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March 20, 2019

After purchasing your firearm, you take the time to get to know it a bit better, handling it and learning its intricacies. Now it’s finally time for the fun part – to fire it. That means next up is the shooting range, and that also means, for many, the intimidation factor.

You think to yourself, the range is full of experts who know exactly what they’re doing, and they’re going to know straight away that you’re a newbie. That may or may not be the case, but the chances are that there’ll be others there like you, who are experiencing it for the first time. Hey, we all have to get our feet wet at some point, right?

In order to help cut down on that intimidation factor and make your first time at the range more productive and enjoyable, we’ve put together a list of tips to help ease you into the process and get you on your way to meeting your goals, whether they are self-defense or as a shooting hobbyist.

Learn Proper Etiquette

Etiquette is a very important part of the shooting range experience, and knowing the proper formalities will put you ahead of the game in terms of earning the respect of fellow gun enthusiasts. As with many of the things we’ll talk about in this article, there are certainly variances in terms of how each and every shooting range operates. But there are some general guidelines listed below to follow that will translate to any range you frequent.

Proper Gun Handling

Always keep your gun in a case until you’re ready to shoot it. Never walk into a shooting range with a naked gun, as this tends to make others, especially staff, uneasy. Keep the firearm unloaded and your ammo in a separate bag or pouch until you’re ready to shoot.

Gun Range Rules

Every shooting range has a set of rules that you must abide. As mentioned above, these rules can vary by range, but they are usually posted in a prominent spot so they’re easy to see and read.

Since it’s your first time at the range, do not be afraid to tell the staff this, as they will be eager to help you and point you in the right direction. They want to ensure that you know the rules and have an enjoyable time so that you’ll come back again and again.

The Range Officer is God

Each range will have someone who is called the range officer. This person is the master of the range and what goes on there, and consequently, for the safety of everyone, what this person says and tells you is the absolute, unequivocal law, with absolutely no room for interpretation or debate.

They take their job extremely seriously, and questioning or debating with them is almost always grounds for removal from the range. Now saying this is not to imply that they are mean or the enemy. No, they’re actually your best friend because their sole job is to ensure you and everyone else remain safe

Again, listen to what they say and ask questions if you have them.

Your Lane is Your Lane

Each shooting range has lanes, and your lane is for you and you alone. That also holds true for other shooters. It’s in poor taste to interrupt another shooter in their lane when they’re firing. And never touch another person’s gun or equipment unless explicitly invited by them to do so.

Clean Your Area

Not to sound like your mom, but make sure you clean up after yourself. Yes, you should leave the shooting range in the same condition you found it, or as you would like to come across it. That means taking down your target and cleaning up any trash. If you borrowed or rented equipment from the range, be sure to return it in good condition.

Now that we’ve talked about proper range etiquette, let’s discuss some other helpful tips for beginners.

The Four Principles of Safe Gun Handling

These are fairly common sense, but something all gun owners must know. They are:

  • Always consider a weapon to be loaded
  • Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot
  • Always point the firearm in the safe direction – that is, keep it pointing down range, or at the target end of the range when on the firing line. Anywhere else you should keep it holstered or in your gun case.
  • Always know your target, as well as what’s behind it. This is what’s known as the backstop, and helps ensure there isn’t a person behind where you’re shooting.

Memorize and master the four principles of safe gun handling first and foremost.

Experience on Your Side

If you know someone who has gun and range experience, it’s a great idea to bring that person or persons along for your first time. Having an experienced, helping hand to guide you along through the process and ways of the range is invaluable, especially in relieving some of your anxiety and stress of being at the range for the first time.

Shooting Range Terminology

The terminology and commands of each range can vary; however, for the most part the main focal point of these terms has to do with letting people know when it’s OK to fire and when not to. A “hot” range means that it’s OK to shoot, while a “cold” range means a ceasefire time and that it’s not OK to shoot.

If you aren’t shooting, be sure to stand at least one to two yards behind the shooter. In front of the shooting table, you’ll notice a red/yellow line. Do not go beyond that line unless explicitly invited to do so by the range officer. Again, listen to the range officer and his or her commands and you’ll be just fine.

What to Expect at the Shooting Range

Lastly, let’s give a quick run through of what will most likely happen when you actually enter the shooting range building. Remember to keep your gun unloaded when you enter, and don’t forget to bring targets and ammo. You’ll step up to the counter and pay the range fee. Do not be afraid to tell staff that you’re new and ask any questions you may have at this time. If you forgot targets, ammo or safety glasses, you can purchase those now.

At this time, you’ll almost certainly be asked to sign a liability waiver. This is standard. Next, put on your eye and ear protection and proceed to the shooting range. Some ranges have a person who will guide you to the range, while others simply point you in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in finding the range.

You can now unpack your gear, including targets, ammo and gun, and point your gun down range (toward the target end). Attach your target and select the distance you want it at. If this is your first time, start small and work from there. A good starting target range is around seven to ten yards

Next, load your magazines and firearm, and you’re officially ready to go ahead and shoot. Take your time and enjoy the process. After one or two times at the range, you’ll know your way around and feel much more relaxed about what to do and how to act.

Then perhaps next time, you’ll be the experienced shooter helping a friend navigate their first time at the range. r a full line of shooting range gear, bags and accessories, be sure to visit our Shooting Range page.