Like any other activity-based business, gun ranges employ varying guidelines. But many of the overriding gun range rules apply everywhere. For example, the four cardinal rules of gun safety — while wording may differ — remain constant.

  1. Treat guns as if they are always loaded.
  2. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.
  3. Never point your muzzle at anything you’re not intending to destroy.
  4. Be sure of your target and what’s behind it.

While basic safety behavior is always the same, specific indoor and outdoor shooting range rules can vary from place to place. Here are some range rules and policies you’re likely to encounter.

180-Degree Rule

The “180 rule” is a common one. You’ll see it’s really a repackaging and reinforcement of Rule 3 — don’t point your muzzle at anything you’re not willing to destroy.

Imagine the shooting table or bench. Stand in front of it facing the backstop. Now picture a half circle extending directly in front of you. It arcs from 90-degrees to your left to 90-degrees to your right. You can also picture a vertical half circle starting under your feet and extending to directly over your head, with the curve again directly in front of you. The idea is that your gun points nowhere outside of those 180-degree arcs. In other words, it cannot point behind you in any possible way. Make sense?

In practicality, this rule usually applies to outdoor ranges with backstop berms on three sides. The “180” area ensures that any negligent discharge will be caught by one of those backstops.

Outdoor shooting range lanes numbered 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 featuring heavy wooden benches, seats , beams and a roof

Most ranges require shooters to stand or sit behind a shooting bench. Drawing and shooting from this position can be dangerous.

No Reloaded Ammunition

Many indoor ranges have a policy against hand-loaded or remanufactured ammunition. They’ll only allow you to use factory ammunition. Indoor ranges have to be very careful to make sure that customers don’t fire guns and ammo that are capable of penetrating or damaging whatever backstop they’ve constructed. Additionally, especially at indoor ranges, other shooters are close on both sides, so range officers don’t want to run the risk of a faulty hand-loaded round exploding and injuring anyone nearby.

No Steel-Core Ammo

Some ammunition, like M855 5.56x45mm, use bullets that contain steel cores designed to penetrate tough materials. Indoor ranges rarely allow the use of steel-core ammo because of the damage it causes to their backstops and the risk of ricochet. Outdoor ranges that use steel targets don’t want it either because it perforates and damages expensive steel targets.

White male with a receding hairline, ear protection, gray polo shirt and black OWB holster fires a black semi-automatic pistol at a line of orange disk targets at an indoor range

Indoor ranges have to worry about over penetration of walls and the backstop, so they typically do not allow the use of steel core ammunition.

No Glass, Electronics or… Fruits and Vegetables?

One benefit of shooting at outdoor ranges is the variety of available target options. Steel targets and other more reactive targets don’t work well at indoor ranges because of the ricochet risk. But outdoors, assuming you shoot from a safe distance, they’re great fun.

Shooting up old electronics, random metal objects and glass bottles may also seem like fun. The problem is that these materials make a huge mess and lead to safety concerns, not to mention inconvenience, for other shooters. There’s nothing worse than an outdoor range filled with sharp glass or electronics fragments.

Oh, and food? Even though it’s biodegradable, many ranges won’t allow you to shoot squash, pumpkins and the like. Food debris will attract unwanted critters, smell up the place and create a field of unwanted new crops in front of the targets. Unless you’re willing to come back at harvest time, don’t plant!

No Tracer Ammo

Tracer ammo sure is cool, but that light it creates isn’t battery powered. Chemicals on the base of the projectiles ignite and burn while the bullet is headed down range. In dry conditions, this can and has, started fires that can quickly get out of control.

A rifle with a scope and marksman's stock rests on a bipod on a shooting bench at an outdoor range with beautiful blue skies, an earthen berm and two silhouette targets downrange

Outdoor ranges have a lot of dry and flammable stuff out there, hence the common rule that prohibits the use of tracer ammunition.

Designated gun handling areas

Many ranges that host shooting competitions will create designated areas with safe backstops in which you can handle unloaded firearms for maintenance and cleaning. Typically ranges that use this policy allow you to load magazines most anywhere. But a loaded magazine can only be mated with its host firearm at the shooting line when ready to fire. Think of gun handling areas as an ammunition-free zone where you can check your firearm or perform maintenance while waiting to shoot.

No drawing from holsters

Many indoor ranges prohibit drawing from holsters. There are good reasons for this rule. Most ranges position shooters behind a shooting counter. Drawing to fire results in the muzzle pointing at that shelf or other parts of the shooting station. It’s also possible that the draw stroke will cause the muzzle to hit the bottom of the shooting counter and cause a negligent discharge. That’s bad for the shooter and any others nearby. Last but not least, there are many carry methods such as shoulder, small of back and cross-draw holsters, that cause the user to muzzle objects and people behind or to the side of the shooter.

Range rules like these don’t exist for the sole purpose of removing all fun from a shooting outing. They’re almost always directly related to the safety of range visitors and to prevent property damage. You can bet that if there’s a rule that sounds kind of strange, it only exists because some previous visitor did something damaging. Be sure to ask about range-specific rules and policies when first visiting a new facility.