In this multiple part series, I will share with you some of my favorite tips and tricks for making your range experience enjoyable and safe. Over the next several weeks, I will share with you a different tip in each post. The range is your place to practice your craft and hone your skills. While no ranges are exactly the same, there are some general rules and best practices that will keep you out of trouble and help get the most value and enjoyment out of your time there. So you’ve got your lipstick on, guns packed, and are off to the range….now what?
One of my favorite Range Safety Officers (RSO) always starts the shotgun orientation at our local range by telling new shooters the most important rule is “Safety First, Fun Second.” It’s a catchy but true little phrase and one I find myself using when I am taking a new shooter with me to enjoy some Pew Pew Time. Safety is important. The consequences if you don’t are often discussed and well known. Firearms are unquestionably dangerous, particularly when they are handled unsafely. Safety is the ONE thing at the range you must get right: your gun can jam, you can miss the target, you can lose control of your bowels, but any safe day at the range is a good day.
Beyond the obvious and often touted basic rules that you’ll either know from training, personal research, or a class, there is a mindset aspect that is required. While safety doesn’t require the concentration of calculus, but it’s not as mindless as, say, binge watching a show on Netflix.. you have to be mentally PRESENT and think about every interaction you have with a firearm. Being at the range with a firearm is like taking your most expensive and prized handbag into a crowded and chaotic event. You need to be aware of it at all time to avoid trouble — with your firearm, losing concentration can mean someone gets very hurt. Each and every interaction with your firearm has the potential to be dangerous and you MUST be focused.
Speaking of interactions, you will also have interactions with other shooters and hopefully, some competent range officers. The range officers you’ll run into are responsible for making sure everyone and everything happening on the range at any time is safe, this is an incredible responsibility that would drive most people flat nuts. I PROMISE you they aren’t paying them enough to make sure hundreds of people don’t accidentally shoot themselves or others, but they still do it. If you are nervous, or unsure at any point, be sure to patiently ask the range officer to help, and give them the benefit of the doubt if they are stressed. I’ll be blogging more on range etiquette in a later edition of this series, but a general rule of thumb is politeness, patience, and appreciation go a long way.
Firearms safety is a topic that could encompass and entire blog in and of itself and I need some time and space to talk about lipstick, so this is by no means a complete list, but here are some rules with which you really can’t go wrong:
- Jeff Cooper’s Four Rules:
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
- Be sure of your target, and what is beyond it.
If you are renting a firearm to try (as I highly recommend you do before buying and discuss in Part 3 of my “So You Want to Buy a Gun” series, there are some questions you are going to want to ask about the firearm so you can follow those rules with confidence:
- How do I clear this firearm?
- The first thing to do when handling any firearm, any time you first pick it up, even if you were the last person to touch it, is something called “clearing the firearm.” This means you are visually making sure that the firearm is completely unloaded. For most firearms this means making sure there is no ammo in a magazine or feeding tube and that there is no “round in the chamber” — aka a round that is ready to fire. If you are renting a magazine-fed firearm and haven’t been shown how to remove the magazine, be sure to ask exactly where the magazine release is located if it’s not obvious. On the firing line, possibly under stress because the Range Officer has called a ceasefire, is not the time to struggle to clear your firearm.
- Are there any manual or passive safeties?
- Nothing can be more frustrating than getting up to the firing line, getting mentally ready, going through the process of getting a good sight picture, good stance, controlling your breathing, and squeezing that trigger slowly only to find when you squeeze the trigger, nothing happens but an unsettling silence. You probably have a safety engaged somewhere. Active safeties are usually a switch or lever that must manually be turned off for a firearm to shoot; these can be tricky and some will automagically engage when doing things like loading a new magazine. Typically you don’t have to worry about passive safeties if you are doing things correctly. They are meant to get out of the way when you are correctly gripping and pulling the trigger on a firearm.
- How often do the rentals get cleaned?
- Try to ask this gently, but it’s important to ask, especially if you are evaluating a firearm for purchase. Many rental range employees have confided in me that they only clean them when they start to malfunction. If this is the case, you may be the person lucky enough to get a firearm that has reached the “too dirty to work reliably” stage. Bottom line, it may be smart to ask the employee to give the rental a once-over to make sure it doesn’t have 1,000 rounds of caked on gunk before you hit the firing line. As time goes on, you’ll learn to recognize a dirty gun when you see one, but in the beginning, it is not cool but advisable to nicely ask when the last time the firearm was cleaned.
Every range I’ve ever been to has a list of rules somewhere. Some make you watch a video, others will have an RSO talk you through them, and some just have them posted (although the latter is pretty rare). Regardless of the delivery of these rules, pay attention to them. Most ranges have some quirks particular to that location. Some tell you how often you can fire (with 3 to 5 seconds between shots being the usual). Others have very detailed ways of handling cease fires. It is best to give these proper credence. You’ll be glad you did.
Safety is the first and most critical part of shooting. Not only does it make the experience enjoyable, it quite literally makes sure you get out of there alive and with all of your limbs. I hope you’ll always take it seriously and follow the rules closely.
It’s important to note, all of this safety talk may make you think going to the range is stressful and a lot of work, it’s not. When you’ve got good safety habits practiced until they become a reflex and you are with a bunch of competent shooters with the same reflexes you will find that range time is anything but stressful. You just have to get there.
Photo by simonov