People head to the gun range for multiple reasons. Some may be sighting in a new firearm, while others may be testing out a new type of ammo for an upcoming hunting trip. The range is a great place to practice with your handgun, or even take your family for a fun day of target plinking with your .22. At the end of the day, whether you head to the range for training, education, or just plain enjoyment, the overall experience can be improved when you plan ahead.
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As a person with a physical disability, this planning can be a deal breaker on whether I have a successful day at the range, and it all begins before I leave my house. My first consideration? Location, location, location. Here in Cody, Wyoming, I have 3 options for shooting. I can head to the local indoor range, the outdoor gun range, or I can go out to a piece of public ground. The indoor range can be expensive, but it is beneficial when the weather isn’t good. The outdoor range requires a paid membership, but it provides shooting benches, targets for short and long range, and other accommodations.
If you are surveying a range for accessibility for yourself or a friend with a disability, whether it is an indoor or outdoor range, start in the parking lot. Is it a paved lot? Are there clearly marked handicapped parking spots with plenty of space to lower a ramp from a vehicle? Look at the pathway from the parking area to the range facility. Does it allow for ramped access all the way to the shooting area? At shooting benches, make sure the chair or stool can be removed so that someone in a wheelchair can roll under the table unhindered. In shooting lanes, watch for the height distance so that you can shoot safely and comfortably over the tops of the lane.
Don’t forget to check out the additional facilities offered at the range. If there is a clubhouse or office, look for access into the building as well as inside the building. Are the bathroom facilities accessible? Any extra accommodations provided by the range should be inspected for accessibility options for shooters with disabilities. If you aren’t even sure what to look for, ask your friend what she specifically needs in order to ensure a safe and barrier-free shooting experience.
We are fortunate here in Wyoming to have access to many public areas that are conducive to shooting. Since our indoor and outdoor ranges don’t always meet my physical needs, we often head to an old gravel pit nearby to shoot handguns or to work on our daughter’s .22 skills. With high, deep dirt berms free from rock and debris, there are multiple locations for firearm practice and education. The surrounding ground is hard-packed earth and easy for me to maneuver with my manual wheelchair. I can be safe and independent while shooting my handgun or helping my little girl understand her rifle. We can also work on sighting in our hunting rifles, and I can practice in multiple shooting positions, including from our parked pickup truck, which is a legal option for me while hunting. If your gun range isn’t accessible, look for public land that will allow shooters with disabilities to be safe while still enjoying the full benefits of an accessible experience.
Once you’ve chosen the appropriate location, it’s time to pack your range bag. Regardless of your physical abilities, always start with the basics. Make sure you include eye and ear protection, your unloaded firearm and appropriate ammunition. I like to have my firearm manual and a good cleaning kit in my bag as well. If you are heading out to public land, you will probably need to bring your own targets, as well as tape or a staple gun to affix them to a box or wooden post. A rangefinder is convenient if you are sighting in your firearm to a specific yardage, and as safety should always be a priority, first aid supplies are not a bad thing to consider packing.
Depending on you or your friend’s disability, additional equipment is specific to the individual. Shooters with limited dexterity may prefer ear muffs, as opposed to smaller ear buds that can be difficult to adjust. Some shooters may require assistance with trigger pull or holding and aiming the firearm itself. Personally, I prefer the Primos Trigger Sticks when sighting in my rifle. They are easily adjusted and fit perfectly over my wheelchair. They also come in a variety of heights and configurations depending on your needs and abilities. I am independent when shooting my handgun and shotgun, but there are options for those who need assistance. The Be Adaptive website offers many options for gun mounts and trigger adaptations. Flambeau produces the MAD Shooter’s Aid, which is designed to fit on the butt of your rifle or shotgun for a hands-free experience. This is beneficial for a shooter who lives with an upper body amputation or who may need assistance when shouldering a shotgun. Before long, all of your equipment can stack up, so I also recommend maintaining a checklist so that you never forget anything while packing your range bag.
You’ve found the perfect location, you’ve packed all of the needed equipment and you’re headed to the range. Once you arrive, agree on your safety rules and have a candid discussion about any adaptations that are needed for the shooter with a disability. If you are assisting a shooter with a disability, ask her to carefully explain any equipment you are unfamiliar with, including how you can help them use the gear. Don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions; a gun range is never a place for hesitancy or unanswered questions. Most shooters are familiar with their own equipment, but if this is a first-time experience, don’t be reluctant to offer suggestions or adjustments. When honest, open dialogue is allowed, a day at the range can be an educational experience for everyone. As long as safety is always the first priority, you won’t go wrong.
The beauty of shooting sports is that they span all societal groups. Your race, gender, age or physical abilities should have no bearing on your opportunity to enjoy a day at the range. Choose your location, pack your range bag, and have a safe, enjoyable day learning about and improving your shooting skills. Have fun!
Ashlee Lundvall writes a blog titled "Redefining Life," sponsored by Mace Brand, that follows her rise from a debilitating injury as a teenager to Ms. Wheelchair USA in 2013. Her first book, "A Redefined Life," was released in February of 2016, and she was recently invited to join the National Pro Staff for Mossy Oak and the NRA’s Disabled Shooting Sports committee. Ashlee is also the recipient of the 2017 SCI Foundation Pathfinder Award. Ashlee truly shines as a keynote speaker at outdoor industry and disability related events and conferences. She is passionate about mentoring newly injured patients, and loves to pass on her love for adapted outdoor recreation! View all posts by Ashlee Lundvall