How well do you know gun safety rules?
What about range etiquette?
Shooting ranges are awesome places for popping off some steam, improving your skills, and getting your firearm fix.
But they can be intimidating to beginners, with lots of regulations – especially if you’ve never set foot in one before.
In this article, we take a look at shooting range tips – including the dos and don’ts of range etiquette, so you can enjoy a safe and successful experience.
Let’s fire in.
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- Range Shooting Tips – The Short Version
- What is a Shooting Range?
- Basic Range Etiquette
- Range Commands
Range Shooting Tips – The Short Version
In this fast-paced world, some folks don’t have the time to read a full article. It also means more time for actually shooting, right?
Here’s the basics of range shooting safety and etiquette in a nutshell:
- Follow the four rules of gun safety at all times (more on this, below).
- Wear appropriate clothing.
- Obey the Range Safety Officer (RSO).
- Wear your PPE when the range is hot.
- Be aware of the range commands.
- Treat others with respect and courtesy.
- No booze or drugs before or during your visit.
Now, that’s just the bare bones of range safety and etiquette, and the detailed version (including everything you NEED to know) is coming right up.
Stay with us for more top tips and advice.
What is a Shooting Range?
A shooting range is a location that is dedicated to allowing safe target shooting to firearm enthusiasts.
They can be indoor or outdoor, with a variety of facilities, depending on the size and scope of the range.
Some ranges are enormous and allow for tactical shooting practice over great distances. If you are shooting long distances, then you might want to include a good range finder in your kit bag.
Others might have John Wick-style courses, so you can improve your speed and target shooting while on the move.
Some might be a more modest, simple setup of a few tin cans for plinking.
And others might be privately owned, where you can shoot anything at anything – so long as it’s legal.
The type of range you attend often depends upon geography – what is located close to you. In the US, Where to Shoot offers a great resource for locating facilities close by.
You should be seeking out locations that are specific to the type of training you wish to do.
And the one thing they all share in common – is a set of non-negotiable safety rules, and (sometimes unwritten) etiquette to keep everyone happy, uninjured, and alive.
What to Expect
Shooting ranges can be daunting places, especially if you’re not used to them.
Folks of a nervous disposition might well jump out of their skin with all the loud bangs, but they can still catch experienced shooters off guard.
But even if you feel a little nervous with all these “pros” walking around, we all had to start somewhere.
For the most part, shooting range staff, RSOs, instructors, and the shooters themselves are a friendly, approachable bunch, and you should feel at ease in asking them for help – when it is safe to do so.
Many will be happy to share tips and advice and point you in the right direction. Be sure to notify a range safe or instructor that it’s your first time.
If you’re still feeling a little overwhelmed, why not visit the range beforehand, so you get a feel for the place and how everything works? Bring along a trusted friend or family member for support.
The video below offers ten useful tips for your first time at the range, but keep reading for those all-important safety rules.
The Four Rules of Gun Safety
Before using any kind of firearm, you need to be trained in the safe and proper use of it. And that starts with the four rules of gun safety:
- Always treat any firearm as if it were loaded – even if it’s not.
There are literally hundreds of accidents and fatalities reported from people believing their weapon was empty. Even if you know and can see that the gun is unloaded, treat it as though it were.
- Never point the muzzle at something you’re not willing to shoot.
Loaded or otherwise. If you’re messing around, and point an unloaded gun at someone with a loaded gun – the consequences are on you. Keep it pointed so even if it does go off, nobody is getting hurt.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target, and you’ve made the decision to shoot.
Yes, pulling the trigger is an exciting, adrenaline-fueled moment – but save it for when you’re ready to safely hit your intended target, and not before.
- Always be 100% sure of your target – and what’s behind it.
Bullets can travel, and humans can miss. Make sure there is nothing unwanted in the firing line AND well beyond the target you’re shooting at. Remember to always be shooting with the backstop in mind.
You should be able to eat, sleep, and breathe these rules, and every gun owner/user will know them backward.
Of course, there are many more aspects to gun range etiquette, including additional rules and regulations you need to follow.
But the above rules are the basics to gun safety at all times – not just down the range.
Keep reading for some general tips and advice for how you conduct yourself when you next go shooting and take a look at this article on range bag essentials – so you know how to pack like a pro.
Wear Appropriate Clothing
Something that might often be overlooked for shooting range etiquette – is the clothing you wear when visiting a facility.
It should be practical and designed for the activity, not cause offense, and not offer any kind of distraction to your fellow shooters.
Avoid low-cut tops or tight-fitting garments – folks at the range need to have their minds on one weapon at a time.
Aside from that, clothes should be comfortable and unrestrictive. Wear something you don’t mind getting dirty, with long-sleeved pants and tops highly recommended for additional protection.
They’re particularly useful if you enjoy shooting in the prone position, and/or you’re at an outside range.
Wear close-toed, comfortable shoes. Remember, there’s a good chance your feet will attract a lot of lead particles from the floor of a shooting range – so dedicated range footwear is advised.
Save the short shorts and sandals for the beach.
But for most people, you don’t need to go overboard and turn up looking like a Navy SEAL.
Basic Range Etiquette
Aside from your own personal firearm safety rules, the range itself will have a set of regulations you need to follow at all times.
All shooting ranges will have a dedicated, trained, Range Safety Officer (RSO). Sometimes called a Range Officer (RO), or simply the Range Safe.
Their word is law. They are there to ensure everyone stays safe and plays nice. Obey the RSO at all times, report any incidents to them, and use them as a resource if you ever have any questions or concerns.
