Guide to going to a shooting range for the first time.
Good evening guys and gals, I hope the holiday season that is upon us is not causing too much stress for you all.
Today's post is about going to the shooting range for the first time.
It never occurred to me that going to the shooting range for the first time can be somewhat of an intimidating experience; I’ve been shooting most of my life and it’s just something that’s been comfortable to go out and do. After a customer recently had asked if I would go with him to the range because he’d never been to one of our local ranges before, because he wanted to make sure he was doing things correctly at the range, I thought I’d write out a simple guide that could help the new shooter with their first trip to the range.
Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, and each range may have some differences, though most insured ranges will operate similarly. First things first: pre-range preparation Before you go to the range it’s generally a good idea to have everything you need to shoot ready to go. I generally like to have the following things ready to go and either loaded in the car the night before, or in a space where they can be easily transferred to my car from my house early in the morning:
1)The gun- I like to orient my firearms in such a way that when I approach the bench that I know my firearm will be pointed down range. In the case of a rifle, this is generally easy to do when using a soft case or a hard shaped case as you can tell which end is pointing where, but in the case of a multi gun or square case I try to at least make sure I know where the muzzle of the gun is pointing before I open the case. Some of my cases I have marked to show which way the gun is pointing, some cases I know because the foam is cut a certain way to contain the firearm in the case. Either way, make sure you have your gun and you’re somewhat sure which way the gun is pointing.
2)The ammo- I usually have a lockable ammo case. In California, it’s important to remember that you must have your gun stored away from your ammo during transport, so if your gun is in the back of the car, the ammo should be in the front, or vice versa. At our local range at Circle S ranch, they do not sell ammo, so make sure you have enough ammunition to accommodate shooting for as long as you plan on being there.
3)The range bag- this is what contains most of the other stuff- first aid kit, hearing and vision protection, spare targets, staple gun, range estimator, binoculars or spotting scope, target hole stickers, screw drivers, cleaning tools, etc. anything you need at the range that isn’t a gun or ammo, should be in the range bag, ready to go:
First aid kit- I like to keep a first aid kit handy in case something happens. I have a basic first aid kit with an added trauma pack with quick clot in the event that either I or somebody else is accidentally shot, or injured while shooting.
Spare targets- while some ranges might provide targets, others sell them for use. I like to have my own targets and use hole stickers to cover holes to conserve my targets. This generally allows me to shoot for a long time and what allowed me to stay at the range over the course of 8 hours when I used to shoot ever Friday out at circle S ranch.
Screw drivers/tools- a good firearm screwdriver set is handy to have on hand in case you have to make adjustments to your firearm or there’s an issue you need to address. Still other firearms require certain tools to adjust and clean while at the range, so it’s good to have these in your range bag.
Cleaning supplies- it’s generally a good idea to clean out your firearm while you’re still at the range. I usually have a cleaning rod or at least a bore snake to clean out the barrel while I’m at the range; if I’ve been there longer, I’ll not only clean the barrel to prevent fowling, but I’ll generally detail clean the firearm once I get home to ensure it’s all hunky dory when I want to use it again. Note: the primary work I get into the shop are firearms that have not been cleaned in a very long time, so if you clean your firearm when you’re done using it, you won’t have to pay someone like me between 35 and 50 dollars to clean something you could clean for free.
Hearing and vision protection- while I’m generally not a fan of vision protection due to how it interferes with the scope on my rifle, I none the less have it in my range bag as some ranges require it as part of there insurance policy. I will admit there’s been times I’ve worn it and been glad I did when testing a 45 auto that liked to eject towards me and pelted me in the face- I may not like it but it comes in handy. Also, you don’t know who or what is shooting next to you, and you could get pelted by somebody else’s brass. Hearing protection is a given, as you’re dealing with explosions varying in loudness from supersonic to subsonic but all above the level you should be going without hearing protection. If you want to save your ears, wear your hearing protection. This can be as simple as ear plugs, to ear muffs. I have electronic muffs which help, though sometimes I use simple ear plugs made for shooting. It’s up to you which you use, but you should indeed use them.
Staple gun/thumb tacks- these are simply to help with mounting your target to the target board. In the case of an indoor range, you won’t need them, but for outdoor, they are a must. If you have one, you don’t have to worry about borrowing one.
Appropriate clothing for the range- it’s generally advisable to wear clothes suitable for shooting. If you’re a woman, wearing clothes which aren’t revealing helps in that it can prevent hot brass from falling down your blouse. At an outdoor range such as circle S, it’s probably between 40 and 60 degrees on most days, so wear clothing for cooler weather. Also, wear shoes meant for being outside. If you wear nice clothes to a range, expect them to get dirty, dusty, or muddy.
At the range: Once you get to the range of your choice, you must always check in, unless you’re shooting on public lands. For these purposes we’ll assume you’re shooting in a privately owned range:
first things first, before even going to the range, it's important to remember the NRA range rules, which are good common sense rules that will make your time more enjoyable and prevent accidents:
“No one is so good that basic firearms and range safety rules don’t apply”
•Wear eye and ear protection as appropriate.
