If you want to protect gun rights, the shooting sports and your ability to defend yourself and your family, the single most important thing you can do is to bring a first-time shooter to the range. On numerous occasions, I’ve brought hard-core anti-gun friends and family and, without exception, they’ve had a great time. Most of them won’t be joining the USCCA anytime soon, but the visits went a long way toward removing negative impressions they held of guns and the people who own and shoot them.

Pre-Range Safety Briefing

Be sure to take as much mystery and trepidation out of the range outing as possible before you leave. By explaining how, through rigorous adherence to the rules, shooting can be an incredibly safe activity, you can ease trepidation. Explain the four rules of gun safety and be sure to explain how they overlap and work together. One has to break multiple rules for someone to get hurt.

  1. Treat every gun as if it’s always loaded.
  2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire.
  3. Never point the muzzle at anything you’re not willing to destroy, even for a second.
  4. Always be sure of your target and what’s behind it.

Pre-Range Etiquette Briefing

Once safety procedures are covered, spend some time helping your guest understand how things work at the range. Rather than having to shout, “Put down the gun! The range is cold!,” spend the time at home before you go talking about range procedures so he or she is not surprised.

Be sure to talk about the process of arriving, putting on eye and ear protection, and how and when to remove guns from cases. Don’t forget to familiarize your guest with range procedures like hot and cold status and what to expect from range safety officers. Since the range will be loud and distracting, you also might want to give him or her an operational overview of the guns you’ll be shooting, taking care that no ammunition is anywhere nearby. Talk about the importance of how ranges adhere to “180” rules and the importance of putting guns on the table and pointed downrange before stepping away from the shooting line. While it’s also part of the safety briefing, I make it a point to tell new shooters that I may be reminding them to remove their trigger fingers after they fire. If you explain it in advance, it’s not taken as criticism at the range.

An outdoor range with an awning to protect shooters from the elements as well as sturdy wooden benches with built-in stools.

If possible, consider an outdoor range for your first-time shooter outing. It’s quieter and has more space for teaching. (Photo by Tom McHale)

Information is the best way to ease fear and uncertainty. Every time we try something new, especially in an environment where everyone else already knows the deal, we’re going to be nervous. The more you can communicate, in advance, what to expect, the more at home your first-time shooter will be.

Don’t Start Big

Every time I see one of those videos of someone handing a new shooter a big-bore rifle or shotgun and encouraging him or her to pull the trigger without instruction (usually for “entertainment” value), I want to strap that someone to a chair and make him or her watch 94 continuous episodes of The Real.

Like drinking single-malt scotch neat, shooting a large-caliber firearm is something to which one acclimates with time and experience. If you want your guest shooter to have a good experience and build confidence, you won’t hand him or her a large-caliber handgun, rifle or shotgun loaded with slugs. Instead…

Start Small

A black Smith & Wesson M&P 22 handgun lying on a wooden table next to a scattered pile of .22LR ammo.

A .22 pistol, such as this Smith & Wesson M&P 22 Compact, is the perfect gun for a first-time shooter. (Photo by Tom McHale)

With rare exception, I always start a first-time shooter with a .22 rifle, pistol or revolver. Not only are .22s great fun for a new or experienced shooter, but the lack of noise, recoil and muzzle blast also make shooting them enjoyable before the first-time shooter gets used to explosions going off in front of his or her face.

There’s a sound reason why a .22 is the best way to start a first-time shooter. If you want someone to have fun and seek a repeat visit, it’s important for him or her to experience success. Within minutes, you can teach a first-timer enough of the basics to nail the center of targets 5 or 10 yards downrange. Success inspires confidence, confidence allows enjoyment, and next thing you know, your first-time shooter wants to go again. And isn’t that the goal?

Keep the Shooting Targets Close

We humans tend to overestimate our abilities. Or maybe it’s some innate need to prove worth. Whatever the reason, people like to send targets 15 or 25 yards downrange to shoot. For a first-time shooter, encourage him or her to set those targets close enough for easy success. You can always move targets farther out as the new shooter gets the hang of it. The reasoning is the same as that of the previous tip: You want your first-timer to experience the joys of success.

