If you’re new to shooting or guns in general, you might find it helpful to check out my article “Is Gun Ownership Right for You” where I dive into 9 basic questions I help almost every new or prospective gun owner answer.

Going to the shooting range for the first time can be exciting and intimidating. If you’re like me, you’re probably asking yourself questions such as: What should I bring, what do I do when I get there, and how do I avoid showing everyone I’m a “gun noob”?

Don’t worry, we’ve got your six. Here’s what to expect and how to prepare for your first day at the shooting range.

Gun Safety! Memorize these 4 key rules

Gun safety rules are essential for anyone who owns, handles or shoots a firearm. Whether on the shooting range or at home, these rules are designed to prevent accidents, injuries, and deaths caused by improper or careless use of guns.

The most widely taught gun safety rules are the four rules developed by Colonel Jeff Cooper. Col. Cooper was a former Marine and firearms instructor, and creator of the American Pistol Institute, which later became known as Gunsite Academy (a mecca for shooting enthusiasts).

The rules are simple:

RULE 1: TREAT EVERY GUN AS IF IT IS LOADED.

RULE 2: NEVER POINT THE GUN AT ANYTHING YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO DESTROY.

RULE 3: KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO SHOOT.

RULE 4: BE AWARE OF YOUR TARGET AND WHAT IS BEYOND IT.

How do I Find a Shooting Range

I moved across the country about 9 years ago. It was fun and exciting, but I had to spend a lot of time getting to know what was around. I had to find new “homes” for everything from doctors to grocery stores to shooting ranges, etc.

Thankfully, I found WhereToShoot.org. This amazing resource will help you find all sorts of shooting ranges close by. And while you can always go online to look up customer reviews, I highly recommend you visit them in person, at least once, and experience what they offer for yourself.

Before You Go to the shooting range

Make sure you have the essentials: Most of these items can be rented or purchased at most commercial gun ranges, but you should call ahead to find out for sure.

  1. Your gun(s) and magazine(s)
  2. Approved ammunition (each range is different)
  3. Eye and ear protection
  4. Targets
  5. Range bag (I used a backpack for the longest time)
  6. Anything weather-related for outdoor ranges (sunscreen, hat, water, etc.).

Bonus Tip: Bring some cardboard to use as backing for your targets. (Amazon boxes work great!)

General Tips for when you arrive

  1. Expect to arrive early your first time at any range.
  2. Expect some paperwork and sometimes a safety video or briefing before you can shoot.
  3. They may inspect your firearms and ammunition (they often prohibit or limit certain items).
  4. Take time to carefully read the range rules and regulations, and follow them at all times. If something is unclear, ask.
  5. You also want to figure out the fees and payment (flat fee, by the hour, etc.) before you start shooting.

Range Commands you should memorize

Always listen to and obey the range commands given by the Range Safety Officer (aka RSO) or staff, ALWAYS. It doesn’t matter what you’ve seen on TV or YouTube, or what your daddy taught you…

Their range. Their rules. Don’t forget it…That said, the most common range commands are:

  1. Range is Hot” which means the area is cleared for ready for active fire.
  2. Make Ready” means to load your gun, arm the firing mechanism, and prepare to shoot.
  3. Standby” means prepare to shoot; typically followed by a buzzer or whistle indicating a shooting exercise or free shoot has begun.
  4. Fire when Ready” means you can start shooting when ready.
  5. Cease Fire” means stop shooting IMMEDIATELY. Unload your gun and make it “safe”.
  6. “Clear [Your Weapon]” which means to unload your gun and show that it is empty, typically by locking the slide or bolt back so that anyone can see into the chamber and verify it is not loaded.
  7. Range is Cold” typically called after a Cease Fire, essentially means the range is inactive and no further shots should be fired or weapons handled until further instruction from staff.

Range Etiquette

Being respectful and courteous to other shooters and staff should be a no-brainer.

  1. Know and follow the 4 key rules of gun safety (tired of hearing that yet? I never tire of saying it 😁).
  2. Always keep your gun pointed downrange or in a safe direction, even if you’re showing it to someone or have the slide or bolt locked back.
  3. Move people between shooting bays/stations, not firearms.
  4. Clean up your brass and trash, and leave your shooting area better than you found it.
  5. Don’t be that guy who strolls in with a small armory and leaves his stuff all over the place.
    • No one wants to step over your cases and bags, and you’re certainly not entitled to take up a range bay for your extra crap! (sorry, pet peeve of mine 🤬)

Indoor Range Tips

If you are going to an indoor shooting range, you should be aware of some of the differences and challenges.

Outdoor Range Tips

Personally, I enjoy the natural scenery and the fresh air of outdoor shooting. If you are going to an outdoor shooting range, you should be prepared for some of the advantages and disadvantages here as well.

FAQs:

Q: What should I wear to the shooting range?

Answer: Wear comfortable clothing that covers your arms and legs, and is weather appropriate. Closed-toe shoes are a must. And don’t forget a hat of sorts to protect your head from hot brass!

Q: What should I do if I have a malfunction or jam?

Answer: If you experience a malfunction or jam, you should keep your gun pointed downrange. Unless you are experienced and know how to safely clear the malfunction, raise your hand to signal the range safety officer (RSO) or staff.

Q: Can I take pictures or videos at the shooting range?

Answer: This depends on the range policy and the consent of other shooters. Some ranges may allow you to take pictures or videos of yourself or your group, as long as you do not disturb or endanger anyone else. Other ranges may prohibit any photography or videography for safety or privacy reasons.

Q: How can I improve my shooting skills at the range?

Answer: Sign up for a class, hire an instructor or coach, and practice basic drills. Focus on the fundamentals of shooting, such as sight alignment, trigger control, grip, stance, and breathing. Pro Tip: Set realistic goals and measurable your progress over time.

Q: How do I dispose of my used targets, brass, and trash?

Answer: Always clean up after yourself and leave your shooting area better than you found it. Some ranges may allow you to keep your brass for reloading, others may not…check the range policy to be sure. Dispose of your used targets and other trash in the designated bins or containers provided by the range.

Now Go Get Shootin’

You are now ready to have a blast (pun intended) at the shooting range! You know what to expect, what to bring, and how to keep yourself out of trouble. Remember to always follow the range rules and commands, and be respectful to other shooters and staff. Shooting at the range can be a fun and rewarding experience, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro. So, grab your gun, gear up, and head to the shooting range. Happy shooting! 🤠🔫

Joe Colbert

About the Author

Joe is a dedicated husband, father of 5, volunteer, and avid outdoorsman. He enjoys spending time with family and friends, learning new things, and teaching and empowering others to do the same.

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