The wearing of PPE is non-negotiable when shooting, and is also useful when you’re not at the shooting line. Both earplugs and earmuffs are recommended, as is certified shooting eye protection.
Tactical shooting gloves are not necessary, but they are useful – offering additional protection and control for your hands. Follow that link for some cool options.
Keep your gun unloaded until you’re ready to begin shooting. This is an additional point that goes with the four primary gun-safety rules above and is worth repeating.
And by unloaded – we mean the magazine is out, and the chamber is empty. There should never be an unattended loaded gun sitting on the bench.
Only use ammunition that is designed for your firearm, and you might find that steel, aluminum, or tipped rounds are not allowed. See your local range rules for clarification.
Being able to flick the safety should already be second nature.
When you’re transitioning between locations at the range, you should keep your unloaded weapon’s muzzle pointed at the floor at all times.
If you are a total noob who is unfamiliar with your own gun, or with a gun that you’re hiring from the range, you need to ask for help.
Instructors should be on-hand and are more than happy to walk you through the basics. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to approach them for advice – excessive pride and toxic masculinity can be deadly.
Having said that, you should never interfere with other shooters when they’re on the firing line, or distract instructors/staff/the RSO at inopportune moments – unless you witness unsafe practice.
Be careful when setting up your paper targets, and they’re not too high, low, or to the left and right. Otherwise, you can risk aiming in the wrong direction.
Alcohol and recreational drugs don’t mix well with firearms, so save the party until after you’ve left the range (and you’ve locked your gun in a safe).
A bottle of Jack and a firearm is a bad combination.
Smoking will likely be prohibited, too – even on an outdoor range – unless it’s private land.
Always be sure to keep your firearm pointed downrange, and not back into the shooting area or stalls.
With the gun unloaded and on the bench, the slide should be locked back and the magazine removed. Be sure to position the ejection port facing upwards, so that you and everyone else know there is no round in the chamber.
When shooting, only aim at the intended targets in your lane. If you ever shoot at anything else, you will likely face a fine, a ban, and/or legal action – depending on the severity of your infringement.
And be sure to shoot into the backstop, at the target that is in front of you – not across the lanes, or at anyone else’s mark.
Stay behind the firing line at all times – unless it has specifically been called safe by the range officer. This will be easily identifiable as a brightly colored line.
Bring a good tactical first aid kit with you. Sure, the range will probably have their own, but in the event of a gunshot wound, time can be of the essence, so keep one close to your person at all times.
Follow that link for advice on how to assemble a quality kit for the range.
And don’t forget to thoroughly wash your hands afterward. Lead is poisonous, after all.
And one of the most important, overarching, shooting range tips is to be courteous to your fellow shooters at all times. Respect their space, don’t be rude, and be kind to all users of the facilities.
Remember, all ranges are different, and they will have in-house rules that you should familiarize yourself with before taking aim. Take a moment to read and understand them prior to shooting for the first time.
The RSO will have a series of range commands that exist to keep everyone safe and ensure no accidents occur. It’s vitally important you understand what these are at your local facility.
The most basic commands are:
Cease fire! Everyone needs to stop shooting immediately – for whatever reason.
Remember, this doesn’t have to be from the RSO, and anyone who sees a potentially unsafe situation can call it out – so long as it’s done so responsibly.
Make safe! Flick your gun safety switch on, lower, put down, or holster your weapon.
Cold range! Guns should be fully unloaded and set down on the bench. This is in the event of a safety incident, at the end of a session, or if shooters need to go down range.
Range going hot! This means that guns have been reloaded, everyone is ready to shoot, and will do so momentarily – so be prepared.
Commence fire! Safety can come off, and you can now fire your weapon downrange.
Range commands might vary depending on your particular range – most notably if it’s an indoor or outdoor facility.
For the most part, going downrange will be unnecessary when shooting indoors, and is more common for outdoor locations.
Should you wear a bulletproof vest at the shooting range?
It depends on you, and it depends on the range.
Some shooters like to train wearing body armor, as they will understand how it feels in a real-life, tactical situation, and their skills will improve as a result.
This is particularly true for understanding how it impacts the drawing of a weapon.
Others, because they feel it keeps them safe from any accidental discharge or other undesirable firearm incidents.
Having said that, the vast majority of people don’t use body armor at the range, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll see anyone wearing any – unless engaged in a specific type of training.
For more information, take a look at this article that explores if it’s legal to wear body armor in public.
Can you use buckshot at a range?
Unlikely. The buckshot spread from a shotgun can be so unpredictable, unless you’re on a private range, it’s best to leave it at home.
Who can call a ceasefire?
Great question – and worth mentioning again. ANYONE can call a ceasefire if they notice unsafe practice or other incidents at a shooting range – not just the RSO.
Even if you’re a beginner, if you spot something potentially dangerous (like a squib load for example – follow that link to learn more) then you can and should be calling a ceasefire.
Just remember to actually shout, “CEASEFIRE!” Some folks might not respond to other calls. “STOP! STOP!” isn’t likely to have the same effect, for example.
How many magazines should I bring to the range?
It’s up to personal preference, but I always advise bringing more than you need. Another pro-tip is to make sure your ammo is loaded in your magazines before you attend the range.
You want to spend your time shooting and not loading.
What kind of bag should I bring to the range?
There are plenty of range bags on the market, and they will all offer an excellent place for you to stash your guns and gear.
Firearm target practice is one of the most enjoyable aspects of responsible gun ownership and recreational shooting, and as long as you adhere to these shooting range tips, you’ll get along just fine.
Let me know if we’ve missed any key points in the comments below, or if you have any extra advice and experience you would like to share with the community.
Stay safe out there!