•Never use alcohol or over-the-counter, prescription or other drugs that may cause impairment before or while shooting.
•Know how to use the gun safely.
•Be sure the gun is safe to operate.
•Use only the correct ammunition for your gun.
ALWAYS treat all firearms as if they are loaded!
now, on to the range:
Check in and pay- Once you get to the range, check in with the clerk or the range master and pay your dues. If you’re at circle S ranch for instance, go ahead and go check in and pay first before you transport. A lot of times you can tell if there’s a cease fire in progress and it will prevent you from getting yelled at for transporting, which is a violation of their rules is.
Read and understand the rules- As part of the check in process, if you’ve never been to the range, they will have you read their rules and regulations. Make sure you read all of their rules. I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve seen poor yelp reviews for ranges because they got yelled at for violations of their rules because the person being yelled at didn’t know the rules yet. Before you ever go, if possible, read the rules beforehand, as most ranges have their rules posted online. If not, then read the rules before you transport into the range just to be on the safe side. When it comes to guns, “I didn’t know” isn’t a good excuse. Make sure you know the rules.
Find a lane to shoot in- if you’re at an outdoor range, this is where you’d go to mount your target and set up. And important note is to not try to mount the target when the line is “hot”, as people are shooting and you’ll get yelled at or worse, you’ll get dead. Never cross the firing line to mount a target unless the range master has instructed you that it’s safe to do so. At an indoor range, this isn’t an issue and you can bring the target to you, hang it, and shoot to your heart’s content. Always remember to follow the instructions of the rangemaster, regardless of what kind of range you’re shooting at.
Prepare your shooting area- I like to have the cases oriented down range, and have any ammunition I need ready to go before the line is called, one way or the other. The better staged your area is, the more time you have to shoot. If you don’t have things organized, you can be stuck without a target to shoot, and in the case of an outdoor range, if you leave your targets on the bench and the line is called as safe, you can’t approach the bench to get your targets until the next line is called for safety reasons. In the case of an indoor range, this isn’t as much of a concern, but it’s still important to have your shooting area staged so you can maximize your shooting fun or practice.
Police your brass- if you’re at a range that allows it, police your brass- meaning, pick up your spent casings. Even if you don’t reload, and you just throw the brass away, it’s a common courtesy to pick it up and dispose of it. This keeps the range looking nice and prevents slipping for both you and the next shooter who uses your area.
Throw away your used cardboard, and other garbage- a lot of ammo comes in cardboard boxes. If you don’t reload, and don’t want to save your boxes, throw this garbage away in the appropriate area.
Be mindful of your surroundings- if you see something that is happening at the range, in most cases it is permissible to call a cease fire yourself if you notice something dangerous occurring. If nothing else, if you see something, stop it yourself, or alert the range master themselves of the issue. Case in point: I was shooting with my girlfriend at circle s at the pistol range, and they have these nice diagrams that show how to shoot and how to hold your weapon on target in this instance, a gentleman was at this location, pointing his firearm at the same diagram to mimic what he saw.. The problem is these are posted in the same direction as the parking lot and this gentleman was basically pointing a firearm at a plywood board that had the parking lot behind it, meaning it wasn’t a safe direction. We alerted the range master, who then yelled at the gentleman to get himself and his firearm back to the firing line or leave, and then told us we could tell somebody ourselves if we saw that type of thing happening. Follow the range rules, and remember, you’re responsible for the safety of all patrons of the range too.
Have safe fun- while you’re probably at the range to practice skills and have fun, it’s important to be safe. Remember, the thing you’re enjoying has the potential to kill somebody and is not a toy- essentially it’s a single stroke engine/contained explosion that expels a projectile at an enormous amount of speed and force.
Wash your hands afterwards- This is something that most people don't think about, but if you're health conscious, you might want to wash your hands after you're done shooting. Gun powder and other gun products can contain lead, which ends up on your hands while shooting, in addition to other chemicals, which are known cancer causing agents, so before eating it's generally advisable to wash the residue from your hands.
Don't Smoke or eat at the range- in addition to being somewhat of a courtesy in terms of smoking, it's advisable to not smoke at the range for the same reason washing your hands is advisable: when you shoot or eat, you have the potential to ingest cancer causing agents which may over time cause you to develop cancer or other illnesses. as such, it's generally to hold off smoking or eating until after you are done shooting for the day, and before anyone thinks "well smoking causes cancer, so why bother?" well, it's just a general rule of thumb, as the chemicals in gun residue are different from those in cigarettes and may or may not be more harsh, and even if you don't care about taking chances with cancer, you may care about the safety and well being of those you shoot with, such as your children, family or friends. it's a way to keep everyone as healthy as possible.
again this is not an exhaustive list but it's a good start. shooting at a range can be a fun and enjoyable experience and the more you prepare yourself for that experience, the better the time you'll have.
See you at the range! and as always, stay safe and happy shooting!
-Ken Kraushaar is the owner / operator of Ken Kraushaar Firearms Service and has been shooting for over 30 years. Ken is a Certified Range Safety Officer, Certified Firearm Specialist, and a state certified Firearm Safety Certificate instructor, and lives in beautiful Sonoma County.-