your target, your finger shouldn’t be touching the trigger.
  • ALWAYS be sure of your target, and what lies beyond it. Ensure that there’s a sufficient backstop or berm, since paper targets will not stop the bullet.
Range Rules Safety

Stacy reads the range rules at every new range she visits. ( Katelyn Bright photo)

 

Know Who’s in Charge

Range safety officers (RSOs) are there to ensure safety and that everyone’s following the rules. Pay attention to their commands. They’re in charge, and what they say goes.  If you’re unsure about anything, ask! Let the RSO know that this is your first time to the range and he or she will be happy to walk you through the basics. Become familiar with these common range commands:

  • Cease Fire. This means STOP shooting immediately. This is normally called by the Range Master/Instructor but may be called by anyone who sees an unsafe condition at any time on the range. During a ceasefire, you should not touch or handle your firearm at all.
  • Make Safe. This means applying safeties (if applicable), holstering the firearm and removing your finger from the trigger. If the gun is not on target or low ready position, it should be in your holster.
  • Range going hot. Live fire is about to begin and you should listen for the command to commence firing.
  • Commence Fire. Disengage the safety and begin firing.
  • Range is cold. Live fire has ceased, wait for RSO to signal that you can change/check targets.

Each range is unique, and rules will vary, especially depending on if you’re shooting handguns, rifles, or shotguns. Rules and commands may also be different depending on if you’re at an indoor or outdoor range, as well as the type of training you’re participating in. The range should have rules posted or available to you when you arrive.

firearms range

Bring the Necessities

Unless you’re renting a firearm from the range, bring your gun in some sort of case or box. Check to make sure it’s unloaded before you enter the range.

Important items to bring include: ammunition, eye and ear protection, and targets (unless they’re provided by or available for purchase at the range). If you bring your own targets into the range, ask to make sure they are approved. Some ranges allow only specific targets. Even though some ranges have eye and ear protection, they’re not always the best quality. Bring your own if you have some!

It’s also recommended that you dress appropriately. Avoid shirts that are low-cut to help prevent hot brass from going down the front. Tennis shoes or similar footwear are also preferred, rather than sandals or flip-flops.

pistol shooting range

Pam Shoots her firearm – first time at the range!

Bring a Friend/Make a Friend

Do you know someone who has been to the shooting range before? If so, bring them along! By having someone who’s familiar with your specific range and the way it’s operated, you can relax and learn from them. It’s also a lot more fun to shoot with friends!

If you’re going alone, don’t worry. Believe it or not, shooters are some of the most friendly and helpful people you’ll ever meet. Be respectful of those shooting, but also pay attention. Often they’re more than willing to help a new shooter if you ask. Before you know it, you’ll be the one helping someone new on the range!

Lead safety at the range

Wash your hands, or use some type of cleansing wipe to remove lead.

Clean Up Afterward

Honor your mom by showing the range personnel that you know how to pick up after yourself. You might hear the term, “police your booth.” That just means you should take down your old targets, pick up or sweep the brass casings that are on the floor in and near your shooting lane, throw away trash, and return benchrests or other equipment to their original position. The person who uses that booth next will appreciate it!

And just a reminder: Make sure you wash your hands and face when you’re done shooting. Cool water and soap will help remove lead and gunpowder residue.

The NRA calls gun range etiquette “a blend of common sense, courtesy and safety.” By following the rules, commands and basic etiquette, your first time to the shooting range will be safe and successful!

Do you have any tips to add for those going to the range for the first time?

  • About Stacy Bright

    Freelance writer Stacy Bright holds instructor certifications from the NRA in Pistol & Rifle, as well as being an Range Safety Officer and Refuse to be a Victim instructor. In addition to her NRA credentials, she also is a Missouri CCW instructor and teaches various other home and personal defense courses. “In a field dominated by men, I feel I bring a unique perspective to firearms and training, especially to women. I'm passionate about educating, empowering and developing confidence in those I train. In November of 2014, I started the Southwest Missouri chapter of The Well Armed Woman,” said Stacy. Stacy lives in southwest Missouri, and has been married for 20 years. Visit TWAW Facebook page: The Well Armed Woman-Springfield, MO Chapter.