9 Tips for First-Time Shooters at the Gun Range

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Previously we discussed how indoor and outdoor ranges operate and some of the rules you might encounter there. Those procedures benefit everyone. Today, let’s be selfish and share tips that directly benefit first-time shooters at the gun range.

Use a Gun Case

Using a gun case (soft or hard) benefits everyone. New shooters will feel less self-conscious toting their firearms into a place they’ve never been. It also puts those working at the range at ease. If someone walks through the front door with an exposed firearm, employees don’t know if they’re about to get robbed or whether the customer just got a new birthday gun.

Once at the range, use your case as much as possible. Bring the whole thing right up to the firing line before you open it. If you can, set your case on the table so that when you remove your gun, it’s already pointed downrange. Repeat the process when you’re ready to leave. Simply put, try to keep your gun in its case whenever you’re not actively shooting.

Ask For Help if You Need It

I might know about this one from personal experience. The first time I shot a semi-automatic pistol, I went to a new range by myself with my newly acquired 1936 mint-condition Colt Woodsman pistol. A few shots into my session, I noticed blood all over the shooting bench. Hmm. Strange. Was it purely coincidental that my support hand was also covered in blood? Sure enough, I had crossed my support-hand thumb behind the slide flying backward at Warp Factor 12 with each shot. It was so sharp I didn’t even feel the cut in the web of my hand, but my ego sure felt it later.

If I had swallowed my pride and asked the nice man at the front counter for a few tips, I wouldn’t have a scar to show off today. Shooters are generally a friendly bunch and almost always willing to help a new shooter out. Take advantage!

Wear a Tight-Collared Shirt

Semi-automatic rifles and pistols will eject spent brass cases after every shot. Having just contained a 20,000 to 65,000 pound-per-square-inch conflagration, those cases are really, really hot! Especially at an indoor range, cartridge cases can bounce off the ceiling and walls, landing almost anywhere. If you shoot enough, one (or more) will eventually go right into your shirt.

Remember the “hot” part? Those cases will create a serious burn almost instantly and cause the victim to do the “OUCH!” dance. If you have a gun in your hand when that happens, you might see everyone at the range suddenly hit the deck to avoid being shot – by you. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and wear a shirt with a closely cut collar.

Two men wearing black vests, sensible clothing and ear protection are lined up in adjacent booths at an indoor shooting range

Note all of the dividers and low ceilings. Hot brass can bounce all over the place, so be sure to wear appropriate clothing and shoes.

Wear Actual Shoes

For the same reason you wear a tight-collared shirt, wear proper shoes and socks. If you wear flip flops or sandals, you will get burned by a brass casing. Save your feet and the embarrassment of the “OUCH!” dance.

If you’re at an outdoor range, shoes serve all sorts of other good purposes. You’ll be in the boonies, so you’re likely to encounter snakes and bugs of all types.

Bring Cloth Tape

You know that cloth tape that sports trainers use on ankles and such? It’s a great addition to your range bag. Long shooting sessions can cause blisters on your gun hand or, if you’re doing a lot of walking to set targets, on your feet. That tape does a wonderful job of protecting damaged skin (and handling minor cuts) so you can enjoy the rest of your outing. It can also be used to hang a target if you run out of staples. Think of it as shooters’ duct tape.

Be a Muzzle Discipline Freak

Who doesn’t want to be loved and adored by everyone at the range? If you’re new to a range facility, one of the best things you can do is rigorously adhere to basic safety procedures while you learn the ropes. The more you go to extraordinary lengths to make sure your gun muzzle points nowhere but straight downrange, the better your experience will be.

A variety of 9mm and .45-caliber semi-automatic handguns lying with their slides locked open and their muzzles pointed downrange on the wooden bench of an outdoor shooting range. Several boxes of American Eagle brand ammunition also sit on the shooting bench.

Even when guns are unloaded, be sure to keep them pointed downrange at all times.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Consider how your gun moves when you load and unload it or rack the slide of a semi-automatic pistol. How about when removing your gun from its case or putting it back? How about when it’s just sitting on the shooting bench? If you can remember to keep that muzzle downrange in all situations, not only will you be safe, everyone else there will appreciate you. Watching your neighbors be careless takes all the fun out of a good range visit.

Be a Trigger Finger Fanatic

Just as you monitor your muzzle direction, watch your trigger finger. Only put it in the trigger guard when actually firing. As soon as your shots are finished, take it out. As with muzzle discipline, think about other times when your finger might slip into the trigger guard. It could happen when you’re talking to your buddy about a previous shot, loading or unloading, or doing anything else with your firearm.

White male hands holding a full-sized semi-automatic pistol in FDE. The muzzle is pointed downrange at an indoor shooting range with yellow containment walls.

Always keep your finger out of the trigger guard unless you’re in the process of firing.

Stay Hydrated

You know what they say about dehydration, right? If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated and behind the curve. The worst part about dehydration is that the first thing to deteriorate is your focus and concentration. Before you even know you’re low on fluids, you’ll be less sharp and alert. That’s not good when handling a firearm. If shooting at an indoor range, take periodic breaks for a bottle of water. If going to an outdoor range, be sure to pack a cooler with plenty of drinks to keep you fresh.

Wash Your Hands

When finished shooting or taking a break, be sure you wash your hands with soap and water. Lead residue from primers and bullet dust will be on your body and you don’t want to ingest any with your food or drink. You also don’t want to touch your face, eyes or mouth with contaminated hands.

Some ranges have lead-cleaning hand wipes that are engineered to remove lead particles. If available, use them!

No one knows all the secrets and etiquette when they embark on a new activity. That’s OK. If you focus on the things you can control, the rest will fall into place smoothly.

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