Saturday, April 11, 2009

How Not To Be Labeled An Idiot At A Gun Range

As a firearms instructor, I spend an appreciable amount of time at area gun ranges. As such, over the years I have witnessed quite a few potentially unsafe practices. In most cases, the miscues were committed by people who had never previously gone to a gun range. This article will provide a best practices guideline for new visitors at a gun range.

Suggestion 1: Bring Along A Guide
The first general rule for a new target range visitor would be for him to take along a knowledgeable gun owner. The key term is 'knowledgeable.' Just because a friend says he knows what he is doing, does not necessarily mean that he does. Ask him a few questions to gauge his firearms handling experiences: how many firearms he owns, how long he has owned them, how he learned how to safely operate them, and how often he shoots. If your friend's answers to those questions do not instill a sense of confidence, keep looking until you can find a friend you can trust guiding and teaching you at the range.

Suggestion 2: Familiarize Yourself With The Range's SOPs
There are no special licenses or permits that a person needs to have before visiting a target range. However, there are both formal and informal codes of conduct that should be obeyed to ensure a safe and productive visit.

Formal rules of conduct for a specific range are typically codified in a written Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) document. When visiting any range for the first time, you should ask employees for a copy so that you will know what is expected of you. In general, typical SOPs cover the following items:
  • Allowable Ammunition Caliber and/or Brands Allowed
  • Whether Eating, Drinking, or Smoking is Allowed
  • Whether Drawing From Concealment is Allowed
  • Minimum Age Requirements
  • Specified Non-Acceptable Behavior

    • Horse-Play
    • Shooting Under The Influence
    • Shooting at Non-Approved Targets
    • Loading of Firearms Outside Shooting Stall
    • Transporting A Loaded Firearm From Stall
    • Poor Muzzle Control/Discipline
    • Failure To Heed Fire Line
    • Failure To Obey Range Commands
    • Failure To Wear Safety Equipment
    • Failure To Police Brass
    • Rapid Fire Shooting

Failure to follow range SOPs is grounds for immediate ejection from the premises without recourse. So, visitors should govern themselves accordingly.

Range visitors should also learn about and heed local customs. For example, at metropolitan Detroit area gun ranges it is strongly discouraged for visitors to produce a handgun while not in the shooting both. Range employees are an understandably and easily excited class of people who may mistake your actions as an attempted armed robbery of the establishment.

Suggestion 3: Don't be Afraid To Ask For Help
Personally, I would never advocate that a person, who has never shot a firearm, visit a range alone to shoot. There are too many things that can go wrong. However, many people do just that every day and nothing adverse happens. I attribute that fact to the dilligence of the staff who work at these facilities and other helpful shooters present at the range.

If you are new to the shooting sports and insist upon visiting a range by yourself, I have one piece of advice for you: Check your ego at the door. Introduce yourself to a range employee and explain that you have never shot a handgun and wish to do so. Many range employees are Range Safety Officers (RSO) and Certified Instructors. Qualified staff can give you a relatively quick safety briefing and explain all of the controls on the firearm you will be using. Furthermore, depending on staffing levels and how busy the range is during your visit, range staff can volunteer to be present in the booth with you to offer you some 'on-the-spot' coaching.

Bottom Line:
Visiting a local target can be an enjoyable experience. It is imperative that new range visitors and shooters avail themselves of all available resources at their disposal to best ensure that a safe and productive experience is the eventual result. Availing yourself of knowledgeable friends, familiarizing yourself with the range SOPs, and not being afraid to ask for help are all great ways not be labeled an idiot at the range.
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