How to Introduce New Shooters, Efficiently

The first range trip -- properly organized -- is usually a lot of fun for the new shooter

My last range trip lasted one and a half hours. The new shooter fired about 140 rounds of .22 ammunition and was able to hit quarter-sized targets at 25 yards on demand. I’d like to share the practices which allowed such progress to happen.

The first range trip -- properly organized -- is usually a lot of fun for the new shooter
The first range trip — properly organized — is usually a lot of fun for the new shooter

The key goal of any range trip is to ensure everybody’s safety. To that end, gun handling rules and reasons behind them are discussed in advance, verified at the range with inert guns (such as the blue gun) and enforced throughout the range session. I never had to yell muzzle, and only once or twice finger. By setting these commands apart from the rest of the instruction with a loud and stern voice, I could make them memorable quite quickly.

The second goal, almost as important, is for the shooter to have fun. A new shooter who enjoys a range trip will want to return. Eventually, she will gain competency. Reactive targets, such as sporting clays on the berm, provide instant feedback. Thin metal objects which bullets can penetrate with dramatic ragged holes provide keepsakes for taking home. But first, the shooter needs to succeed. Success is easy with the large paper target at three feet. Such close shooting also demonstrates the concept of sight offset from the bore. Gradually moving the target away illustrates the concept of zero. Ideally, the main distance at which shooting is done is at the exact close zero for the firearm.

The emphasis of learning has to be on the basics: sight alignment, trigger control, breath control, natural point of aim. The approach is not new, it’s been used successfully in Appleseed classes. The expectations have to be realistic and adjusted to each individual shooter. Typically, being able to hit a sporting clay consistently at 25 yards is a good minimum aspiration.

Bolt action in use on smaller targets
Bolt action in use on smaller targets

The choice of equipment is important. Light, low-recoil, adjustable carbines are ideal. Don’t make a 5’2″ shooter struggle with a full-size target rifle or a hard-kicking centerfire carbine. In this case, the first ten rounds were from a Walther P22 selected for the slim grip. With it, the concept of notch and post sights was introduced. Because the shooter was right-handed but left eye dominant, we did not use iron sights on rifles but went straight to the red dot. That allowed to concentrate on stable firing positions. Every person will have favorite positions and others which are uncomfortable. My newbie shot mostly from sitting, prone and standing with hasty sling. Range was 15 yards for standing and 25 yards for the rest. A bolt-action with a 4x scope was introduced late in the range session but had to be fired from a support due to the excessive weight. Note to self for the future, get a shorter and lighter .22 bolt-action. Another mistake I made was bringing bulk .22 ammunition for the autoloader. We had half-dozen misfires. Subsonic ammunition for the bolt-action ran just fine. Note to self for the future: use more reliable ammunition for teaching new shooters, such as CCI Mini Mag.

You will notice that the shooter is wearing hearing protection in the photos. Even though we were alone at the range and all of the guns were sound-suppressed, hearing protection is important. Supersonic bullets are still noisy, both in flight and when they smack into the close backstop. Blowback action adds noise of its own. Insulating the shooter from as many distraction as possible really helps with her concentration. When at public ranges or using guns without suppressors, amplified muffs over plugs are a good idea. Eye protection is likewise a must.

Defensive utility of firearms is especially high for women
Defensive utility of firearms is especially high for women, but that’s not the topic for the first range trip unless the learner brings it up.

At the end of the range trip, provide some mementos: fired casings, particularly good targets, photos with the guns. Point out any bragging rights earned. In this case, the bragging rights are obvious—the young lady has gone from zero experience with firearms to competency is both handling and marksmanship. It’s a pleasure to teach smart people who learn so fast! Since I primarily view guns as defensive tools, I pointed out that standard silhouette target is much bigger than a clay. A string of rapid fire from ten yards standing on a torso sized paper target shows how the same rifle would be used in a social situation. But I want to stress that the fighting utility of a firearm cannot be forced onto the new shooter. That would be like teaching tank handling techniques in basic driver’s ed. If your learner wants to go over that aspect of firearm use in detail, that’s a good topic for the second range trip. On the first one, the key words should be safety and fun.

About the Author:

Oleg Volk

Oleg Volk is a creative director working mainly in firearms advertising. A great fan of America and the right to bear arms, he uses his photography to support the right of every individual to self-determination and independence. To that end, he is also a big fan of firearms.
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. The R-Value associated with insulating material, are typically assessed in a science laboratory. That could succeed good – if the house ended up within the lab!

  2. You forgot one of the most important things needed to help introduce new shooters: friends who own land that you can shoot on.

    As you wrote on your blog a few months ago
    Help me find a new informal range
    Posted on October 30, 2011 by Oleg Volk
    Usually, I shoot on farms that belong to friends. That’s perfect for teaching new shooters, as nobody else shoots near us, reactive targets like clays are possible, and photography is easy.
    The problem is that one of these farms is an hour from me, the other an hour and a half. They aren’t always available.

    Oleg Volk says:
    October 30, 2011 at 11:10 pm
    The trouble with the indoor ranges is the increased noise level. Also, most formal ranges don’t allow movement, unconventional targets or calling a ceasefire to be able to explain a technique without shouting.

    Let’s face it: most shooting ranges suck and are inconveniently located. It seems that the gun culture goes out of its way to make the experience of going to a shooting range as unpleasant as possible.

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