Range Safety

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For most people, range time is squeezed in somewhere between work and family commitments. But there are a few, us lucky few, where being on the range is a beautiful combination of work, fun, and family time. As you know, a range does not necessarily have to mean an indoor facility equipped with automated targets; a range can be anywhere that you can safely, legally, and properly fire your gun into a designated target.

Safe, family fun
A safe, portable range, The Daisy Inflatable Range can be set up almost anywhere

 Depending on where you are as you read this, you probably have a public or private indoor and/or outdoor facility close by. If you live near state or federal game lands you may even have a department managed, un-manned sight-in range that you can visit, or you may live in an area where your back yard can quickly transform into your own private range.  If you’re not for sure where to shoot, check out the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s (NSSF) web directory of shooting ranges. No matter where your local range is, always make safety your priority when visiting. To make sure your next range day is safe and fun, let’s cover some rules, etiquette, procedures, and gear.

People usually lump gun safety rules and range safety rules into one category; and it’s true that almost everyone’s range rules will incorporate gun safety rules, however, the two sets of rules are in fact different. Gun safety rules are the foundation, and they apply across the board. Gun safety rules do not change from activity to activity or from location to location. 

The three gun safety rules to commit to memory are:

  • ALWAYS KEEP THE GUN POINTED IN A SAFE DIRECTION.
  • ALWAYS KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL READY TO FIRE.
  • ALWAYS KEEP THE GUN UNLOADED UNTIL READY TO USE IT.

Remember, “safe direction” may change from time to time, so always be mindful of others who may be sharing the range with you. I also want to address that third rule real quick; people always ask me if that last rule applies to situations like when walking through a field when bird hunting or when carrying concealed. Remember, the gun rules apply across the board, so yes it does apply no matter what you shooting activity is, but most people confuse “use it” with “shoot it”; when my defensive carry gun goes on my side, it is “in use”

– I’m not shooting it but it is being used as my personal protection device so my gun is loaded, if I stop carrying the gun and want to lock it away in the safe, that is now in storage and not “in use”, the gun should be unloaded at that point.  Speaking of actually shooting the gun, fired bullets may pass through most target material and continue traveling, so KNOW YOUR TARGET AND WHAT LIES BEYOND IT, always ensure your bullet will come to rest in an appropriate backdrop. If you served in the Military, you were also taught to KEEP THE WEAPON ON SAFE UNTIL READY TO FIRE, a good rule and if you’re gun is equipped with a manual safety you should most certainly use it; just remember, just because you engage a safety on a firearm does not mean you can violate the first three rules.

Range rules will be specific to the range facility or location. Because gun safety rules are so important, you’ll probably also see them stated again along with things like what guns and ammunition are allowed, what target material is allowed, when the range goes hot, when the range goes cold, how far to the left and right you can shoot, what to do with “duds”, minimum age to shoot on that particular range, if holsters are allowed, if gun cleaning is allowed, and so on. Because range rules may change slightly from range to range, make sure you always read (or re-read) them before shooting. As an example, check out these US Forest Service Range Rules.

Okay, so you know the rules, now let’s talk about etiquette. First, when you show up to a new range, let the Range Safety Officer (RSO) or attendant know that it’s your first time there and take some time to get familiar with their range and their rules; when speaking with the staff, be honest, ask questions, and listen.  No matter what your background is or how experienced you are, be prepared to take that range’s safety class/test. When on the firing line, shoot only your target (not someone else’s target, the target carriage, etc.). Be mindful of and adhere to your allotted time. After shooting, clean up after yourself but do not collect someone else’s brass. When you’re not shooting, do not hover over other shooters, don’t offer unsolicited coaching either. And it might be a good idea to leave pets at home.

As a side note, if you are interested in learning more about becoming a Range Safety Officer, the NRA and USCCA both have pathways to becoming a certified RSO.

Ranges will have a standard procedure for getting people checked in and on the firing line. Familiarize yourself with that process, when and where guns can be uncased, when and where guns can be loaded, and the range commands used at your facility. Typical commands may include: “The range is hot”, “The range is cold”, “Pull”, “Unload”, “Show Clear”, “Cease Fire!”, just to name a few.  Also, during an emergency, trained RSO’s will handle the situation, make sure you follow their commands; with that being said, it’s wise to glance around upon entering a range (or any place for that matter) and note the location of fire extinguishers, first aid kits, AEDs, bleeding control kits, and emergency exits.

So, what gear should you bring to the range? Well, this could be an entire blog article all in itself… and it will be! We’ll be covering what to pack in your range bag in a few months, so stay tuned. But for now, make sure you have a good set of eye and ear protection. For glasses, I tend to wear clear lenses during low or no light conditions, I wear an amber lens when shooting under artificial lights, and I wear a vermillion lens when shooting clay targets. I currently wear the Walker’s Razor X-TRM Digital Low Profile Muffs when I’m shooting pistols, and because muffs get in the way of my cheek-weld, I use a set of custom molded plugs when shooting rifle and shotgun. 

There is an outstanding article on page 5 of GunTech Issue 183 (July 2021) that really goes in depth about the importance of ear protection and some available options, go check it out. GCA members have access to digital copies of GunTech on their member dashboard, if your not a member yet, go visit Gunsmithing Club of America and sign up today!

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