The shooting sports have a stellar safety record, and we all want to keep it that way. Safety is everyone’s responsibility, and you can do your part by observing these do’s and don’ts when you’re on the range.
DO ask before you go if loaded, holstered handguns are permitted off the firing line and if there are other restrictions regarding transporting your guns up to the line. Some ranges do not allow loaded guns in the building, even by concealed carriers. Many ask that you keep all guns in a case until you’re on the firing line.
Do make sure there aren’t restrictions on ammo or caliber. Many gun clubs have specific ranges or lanes for handguns vs. rifles. Some do not accommodate shotgun slugs or high-powered rifles or allow calibers over a certain size. These rules are there for a reason—the club knows what its backstops can safely handle, so don’t push the limits.
DO observe the four rules religiously. Follow all four and the chances of someone getting hurt are virtually zero.
DO mind your muzzle. When you’re taking a break from firing to reload or for any other reason, be careful to keep the muzzle pointed downrange at all times, even when the gun is unloaded. The muzzle should never point anywhere on or behind the shooting line—we call this “breaking the 180.”
DON’T dress for fashion. Tank tops and flip-flops are cute and comfy, but you take a serious risk of brass burn if an ejected casing hits your skin (and sooner or later, it will). This is more than just painful—most of us aren’t disciplined enough to not react to a sudden burn, and people have been known to drop their loaded gun, lean down over the muzzle, or commit other serious safety violations faster than they even have time to think about. Cover up at the range.
DO listen to the Range Officer. The RO is there to keep everyone safe, and his or her commands need to be followed even if you don’t agree or understand why.
DO pay careful attention to when the range is hot. “Range is hot” means anyone could be shooting at any moment. You need to know the status (hot or cold) of the range at all times.
DON’T break the line until the range is verified as cold. Never step ahead of the firing line until someone calls the range cold and you can see that every shooter on the line has heard and complied with the order. No one should be touching their gun unless it’s a setup where there are no tables and long guns have to be slung.
DON’T manipulate your gun while the range is cold unless the RO says it’s ok. “Range is cold” means people could be downrange changing targets. This is not the time to fiddle with your gun or work the action. You might be permitted to reload magazines depending on the RO’s rules.
DO be lead-aware. Don’t be overly concerned about lead contamination, but do take some steps to reduce your exposure.
DO double-up on ear pro indoors. Hearing damage is permanent and cumulative, and indoor ranges concentrate the sound of muzzle blasts in a small area. Protect your hearing by wearing in-ear protection under shooting muffs when you shoot indoors.
DON’T take shots far beyond your ability. If you’ve never shot past 100 yards and don’t know what you’re doing, don’t just hit the 800-yard range and start lobbing bullets. Most monitored ranges won’t allow you, for safety reasons. Know what you’re capable of and stretch your limits a bit at a time while you learn and grow.
DO keep the action open when you’re not shooting. When you set the gun down and especially when you’re transporting the gun anywhere off the line not in a case, keep the action open so the gun can’t be fired and everyone can see at a glance that it’s in a safe condition.
DON’T touch someone else’s gun without permission. This is more of a courtesy thing than a safety thing, but don’t assume someone will be flattered if you pick his gun up off the rack to admire it.
DON’T assume you can draw from a holster or shoot from alternate positions. Many ranges do not allow shooters to draw and shoot from a holster. Some are not set up for you to shoot long guns from the prone, kneeling or sitting positions. Make sure you know what’s allowed.
DON’T have multiple types of ammo out at once. If you’ve brought more than one gun to the range, be sure to only have one sitting out at a time, and put all of that gun’s ammo away before you get out the next gun. It’s too easy to mix things up, and accidentally loading the wrong ammunition into any gun leads to catastrophe.
DO take a friend or a kid. We should all welcome new shooters, so feel free to bring someone with you and help them experience what you love about shooting. But …
DON’T get distracted helping someone. If you’ve come to the range with a newbie, especially a child, be aware that they might require all of your attention while they get accustomed to safe handling and shooting. Don’t turn them loose and go back to your own shooting if they still need supervision.
DON’T put up with bad or unsolicited advice. A shocking amount of bad advice gets thrown around at gun clubs and ranges, especially from well-meaning men to women. If you didn’t ask for it, and maybe even if you did, you don’t have to take all the advice that’s offered to you. That said…
DON’T be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Most people you meet at the range would love to help you if you’re struggling with something. Choose the source of your information carefully, but don’t be shy about asking the RO or a more experienced shooter for help.
DO pay attention to what those around you are doing. Just like you can’t trust a “range is cold” command until you’ve verified that no one is handling their gun, you can’t trust that the shooters around you will all mind their muzzles, pay attention to their kids, or observe other safety rules. Don’t gawk, but do surreptitiously keep track of who is doing what. And if necessary…
DON’T stay silent about safety violations. If you see someone break the 180, ignore the “range is cold” command, keep their finger on the trigger when the sights aren’t on target, or otherwise violate a rule that could put others at risk, speak up. Talk to the RO first if one is present. If it’s an unmanned range, you might need to address the violator directly. No one likes to hear that they’re doing something wrong, and you don’t want to get into a confrontation, so this needs to be handled delicately with over-the-top politeness. For less serious infractions, you might decide it’s just time to pack up and leave rather than hang around with people who treat safety too casually.
Remember, safety is everyone’s responsibility. It’s your responsibility to adhere to the rules and to be mindful of when others are being too cavalier with firearms safety.