A Guide to the Shooting Range

Shooting Range
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Going to a shooting range for the first time can be intimidating.  You may have some questions before you go, such as: 

  • How do I find a shooting range near me?
  • What are the rules at a shooting range?  
  • What do you need to go to a shooting range?
  • Can you rent a gun at a shooting range? Do I bring my own gun?
  • What do I wear to a shooting range?
  • What should I expect at a shooting range?

Every shooting range is a little different, but we can give you a general idea of what to expect, what to bring, what to do and what not to do, and hopefully make you feel more comfortable when you go to the range!!

First you need to find a range near you.  Google is your friend!  Search for “shooting ranges near me”.  Don’t forget to check the reviews.  If you have local friends who shoot, ask them where they like to go.  

What to Bring to the Shooting Range

If you want to shoot something other than a handgun or basic rifle, like a shotgun or a .50 cal, or anything weird, it’s a good idea to call the range and check with them before you show up.  Some ranges limit the type of weapons you can use, or the type of ammo you can use in them.  For instance, virtually all indoor ranges, if they allow 12 gauge shotguns, will only allow the use of slugs, not shot.  Most indoor ranges will ban .50 cal weapons.  

Many ranges offer guns for you to rent.  Hopefully if you’re reading this, you’ve bought (or are about to buy) one of Horizon Arms Research’s many fine firearms.  However, renting can be a good way to try out different guns and see what you like, or introduce a friend to shooting.  All ranges will rent eye protection and ear protection, known as eye pro and ear pro.  

If you bring your own weapon to the shooting range, you will most likely need to carry it in a case.  Many ranges will not allow you to bring a firearm in in a holster, in a pocket, in your hand, or otherwise unsecured.  Horizon Arms Research firearms ship with great lightweight cases which are perfect for going to the range.  Your weapon should be UNLOADED, and closed up in the case before you enter the shooting range facility.

We recommend buying your own eye pro and ear pro, as it will be better quality, fit you better, be clean and well taken care of.  You can use it whenever and wherever you go shooting, even if it’s not at a range.  Of course, we also recommend buying your own firearms, as they will be higher quality, better maintained, and by shooting the same firearm over and over you’ll gain mastery of the weapon.    

For a simple trip to the shooting range, a range bag with eye pro, ear pro, your firearm(s), and several magazines will be all you need.  Later on, you may want to bring extra eye pro or ear pro (for friends or in case of a failure), tools (for adjusting sights or optics or fixing any issues), your own ammo, your own targets, and more.  But start simple.  

Range Clothing – What to wear to a shooting range

When going to the gun range you should always wear comfortable closed toe shoes..  You will be on your feet and need to have a solid stance to provide stability when you are shooting.  You also don’t want hot brass falling on any exposed skin.  No sandals or flip flops!  

You should wear long pants, and ideally, a long sleeved shirt.  You don’t want to get burned by hot brass.  A t-shirt is okay as long as you are 100% sure you won’t react badly if your arm gets burned.  Avoid shirts with low necklines as they can become hot brass traps.  

Having a hot shell bounce off your arm or hand isn’t fun, but generally isn’t a big problem.  However, having hot brass pressed against your skin in the same spot for several seconds, such as your cleavage, or under ill-fitting eye pro, can leave a serious burn.  

Don’t wear clothing you don’t want to get dirty.  Gun oil and gunpowder can get on your hands and clothes and may be difficult to wash out.   

At the Gun Range

When you first arrive, you will need to carefully review the rules of that specific shooting range and fill out paperwork.  Please take the time to read and understand the rules of the range.  Each range may have small differences in the rules, which are important for your safety and the safety of those around you.  If you disobey a rule, you are likely to be kicked out and potentially banned.  

So please pay attention to detail and don’t be afraid to ask the staff if you have any questions.  Most range staff are very knowledgeable, and are usually happy to help newcomers.  If you have a question about a firearm, be sure to talk to the staff first BEFORE you attempt to handle the weapon (i.e. don’t get your firearm out of your case and walk up to the counter with a gun in your hand).  

There may be a wait, depending on how busy the range is.  You should be prepared to wait a bit, with a book or your phone, etc..    

If you don’t have your own eye protection and ear protection, you will need to rent some.  You may also need to buy targets or ammunition if you didn’t bring your own. 

Buying your own ammunition and bringing it with you can save you a lot of money, as most ranges have a high markup on their ammo.  Just be sure to only bring high quality ammo.  Not only do you not want to feed your firearms poor quality ammo, but many ranges ban steel ammo (which can be quite cheap).  

You may need to leave your driver’s license and/or credit card to hold your lane while you are using it.  This is normal.    

You will likely be assigned a lane number.  Once you’re ready to enter the shooting range itself, you’ll need to put on your eye pro and ear pro BEFORE you go through the door.  

Many ranges have an airlock style system, with a door leading from the retail area/lounge, into a small airlock room, and then a second door leading into the shooting range proper.  In this case, put on your eyes and ears, and pass through the first door.  Make sure that door closes firmly behind you, before you open the next door (into the range).  This will prevent loud noises from carrying out into the area where people are not wearing hearing protection.    

Inside the Gun Range

Image of girl at indoor shooting range
Inside the shooting range

Most ranges have an open area where you first enter, which may have chairs, tables, trash cans, etc., and then a line of shooting lanes (typically numbered), with little tables or benches and vertical walls on either side.  There will be one or more Range Master or Range Safety Officers (RSOs) who are the staff members working to ensure that everyone is safe and can help answer questions you may have.    

