New Gun Owners

Beginner’s Guide to the Shooting Range

Target rows at a shooting range.

Given the number of new shooters joining the Second Amendment ranks, more people are heading to the shooting range. This is a source of anxiety for some who do not know what to expect or have a friend to walk them through the process. Here is a beginner’s guide to the basics you need to know about the shooting range and what to expect.

Types of Shooting Ranges

There are several different types of shooting ranges and each type has its own qualities. Shooters have their personal preferences, so I’ll let you decide what type is best for you.

Private vs. Public

The first classification we’ll compare is private vs. public shooting ranges. Private ranges — also referred to as clubs — require shooters to pay for a membership. Training or proficiency requirements may be a prerequisite to membership with the goal of increasing safety. Your membership may include additional benefits, such as private lanes and lounges.

Public ranges are open to all shooters. You pay by the number of lanes, hours, and people for each visit. You can also get a membership at a public range to cut down on your overall cost, but you are not required to. Most membership fees are paid annually, saving you money if you shoot a lot. This may or may not be worth it depending on how often you visit the range.

Indoor vs. Outdoor

Within both public and private ranges, you have indoor and outdoor options. Indoor ranges are going to be louder, but you get the benefit of not sweating through your shirt or freezing in extreme temperatures. The sound of gunfire is amplified in the enclosed space, bouncing off walls, so you will want to double-up on hearing protection. The distance and calibers you can shoot will be limited due to the confines of being indoors. Some indoor ranges may not be equipped to handle the power of larger rifle calibers like .308 Winchester, and will only allow you to shoot smaller cartridges.

Outdoor ranges often have more options as far as what and how you can shoot, such as steel targets and long-distance shooting. You’ll have more options on calibers you can shoot and will be less limited on the types of ammunition because of the increased distance.

Police shooting practice at a shooting range

Other Features

There are a few other features you should check before selecting a shooting range. If you plan on shooting a shotgun, you will want to check with the range to ensure it allows shotguns and whether it has a restriction on specific types of ammunition. Some ranges — primarily indoor — don’t permit shotgun shooting because of the risk of damage to the target holders, backstop, and building. Down the line, you may want to look for a range that offers accommodations for shooting sporting clays if that’s something that interests you.

Check for different restrictions on calibers of ammunition types. Some ranges won’t allow steel-cased ammo, tracers, or specialty ammunition like Dragon’s Breath. They may even require you to purchase your ammunition there so they can be sure you’re shooting something safe.

Additionally, there are outdoor ranges that offer long-range shooting. Naturally, these ranges require more land, so they may require a longer drive, depending on where you live. However, shooting longer distances is a blast.

Though not the best option for your first time, dynamic ranges can be a fun way to practice defensive skills with a firearm. These allow for some movement while you shoot, which is an important skill for self-defense because an attacker isn’t going to stand in an isolated position and may be returning gunfire. You typically get to shoot at steel targets that provide auditory feedback when you make hits. You should consider getting — and may be required to get — training before shooting at this type of range. 

Long range Rifle target shooting at a gun range in rural Ireland

What to Expect

You may be expecting hardened, gun-toting people that are intimidating. However, most people working in gun shops and ranges are incredibly nice and are more than willing to help new shooters. If you let them know you are new to shooting and this is your first time, they will be more than accommodating.

If you have never handled a gun before, consider taking a basic class to learn how to properly manipulate and fire your firearm. The manual and videos from the manufacturer (either on their website or YouTube) are a good source as well. Practice dry firing at home with an unloaded firearm pointed in a safe direction to help you get more comfortable.

The Process

  • Sign-in and safety brief/waiver
  • Go to your assigned lane
  • Unpack, set up target, and load gun
  • Shoot
  • Unload all firearms/make safe
  • Repack your gear
  • Sweep up your brass
  • Leave shooting area
  • Sign out/pay
Close-up of a man hands holding and loading gun magazine in the pistol at the shooting range.

What You’ll Need

Before heading to the range, there are important items you’ll need to bring. Most are obvious, (guns, magazines, ammunition), but there are some things you may not think of. Eye and ear protection are essential. The range will sell or rent these items, but they may not be the best options and may be well used. You’ll also need to bring your ID. For liability purposes, most ranges will either scan a copy or hold your ID while you shoot.

A range bag is a good way to carry targets, maintenance tools, shooting rests, ammo, and other gear you may need. Depending on whether you plan to carry a pistol, you may want to get a holster before your first visit to the shooting range. Finally, having a compact notebook allows you to note your results and track your progress. You can record group size, distances, and times so you know what you need to work on and how you’ve improved.

Checklist

  • ID
  • Guns
  • Ammo
  • Range bag
  • Eye & ear protection
  • Targets
  • Tape/stickers/sharpie
  • Basic cleaning kit/multitool
  • Magazine loader
  • Spare magazines
  • Shooting rest or bag
  • Notebook
Guns with ammunition on paper target shooting   practice

Safety Reminders

When you are at the shooting range, safety is most important. Aside from general firearm safety, there are some rules specific to ranges. Most ranges require all of your guns to be unloaded and in a case before you enter and must remain so until you reach the shooting line. If you have spare magazines, you may want to load them the night before to save time (if legal in your state), but store them separately from the firearm.

