Congratulations, you or someone close to you has acquired a new firearm. You did your homework and got the one you wanted. What’s next? —A trip to the gun range to take it for a ride. With a little preparation, this can be a very rewarding experience and will bring you back for many years.
In our last two articles, we discussed gun ownership basics and care and maintenance. Now we’ll discuss your first trip to the gun range and shooting your new gun.
The Range Bag
First, you need to get a good range bag. You do not need to go all out with this purchase, but it must meet minimum requirements. Those would be ample space to place your firearm, ammunition and other range accessories. Exterior pockets will give you easy access to your range gear. At most indoor ranges there is limited room to rummage through your bag so knowing where everything is, can be of great help.
What do you need in your bag? Well the handgun. If you bought a tactical rifle and a range bag for that full-length rifle or shotgun, I’m afraid that mule required to bring it in will not be allowed. From this point on, we will assume you have your gun. One note: ensure your gun is cleared. Simply put that means all guns should be unloaded, including magazines and all ammunition, and the action open before you go in the front door.
Next in the bag is ammunition. For the first-time shooter about 100 rounds of ammo should be enough for your first experience. Even if you are shooting a smaller caliber like .22 Long Rifle you will notice the muscles in your hands and arms will get tired as you train new muscle groups.
For those who bought a small pocket pistol in .380 ACP or higher caliber do not expect a long day at the range. One box of ammo—50 to 100 rounds—should suffice for the first trip. These smaller guns, while very valuable in purpose, will have somewhat uncomfortable recoil and your hand will tell you that you’re done sooner than larger frame firearms. Do not be discouraged; even experienced shooters feel that when shooting the Get Off Me Guns in their small packages. The purpose of a pocket pistol is easy concealment, not a full day at the range.
For a day at the range, buy the least expensive good-quality ammunition to take and plink. As a matter of practice, I always take a box of my daily carry ammunition and finish the practice session using at least one magazine or chamber full of my quality ammo.
Next, your range bag should include comfortable, quality ear and hearing protection. There are two basic types of protection: earmuffs (cover the entire ear), and earplugs (placed in the ear canal). Both choices offer inexpensive options up to very costly alternatives. If this is your first trip to the range, you need to know that it is a noisy place even with ear protection. Your hearing protection will not eliminate noise but reduce it to an acceptable level. That level can be a bit unsettling at first when you open the range door or approach the outdoor benches. It is not uncommon for even experienced shooters to adjust to the sound and thump of guns firing. Give it a moment and you will adapt as you start to focus on your shooting.
The next item in your bag is eye protection. For those who wear glasses they will suffice as long they are safety lenses. You must have hearing AND eye protection on before you enter the range or approach the shooting bench. You may have to experiment with various types and shades. Clear tends to be best for indoors and I prefer yellow tint at the outdoor range with sunlight. I wear glasses and have yellow tinted glasses that go on over my spectacles when I shoot at outdoor ranges. With eye protection, you should try some less expensive brands first until you decide what you like best. Like holsters, I have a dresser draw filled with experiments from years past.
One item often forgotten is the all purpose stapler. Most ranges, indoor and outdoor both, require you to staple your targets to their supports. At indoor ranges, the backing will usually be cardboard; at outdoor ranges this is typically plywood so have a sturdy stapler. One that can be operated with one hand is preferable, as you will be holding the target up with the other when you staple it. Some ranges offer staplers while others charge a small fee to rent one.
Your range bag is now ready.
Common Rules and Experiences
Let’s talk about some common rules and experiences. Range Officers are there to ensure the safety of the patrons and guests. Those patrons and guest are handling firearms and firearms can kill you if improperly handled. Range Officers can make or break your experience. They can vary in personality from very helpful to overly zealous. For the new shooter the latter can be intimidating. Always remember that they are there for your safety and the safety of others. The best way to deal with all Ranges Officers is to listen very carefully and follow their instructions. If you have questions, ask them and don’t be afraid to ask until you understand.
Always keep your firearm pointed down range, toward the target. The most common mistake made by new shooters is to turn around with the firearm still in their hand. When not shooting lay the gun on the bench in front of you with the muzzle pointed down-range at the target. At most ranges, it is the rule to leave the action open when the firearm is on the bench. If this is not the rule then it is a very good rule to impose on yourself. Always treat your gun as though it were loaded and never point it at anything you do not intend to shoot.
Make sure that different ammunition is kept separate and ensure you are putting the correct cartridge in the correct firearm. You will not believe how many times this mistake has been made by shooters at all skill levels. The wrong ammo in the wrong gun at the very least may destroy your gun and at worst severely injure or kill you or others. Take your time.
Read the rules carefully before you walk to the range and take your time performing any actions like loading and unloading. Avoid circumstances that will make you feel rushed or uncomfortable. One more final instruction-have fun. You are not competing with anyone so on this trip enjoy putting holes in paper and learning what you and your gun can do. You can work on accuracy and precision at a later date. Now go get’em.
The article is aimed at the rookie shooter, as range safety basics and equipment are the focus. Any rookie shooter should get some training before venturing out to the range alone. Going to the range for the first time is certainly not like going to a movie, as the shooter’s and other range patrons’ lives may depend on the shooter’s preparation.
In passing, an MD Audiologist told me ear plugs (even custom made ones) are not adequate protection at the range. She highly recommends high quality muffs, either electronic or not.