Kill the Sound

One of the biggest challenges faced by a first-time shooter is resisting the impulse to jump out of his or her shoes from the shock of muzzle blast. A friend of ours was anxious to learn how to shoot, so we took her to our outdoor range. Every time a nearby shooter fired, she literally jumped out of her shoes. I’m not exaggerating; both feet left the ground.

Using proper hearing protection is a necessity for anyone, but a new shooter in particular can benefit from a little extra help in the hearing protection department. If you’re taking your first-time shooter to an indoor range, or even an outdoor range where people will be shooting rifles, consider having him or her double up on hearing protection. Fit your guest with a set of foam earplugs first, then add a set of over-the-ear muffs. The double-layer of insulation does a terrific job of dampening loud blasts from your guns or those of adjacent shooters.

A black Smith & Wesson M&P22 Compact pistol fitted with a black cylindrical suppressor. It lies next to a box of CCI subsonic .22LR ammo atop a colorful paper target

If you happen to have a silencer, bring it! Eliminating the noise and blast helps new shooters focus on technique. It also smooths out recoil. (Photo by Tom McHale)

Bring Supplies

Since you’re bringing a first-timer, be sure to pack extra essential gear (like ear and eye protection). Depending on where you’re going, it’s also a good idea to bring water bottles, sunscreen and bug spray. Some athletic tape and Band-Aids are handy for dealing with blisters.

First-Time Shooter Basic Techniques

There’s a fine line between offering necessary shooting tips that will enhance safety and increase the odds of your guest getting shots on target and overwhelming him or her with a stream of instructions and seemingly obscure details. I like to encourage new shooters to focus on just a few basics. There will be plenty of time later to refine technique.

Lean forward. Don’t worry about the nuances of Isosceles or Weaver stances. If you can get your new shooter to bend forward at the waist so that his or her collarbone is in front of his or her belt buckle, he or she will be able to control the gun. Virtually every first-time shooter has a tendency to tilt backward at the waist in a subconscious effort to get the head as far away from the gun as possible. Help the shooter avoid that technique.

Safe and stable grip. Make sure the firing hand has a high grip on the pistol and the support-hand palm presses against the exposed area on the grip (with fingers wrapping around the firing-hand fingers). This is the correct technique, and it’s going to help the new shooter control the gun better and increase the odds of success while mitigating the negative impacts of recoil. Be sure to watch the thumbs! Make sure that support-hand thumb doesn’t cross behind the slide if the newbie is shooting a pistol.

Photo of proper two-handed grip on a black Springfield Armory XD-S 9. Both of the shooter's thumbs run parallel with the slide, tucked closely together.

Teaching a proper grip is not only a recipe for successful shooting but also might prevent a nasty slide bite. (Photo by Tom McHale)

Slow and smooth trigger press. I tell a first-timer to forget trying to “time” the perfect shot right when the sights are perfectly aligned. Rather, I encourage him or her to point toward the target and execute a full two- or three-second-long trigger press. The new shooter will be amazed at how well he or she can hit the target when not yanking and jerking the trigger.

You’ll notice that most of these points are geared toward making the experience a good one for the first-time shooter. It’s in all of our best interests to invite more people to the range and to do everything in our power to make sure it’s a successful and fun outing. I’ve yet to take a first-time shooter to the range who didn’t thoroughly enjoy the experience. Better yet, those outings remove the fear, uncertainty and negative assumptions. That’s definitely good for all of us.

*Looking for a range to take your first-timer to? Find one with the NEW USCCA Range Finder Tool!

About Tom McHale

Tom McHale, Certified NRA Instructor for pistol and shotgun, is passionate about home and self-defense and the rights of all to protect themselves and their loved ones. He has completed dozens of training programs and will be completing the USCCA Certified Instructor program in the near future. Tom has published seven books on guns, shooting, reloading, concealed carry and holsters, including two for the USCCA: Armed and Ready: Your Comprehensive Blueprint to Concealed Carry Confidence and 30 Days to Concealed Carry Confidence. He has published around 1,700 articles for a dozen gun and shooting publications. Between writing projects, you can find Tom on the range.