On the range, it’s important to pay attention to what’s going on around you. Keep an eye out for cease-fire time when people start retrieving their targets (this is primarily for outdoor ranges, most indoor ranges will have a mechanical retrieval system). During these times, nobody should be holding or touching a firearm in any way — even if they are unloaded. If you are with other shooters, you may have multiple guns and shooting lanes. Don’t move the firearms between lanes, move the shooters instead. This helps ensure all guns are pointed downrange at all times. You could be immediately kicked out and even banned from a range if your firearm breaks the 180-degree range line or flags (the muzzle sweeps or points at) another shooter. This is true if you touch the gun in any way when the range is cold or display any unsafe firearm handling at any time.

Additionally, you should only fire guns that are within your skill level. A new shooter or someone who is small-statured should not fire a S&W .500 Magnum. If you don’t know how to properly handle recoil these guns could slam into your face or even double-up on you — firing two rounds when you don’t mean to — and you could shoot yourself or others. This is dangerous and can cause serious injury and even death. You should start with smaller calibers like .22 LR, 9mm Luger, or .223 Remington and work your way up from there as your skill level increases. Needless to say, drugs and alcohol don’t mix with firearms under any circumstance.

If you have a question or problem with your firearm, or you see someone acting in an unsafe manner, talk to the Range Safety Officer (RSO). He or she will be posted nearby, overseeing the safety of everyone on the range.

Sierra Vista shooting range in the desert.

Pictures and Video

You don’t want to be so distracted by taking pictures and shooting videos that you do something unsafe. Safety is the number one priority at the shooting range, not Instagram likes. Some ranges won’t allow any pictures at all, some will. If you are able to, it’s important to not overdo it and be responsible. Other people at the range may not want to be in the picture or video — respect their wishes.  If you are able to do so safely, take a few pictures to enter in our Range Day Friday giveaway. Be sure to have fun, but remember to stay safe.

How Much Does it Cost?

Costs vary, so it’s hard to nail down an exact price range. However, there are a number of common factors that will contribute to your overall cost.

These are:

  • Number of lanes
  • Number of shooters
  • Total time on the range, if hourly
  • Membership cost
  • Targets and ammo you buy or use
  • Any damage you cause

You’ll typically pay an hourly rate for each shooting bay you rent, and only a limited number of people are allowed per lane. A range membership could lower or eliminate these costs. The amount of ammunition and targets, as well as any guns you rent, will factor into your total cost. You’ll be charged for any damage you cause to the range or range equipment, but hopefully that doesn’t happen.

gun range booth with target and handguns.

Conclusion: Shooting Ranges

Your first trip to the range can be stressful, especially if you don’t know anyone, but if you follow this beginner’s guide to the shooting range, bring the right gear, and practice safe firearm handling, you’re sure to have a great time.

Do you have any other tips for new shooters heading to the range? Let us know in the comment section.

About the Author:

Alex Cole

Alex is a relatively young firearms enthusiast who’s been shooting consistently for around seven years. Though he is fairly new to the industry, he loves consuming all information related to guns and is constantly trying to enhance his knowledge, understanding and use of firearms. Not a day goes by where he doesn’t do something firearms-related.

Alex tries to visit the range at least a couple of times a month to maintain and improve his shooting skills. He also enjoys disassembling and reassembling firearms to see how they work and to keep them properly cleaned and maintained. He installs most of the upgrades to his firearms himself, taking it as a chance to learn.

Additionally, he is very into buying, selling and trading guns to test different firearms and learn more about them. He is not only interested in modern handguns and rifles, he appreciates the classics for both historical value and real-world use.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (2)

  1. My experience is at an outdoor private club range. After following the 4 basic rules of firearm safety, take a quick read of any posted rules at your range and read them every time you go as they do change. If your club doesn’t have a range officer I’d suggest taking a look over anyone shooting at the particular range area you are shooting at and make sure they are acting in a safe manner. If they aren’t, move to a different distance range or wait until they leave. This usually doesn’t happen often but you want to concentrating on your shooting and not worrying about what you neighbor is doing. If there is a range officer and they offer advice, take advantage of it since they are there for your safety. When I started, I wasn’t paying attention to my grip on a 22 semiautomatic pistol and my hand was starting to get near the back of the slide. The range officer spotted it and pointed it out and now that is something I’m particularly careful of every time I shoot. Communicate with the other shooters at your particular distance range. Ask for permission when placing targets (wait until they are reloading) and make sure their ear and eye protection is on before you start shooting. Let them know you are going to start shooting and that they are OK with it. This is also a good way to make some new friends. If you don’t have barriers between shooters, be aware of where your brass is flying and leave some space from the person on your right so you are not hitting them with hot brass. As for costs, most club ranges have low annual dues but do ask you to sell or buy raffle tickets throughout the year. This keeps dues low and supports the club plus you just might get a few new guns out of it. Also, if you have the time volunteer when needed. Most clubs operate with volunteer labor so helping keeps the club going.

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