Once you are inside, locate your lane and proceed there.  Bring your range bag or firearm case up to the shooting bench.  You should never carry your firearm out of its case until you are at your shooting bench. The firearm stays in the case up into your shooting lane area.  You can carefully remove it from the case or bag and place it on the shooting bench, being sure to keep the muzzle pointed down-range the whole time.  

From this point onward, until you are done, and carefully place the firearm back into the case or bag, the muzzle should ALWAYS be pointing down range.  If it’s in your hand, it’s pointing down range, if you are shooting, it’s pointed down range, if it is laying on the shooting bench, it’s pointed down range, if you are loading/unloading/examining it, it’s pointed down range.  You get the picture?  This is extremely important.    

You see people doing things like turning around, with their gun in their hand, to ask a question or look for their friend or the range master, and as they turn, they bring the gun muzzle around with them, often “flagging” other shooters, this creates a very dangerous situation.  

Also, if your gun malfunctions, or if you get burnt by hot brass, or anything else unexpected happens, your NUMBER ONE job is to keep the muzzle pointed safely down range.  If something like that happens, cease fire, put the firearm’s safety on (if it has one) and put it down on the shooting bench, with the muzzle pointed down range, and then deal with the hot brass, or talk to the range master or RSO.    

There is a forward line that should never be crossed by you or any part of your body.  Be aware of this firing line.  Be aware of your body, your firearm, and your movements.  

Targets 

Different ranges will have different target systems, but generally there will be some way to affix your paper targets to your lane’s target system.  Tape, clips, staples, etc…. Most indoor ranges have electronicly controlled target holders (again these differ by range), but you should be able to figure out how to move your target down range (away from you) to the distance you want to shoot at, and then bring it back to you to examine your hits, or change the paper target out for a new one.  If you have any questions about how the system works, ask the RSO.  

Especially when you are getting started with shooting, do not try to move your target too far back.  You aren’t competing with anyone else.  It doesn’t matter how far back anyone else’s targets are, start close.  Depending on the type of firearm and your skill level, this might be 5 feet or 5 yards or 50 yards.  

You can always push it further away as you go.  If you aren’t getting good hits, you aren’t learning anything.  Trying to shoot too far or too fast are common mistakes and take away the value of the range time.

Shooting

You should keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire. This is standard practice at the range or not. Good trigger discipline is one of the most important safety measures. The firearm should be pointed at your target, you should have acquired your sight picture, and be aimed at the center of your target before your finger enters the trigger guard.  

Many ranges have rules against rapid-fire.  Once you are a more experienced shooter, if you want to work on shooting faster, talk to an RSO.  In many cases, especially if you have been a frequent and courteous client, they will allow it.  Even then, ensure you’re hitting your target and are close to your aim point.  Wild shots can damage the target machinery and the RSOs do not like that.  Don’t try to shoot faster than you can shoot accurately.  Shooting fast can be fun, but never forget that Slow is Smooth, and Smooth is Fast.

Once you get further into tactical shooting, you may want to ask the RSO if you can drop your mags, or if they allow any holster work (most ranges do not).  But start slowly and don’t expect rules to be bent for you.  

What to do when you are done shooting

When you are done shooting, carefully pack your firearm back in the case or bag.  Be aware that after shooting, the firearm barrel can be extremely hot!  You don’t want to burn yourself. Also, depending on the material of the case or bag, you risk melting or damaging the case or bag with your hot barrel if you put it in too quickly.  You may want to let the weapon cool on the shooting bench (unloaded and with the muzzle pointing down range, of course) before putting it away.  

Be sure to clean up your area, throwing away used targets (unless you want to keep them), empty ammo boxes, etc…. After you have cleaned everything up, thrown away trash, and carefully packed your weapon and gear, you can leave the shooting area.  Often exiting involves a similar air-lock style setup.  Do not remove your eye pro or ear pro until you have fully exited the shooting range and airlock room.    

Wash your hands thoroughly.  Between the ammo, burned powder, etc… you can end up with some pretty nasty chemicals on your hands and forearms.  You don’t want to touch your face, eyes, mouth, or eat without scrubbing your hands and arms clean.  Most ranges will have a special soap that helps remove lead residue.    

You may need to check out, return a lane card, get your license or credit card back, etc…. Make sure you check everything before you leave.  

The physical and psychological stress of shooting

Shooting can be physically and psychologically stressful.  It’s dangerous.  It’s loud.  It can be very startling.  

At an indoor range, all of this is magnified.  The noise is much louder due to all the reports bouncing off concrete walls.  Your fellow shooters will be shooting at their own rhythm with their gun reports and muzzle flashes taking you by surprise.  Some of them may be shooting very loud weapons.  

Your body will react to all this stimulus.  Common reactions are shaky hands, rapid heart rate, fast breathing, nausea, and anxiety.  There is nothing to be ashamed of here. If you start feeling poorly or your hands are shaky or jumping, call it a day and go home.  It’s your body’s normal reaction to unexpected loud noises, flashes of light, an environment with dangers, etc…. You can always come back tomorrow!  

The more often you shoot, the more these physical and psychological reactions will diminish.  Practice, practice, practice!  But don’t try to push yourself.  You won’t have fun, and you won’t become a better shooter by shooting all over the place with shaky hands.  

Your first trip to the shooting range may only be 10 minutes, and that’s fine.  The important thing (after safety) is to enjoy yourself, so you’re more likely to shoot again, and again, and again.  That’s how you get comfortable with shooting, and that’s how you become good at shooting.    

Go, have fun, shoot, practice, be safe!

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