Congratulations! You’ve never gone to the range before. But you’ve got a friend who is encouraging you to join them, and you are going to exercise your right to bear arms that’s enumerated under the 2nd Amendment. Guns are a ton of fun to shoot, but much like driving a car or playing with fireworks, they are hazardous. This doesn’t mean they are DANGEROUS; just that it’s prudent to take simple safety precautions, just like you wear your seatbelt or keep a fire extinguisher handy on the 4th.
So what can you do to be ready? First, make sure you’re dressed for the part. The range has some hazards, like flying brass, hot oil, and burning powder. You won’t see Hollywood-style ricochets, but spall, tiny fragments of bouncing lead, can be a hazard. So you need eye protection. Any safety glasses will do the job– if you wear regular glasses, you’ll find they don’t provide good protection from smoke or gasses. Also, you’ll want hearing protection. Some like earplugs, but I prefer a good around-the-ear set of headphones like the red industrial ones you can get at Home Depot or other stores. If you’re very sensitive to loud noises, wear earplugs AND muffs. It’s good to have both, and at least fall back on earplugs.
Don’t forget a sturdy belt, closed toe shoes, and a close-fitting shirt. Hot brass down your collar will make a miserable experience.
If you’re at an indoor range, you’ll probably be shooting inside a ‘range box’. This is a 3′ wide lane that you have to yourself. Other people might be shooting in the adjacent lanes, so be ready for the sound of their guns going off. This is why I recommend the big earmuffs, they work great for muting some of the louder bangs.
On an outdoor range, you’ll have a wider area to work in. You’ll be shooting alongside people and the noise will be less intimidating. However, you will need to dress for the weather.
There are four fundamental rules of safety to follow:
Treat All Guns As If They Are Loaded
Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger Until Ready To Shoot
Do Not Aim Your Gun At Anything You Do Not Wish To Destroy
Be Aware Of What You Aim At And What Is Behind It
I always add #5: Never Remove Safety Gear While On The Range!
Ask me why I added that one. You’ll need to speak up.
Guns are loud and violent, but they are not unpredictable. A gun will only go off if you touch the trigger. It will only send bullets where you are aiming the barrel. It will only fire one round per time you pull the trigger. It’s loud but if you are wearing ear protection, not deafening.
However, those bullets will go through a lot of material. So always be careful of where that muzzle is aimed! On an indoor range, you have people separated from you by 1″ of cardboard, or less; a bullet will fly right through that. On an outdoor range, you’ll have people moving and shooting next to you. Be very careful of where that gun is pointed! If you want a safe rule of thumb, it’s this: If the gun is in your hand, your eye is on the target. If your eye is not on the target, then you need to holster the gun or put it down SAFELY.
It’s like driving a car; it’s easy to veer off the lane if you’re looking in your backseat.
A other few things to look out for:
Some guns have a lot of recoil, some don’t. If this is the FIRST TIME you have ever been around guns, be firm about only shooting low recoil guns. Tell your range buddy that if they prank you with a high-recoil gun, you’re never going shooting with them again. You’re here to have fun, after all. For the most part, anything in 9mm or .22 is safe to shoot. But if it hurts to shoot, stop. I am a total weenie about recoil, and I’ve been shooting for 5+ years competitively. I don’t shoot shotguns, .357 magnums, or even .38 revolvers.
Make sure to be safe. The biggest one here is to have a holster for every gun. If you don’t have a holster, make sure that you have a clear area where unloaded guns can be stored, without aiming at other people. Do not handle guns while people are standing ‘downrange’ of you! If you’re handling a gun while someone’s in front of you, you’re breaking Rule #2. Load, unload, and handle guns only while on the firing line.
If this is the first time you’re at the range, ask your instructor to help you with your grip and your eye dominance. Some people are right-handed, but left-eyed. If you have a hard time lining up the sights, your instructor should be able to help.
Good grip technique is hard to teach. Unless you are shooting a revolver, do not cross your thumbs. The best technique is called ‘isoceles grip’; if your range friend doesn’t know what that is, default to just supporting your shooting hand with your off-hand. This at least guarantees you won’t hurt yourself.
Finally, again– be safe. Be stupid safe. Be idiotically safe. Talk to all the people around you, all the time. ‘Is this safe?’ ‘Is this unloaded?’ ‘Show me how to unload this again’. ‘Tell me where I can set this’. If you see someone doing something unsafe in you group, say something. If someone nearby is making you feel unsafe, talk to the local range manager. No one will fault you for being cautious. Range safety is one of those things where redundant redundancy is, in my mind, a good place to start.
Always ask for help, ask questions, and when you’re tired, sore, or just plain not having fun, take a break for a few minutes. Shooting firearms is an immensely enjoyable hobby once you get the hang of it, but like most things, it takes time and practice and can be an acquired taste.
So get out there and have fun! If you’re safe and careful, at the worst case, you walk away saying ‘I tried it once’.