What to Expect Your First Time at an Indoor Range

Our great nation contains between 16,000 and 18,000 indoor shooting ranges. That means you can easily find an indoor range no matter where you live. While an outdoor facility is a great place to practice, train or just spend an afternoon plinking, an indoor range offers the benefit of being available day or night all year. No more rainy-day range-outing cancellations!

By definition, an indoor range is supervised and usually runs as a commercial business. Let’s talk about what you can expect during your first outing to a local indoor shooting facility.

General Safety Considerations

Just as you’d do anywhere else, it’s important to start with the four basic rules of gun safety:

  1. Treat every gun as if it’s loaded — always.
  2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire.
  3. Don’t point a gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy.
  4. Be sure of your target and your backstop.

An indoor range will have some additional specific procedures. Most of these can be determined with some pre-arrival planning.

Pre-Arrival Planning

Unlike an outdoor range, an indoor range has limitations on types of guns and ammunition. An indoor range has to build a backstop from rubber or steel that prevent bullets from exiting the building. Higher-powered rifle and handgun rounds may damage or even penetrate this barrier. There’s also the issue of noise. Gunshots indoors are LOUD. Shotguns are sometimes prohibited, as multiple projectiles are more likely to damage floors, walls and target systems.

View of windows and stools in the observation area of a nice indoor range. Shooting lanes may be seen through the windows and a large sign reads "MEMBERSHIP HAS ITS PRIVILEGES"

Before you go, avoid any surprises by calling to ask if there are limitations on ammunition or firearms. Many indoor ranges allow handgun use only, and most prohibit steel-core ammunition. Typically, ammunition is restricted to the use of factory-produced ammo in original packaging. You may not be able to shoot reloaded or handloaded ammo.

White man aiming a cocked 1911-style semi-automatic pistol down an indoor shooting range. Two blue-on-white paper targets hand from the automated target system.

If you have a concealed carry permit, you should also ask about the range’s policy. Some may not want you to carry a loaded firearm, even if holstered and concealed.

An indoor range requires paper or cardboard targets. If you don’t have your own, that’s OK; the range will probably sell them. Additionally, most ranges allow you to rent guns for use on the premises. This is a great way to test out several models before you buy your own firearm. Indoor ranges generally offer lane rental by the hour, so expect to pay for your time there.

Arrival Procedures and Etiquette

Every range will prefer that you bring your firearms into the facility unloaded and cased. Don’t worry if you don’t have the plastic case that came with your pistol. Most range bags have handgun compartments. You can also pick up an inexpensive soft or hard case at a local gun or sporting-goods store. The important part is not to walk in the front door carrying an exposed firearm. Don’t uncase your firearms — unless otherwise instructed by a range employee — until you’re at your shooting-lane position.

The counter staff will explain procedures to you upon arrival and before you enter the range area. Many businesses use safety-briefing videos to make sure all new visitors understand the range rules.

Red wall featuring plexiglass-protected posters which prominently display the range rules, while a bank of six iPad devices line a wooden counter for electronic waiver signatures

Most indoor ranges use a double-door air- and sound-lock system between the counter area and the firing range. You’ll enter through one door into a small room. After the first door closes, you open the second and make your way to the shooting area. This keeps lead material out of the common area and isolates the sound inside the range. If both doors are open, even for a second or two, those in the store or lounge area can be exposed to dangerous noise levels.

You should put on your hearing and eye protection before entering the “lock” to the range. If you’re new to shooting and don’t have safety glasses and ear muffs yet, never fear. Every indoor shooting range will have sets to use or rent, so lack of gear shouldn’t stop you. Indoor ranges contain and amplify sound, so I like to “double up” on hearing protection with foam first, then over-the-ear muffs. It makes a big difference.

While indoor ranges almost always have employees on duty, they may or may not have a Range Safety Officer (RSO). When you check in at the front counter, they’ll let you know. If an RSO is not present on the shooting line, be sure to ask any last-minute questions at the counter.

Shooting Procedures and Etiquette

Indoor ranges usually run “hot” because there’s no need to walk downrange to check or change targets. Usually, some type of target-retrieval system brings a target hanger right to your shooting counter. Controls at your station allow you to send the target downrange to the desired distance after hanging a new target or applying masking tape over holes in a used one.

White paper target from Patrick's in Garden City, GA – featuring two human silhouettes with vitals marked and four circular targets in teal ink.

You’ll also notice that each shooter is assigned a lane, and each lane is segregated from its neighbors by a barrier. Be sure to stay in your lane. If you step back from the firing line for any reason, never bring your firearm with you, even if it’s unloaded. Why? Rule No. 1: A gun is always loaded! Just as you would at any other range, be sure your muzzle is always pointed at the backstop, even while your gun is resting on the counter. Be especially careful when loading, unloading and racking your pistol’s slide that your muzzle remains pointed safely downrange during the entire process.

Be sure to shoot straight down your lane and at your target only. This is especially important at an indoor range, as the side walls may not be rated as safe backstops. Also be careful to avoid shooting at upward or downward angles. Bullets will damage the floor and ceiling areas, and you’ll be responsible for those charges. It’s also dangerous! The backstop is engineered to safely trap bullets, so be sure you’re shooting directly at that.

Two men, one in khaki pants and a blue shirt and the other in khaki pants and a plaid shirt, stand in their firing lanes and aim their firearms downrange. One is using a green laser mounted on his pistol to illuminate his white paper target.

Oh, one more thing — be sure to step right up to the shooting counter. If you shoot from a step or two back, then you may actually be behind other shooters.

Departure Procedures and Etiquette

Unload and pack up your firearms, keeping muzzles pointed downrange, at your shooting position. A gun should never leave that area unless unloaded and in a case. It’s also good etiquette to retrieve your target, remove it from the target backer and either throw it away or take it with you.

As for your spent cartridge cases, ranges operate differently. Some want you to leave your brass on the floor. Others want you to pick it up. Those ranges will have brooms and dust pans in the shooting area to help you do that. There will be a bucket for spent brass that’s separate from the trash can for used targets and such. When you check in, the counter staff should tell you what they expect for brass cleanup.

Last but not least, be safe. As you would at any other range, make it clear to your shooting-lane neighbors that you’re being safe. Keep your gun on the table unless you’re actively shooting, loading or unloading. Watch your muzzle and keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. And have fun!