Answering FAQs About Gun Ranges

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To the new shooter, range rules and procedures can sometimes appear to be capricious and solely intended to take all the fun out of an outing. I can assure you that most any rule you encounter exists for good reason. Here are some of the most common FAQs about gun ranges.

What Does a Range Safety Officer Do?

Many ranges have a Range Safety Officer (RSO). His or her role is to keep an eye on things so you can focus on shooting rather than monitoring the overall status of the shooting line. An RSO may provide safety briefings to people entering the range, watch for unsafe behavior and call for hot and cold range conditions. The RSO is there for everyone’s safety!

Why Do I Need Eye and Hearing Protection If I’m Not Even Shooting?

The noise and pressure generated by a gunshot can exceed 160 decibels. Every time your ears are exposed to a gunshot without protection, you sustain permanent and irreparable damage. You may not realize it at the time, but it happens. Distance helps, but the viewing area at many ranges can be close enough to subject people to hearing damage if they’re not wearing ear protection.

Vertical white metal sign with a thin black border attached to a wooden post at an outdoor shooting range. The sign has WARNING in big red letters followed by EVERYONE MUST HAVE HEARING AND EYE PROTECTION BEYOND THIS POINT in capital black letters.

If you see a sign like this, it means that you are close enough to the firing line to experience permanent hearing damage without ear protection.

As for safety glasses, bullet fragments can travel a long way. It’s possible for an errant shot to send fragments straight back toward the shooting line, even at distances of 100 yards or more. Even if you’re just watching, always protect your eyes — you’re only issued one pair at birth!

What Are Berms and Why Is Everyone So Concerned About Them?

Berms are generally huge piles of dirt behind the target area of outdoor ranges. They’re designed to stop and trap bullets. Berms built to the sides of the shooting area catch shots fired at angles across the range. Always be sure to fire so that your rounds go into, and never above, the berms. Even a small .22 LR bullet can travel a mile or more if fired above the backstop. Bullets can also skip and fly over backstops. Please make sure that none of your shots impact the flat ground in front of the berms either.

A large berm surrounds the back and sides of an outdoor range. The firing line benches are covered with black tablecloths bearing yellow Browning Ammunition logos. Five black silhouette targets stand on wooden frames downrange.

Berms are usually large piles of dirt that serve as back and side stops to catch bullets. Sometimes berms are made of other materials like log piles.

Why Can’t I Shoot Steel Targets?

Some ranges, especially indoor ones, don’t allow the use of steel targets. Bullets shatter and fragment when they strike steel. That’s why steel-target manufacturers publish minimum safe distances. Indoor ranges are simply too short and too busy to account for fragmentation. Also, the fragments would cause damage to floors and walls. Even many outdoor ranges discourage the use of steel targets for similar reasons, so be sure to check before you go.

Why Does the Range Want to Inspect My Ammunition?

Depending on how a range is built, some types of ammunition may be unsafe to use or may cause damage to targets and the backstop. For example, indoor ranges rarely, if ever, allow the use of steel-core penetrator ammunition because it damages the backstop. Outdoor ranges may also prohibit the use of this type of ammo, as it will destroy expensive steel targets and render them unsafe to use. Additionally, many ranges prohibit tracer ammunition, which can start fires, especially in dry conditions.

A white male with pale hands grips a black semiautomatic pistol while aiming the muzzle at an orange disc polymer target in an indoor range with black walls and backdrop

Some indoor ranges are making targets more interesting by installing polymer plate racks. Bullets pass right through these like paper, so they’re safe to use at close range because they don’t create bullet fragments.

Why Don’t Ranges Allow You to Shoot Reloaded Ammunition?

Public ranges have to worry about the safety of everyone present, so many don’t allow the use of handloaded ammunition. While you may be meticulous and careful loading your own, the range staff has no way of verifying that. Since they’re responsible for the shooters around you, they simply can’t assume the additional liability of allowing handloaded ammo.

What Are Hot and Cold Ranges?

A “hot” or “cold” range refers to the temporary status of the shooting line. When a range is “hot,” people are shooting, and no one is allowed downrange to set or check targets. When a range is called “cold,” all shooting stops and shooters are advised to step away from their guns.

Why Can’t I Handle My Gun When the Range Is Cold?

Whether unloaded or not (remember, a gun is always loaded!), there should be no handling of firearms when a range is cold. Shooters headed downrange have no way of knowing if every gun on the line is actually unloaded. If people are handling guns on the line, they increase the probability of a negligent discharge. Always place your guns on the shooting bench, preferably unloaded and with actions open, when the range is called cold.

Why Doesn’t the Range Allow Rapid Fire?

Rapid fire can be dangerous when performed by less-skilled shooters. As firearms recoil, the muzzle tends to rise with each shot. An incompetent shooter can send bullets flying in undesirable directions, such as over target backstops. Ranges have to plan for the safety of all involved and operate under the same rules for all shooters. The rules apply even if you are confident in your rapid-fire abilities.

Handmade vertical yellow sign featuring areas plastered with cut white paper and large black letters. The ad hoc sign reads NO RAPID FIRE, BUMP STOCKS, BINARY TRIGGERS, NO SHOT GUN OR .410 NO OPEN TOED SHOES

Signs like this aren’t intended to be killjoys. These types of rules and policies exist for good reasons.

Why Doesn’t the Range Allow Drawing From a Holster?

Ranges with shooting benches on the line generally prohibit drawing from a holster. The bench poses an immediate obstacle in front of the shooter. Consequently, there is a greater risk of the bench interfering with the draw motion or shot. Inadvertent shots impacting the bench are a safety hazard for everyone. It’s also hard for public ranges to know that all shooters are skilled at safe draw procedures. The no-drawing rule helps guarantee safety for everyone.

Why Can’t I Use Cross-Draw, Ankle or Shoulder Holsters?

Some draw methods require the muzzle of the handgun to point in unsafe directions during the draw stroke. For example, with a cross-draw holster, the muzzle will point at the shooter on your support side as the gun comes out of the holster and swings to the target. Shoulder holsters point the muzzle behind the shooter. Then the draw motion sweeps the support side as the gun rotates toward the target. Both of these draw strokes can violate Rule 3 (never point the muzzle at something you’re not intending to destroy).

Why Can’t I Shoot at Tannerite at My Range? It’s Legal!

There’s no doubt that Tannerite and other binary explosive targets can be lots of fun when used according to strict manufacturer safety guidelines. However, inappropriate use can, and has, caused severe injury to shooters and observers. Some ranges prohibit the use of explosive targets due to noise control restrictions from neighboring properties.

Three cardboard silhouette targets on wooden stands downrange at an outdoor shooting range on a bright, suny day. he argets are peppered with bullet holes in the chest and head areas. A dirt berm is covered with scrub grass in the background.

Many ranges only allow the use of paper targets and cardboard backers. More reactive targets can cause ricochets.

What Should I Do If I See Someone Breaking Safety Rules?

If you’re at a range with an RSO, immediately inform the officer of what’s going on. If the unsafe behavior is an immediate danger to others, it’s the responsibility of any shooter to yell “Cease Fire!” to prevent the situation from causing harm. If the range is unmonitored, you have two choices. You can approach the unsafe shooter and politely ask them to change their behavior. You can also choose to pack up and leave. That may sound severe, but unsafe gun-handling has gotten innocent bystanders wounded or killed. There’s good reason to be rigorous about gun safety!