New Shooter Hazards

These are a list of things to watch out for on the range with new shooters.

1: Flagging while on the line. New shooters don’t have that ‘muzzle awareness’ dialed in yet. They look left, look right, even turn full around with a gun in their hands. Make sure that the first point you make with a new shooter is that if they are holding a gun, they are looking only at the target. If they want to do something else,  holster the gun or set it down before doing so. Don’t let people pick up dropped ammo, retrieve loose magazines, mess with their clothing, fight off bees, take selfies, or scratch their nose, until that gun is properly secured. While the gun is in their hand, make sure it stays aimed downrange.

2: Finger off the trigger. Your finger goes on the trigger while aiming at the target; the minute you’re done aiming, finger goes along the gun’s frame. Beat this into your students early on; this is one of the number one causes of ND’s on the range.

3: Flagging Self. Cheap holsters, and holsters with thumb breaks, require you to hold them open with your support hand to holster your weapon. This is very dangerous and wrong. Put your support hand on your belly, and holster the gun slooooowly, looking at it the entire time. This is why you should never, ever, use a cheap nylon or even a leather thumb-break leather holster; if it collapses, you have to worm the gun into the holster, putting your legs and fingers at risk. Teach people to holster deliberately. Watch out for your toes and legs while swinging the gun around, particularly while loading it or drawing it. And don’t pick things up off the ground, or off the bench, or do anything with your free hand, until that gun is safely stowed again. I’ve seen people literally aim a gun at their left hand while picking up a dropped magazine or loaded round off the ground.

4. Load and Unload the Weapon. If you’re working with someone who does not know how to manipulate their firearm; or is physically incapable of doing so; then you need to pull them aside and work with them 1 on 1, using dummy rounds/snapcaps, to instruct them in how to properly load and unload a firearm. If someone can’t rack the slide or doesn’t know how to clear the revolver, they are much more likely to leave the line with a loaded gun than admit they need help in a classroom setting.

5: “Drop magazine, unload and show clear; if clear, aim downrange, pull the trigger, and holster”. Even the very, very best shooters in the world exit the range after having a range safety buddy watch them drop the magazine, unload the gun, and show them an empty chamber. Once the chamber is ‘clear’, then let the slide go forward, aim downrange, and pull the trigger. Then, holster. This guarantees that no hot gun walks off the firing line. If you’re an instructor with multiple students, then do this procedure one person at a time to clear their guns visually before letting them leave the firing line. At a minimum, make people check each other before they walk off the line. Make sure that while they’re doing this, the gun stays aimed safely downrange.

6: No handling guns off the firing line. Do not let people play with their guns if they aren’t on the firing line. This applies to putting rifles on the rack behind them, or pistols in boxes. That means no dry fire, no administrative reloading, no ‘here, lemme show you this’. Pistols must remained holstered; long guns should be put in cases before leaving the firing line. A police officer was killed a few years ago by an ‘unloaded’ gun when he was showing a rookie a disarming procedure off the firing line, on an active range. Once you’re off the firing line, do not pick up guns, open cases, or draw them from your holster. Period.

7: Appropriate clothing. I insist anyone coming to my range wears closed-toe shoes, a closed-neck, fitting shirt, and a sturdy belt, at a minimum. Safety goggles and ear protection should, I hope, go without saying. This also means that you need to tuck in your shirt into your belt; a common cause of NDs on ranges is clothing bunching up and sneaking into a trigger guard while a person’s holstering their firearm.

These last three items apply to the instructors, safeties, and coaches on the range.

A: Excessive recoilThis is a dick move to pull on any newbie. And, this one’s on the instructor, not the student. It’s not funny; it’s cruel and it can, literally, ruin someone as a shooter forever. It has nothing to do with gender, size, or strength; I have seen big strapping guys who have severe trigger flinch because the first time they ever handled a gun, they were given a .357 snub nosed revolver. It can take tens of hours of serious, dedicated training with a competent coach to correct trigger flinch, once inherited. At a rate of $30 an hour for professional training, one ‘harmless gag’ can cost someone $300+ bucks and a few months to undo.

B: Know your limits as a teacher. There’s an old saw: ‘Every man is born thinking he’s a naturally gifted lover, driver, and marksman’. And, in fairness, there are plenty of women who feel like they’ve got something to ‘prove’ to the men on the range. Maintain a realistic assessment of your skills; I’m saying this as an Army retiree, your Expert rating with an M16 does not correlate to competence with a Glock, shooting clays, or benchrest target shooting.

C: Don’t teach family. Be a safety observer; show them how to practice good gun safety, make sure to help them if they are scared or unsure of what to do. But for real instruction, get a certified coach. Folks have a way of feeling resentful of being told what to do by family members, and there are times as a coach you need to be forceful and maintain discipline for safety’s sake. A coach can do that easily; parents, a sibling, a child, or cousin is going to have a much harder time accepting your authority with gratitude.

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