Whenever possible, I advise new shooters to venture to a pond dam in the country where they can set up targets and shoot away. Provided NRA gun safety rules are followed at all times, you’re free to shoot however you like.
However, the vast majority of American gun owners go to public or private gun ranges to practice their marksmanship. While these ranges are overwhelmingly safe, fun and friendly, there are several unspoken rules, i.e., range etiquette tips, everyone should know to ensure a great range experience.
1. Save small talk for later. The firing line at the gun range — where everyone is focused on safe and accurate shooting — isn’t the best place for chitchat. Besides, with everyone wearing hearing protection, conversations can quickly become a comedy skit.
“Hey, nice shot!”
“What? You’re hot?”
“No! I said nice shot!”
“I shot the ammo you bought?”
You get the picture. If you must communicate, consider using hand signals and gestures to convey simple concepts like a thumbs up for “good job!” Save the non-vital chatter for the clubhouse or parking lot later.
2. Offer advice only if solicited. Unless you see a glaring safety breach, do your best to refrain from giving the shooter next to you advice unless he or she asks for it first. Keep in mind there are myriad shooting styles and techniques, and the range is the place to try them without worry. After the shooting session, plenty of shooters are eager to learn from others and swap tips.
3. Hang your targets at eye level. Keep in mind that bullets don’t stop when they hit a paper target. Rather, they continue at the angle at which they are fired. Therefore, if you are standing and hang your target low, your bullets could eventually hit the floor. Conversely, if you hang your target too low, your bullets could eventually hit the ceiling. Simply hang your targets at your eye level — whether sitting or standing — so your bullets will ultimately come to rest in the backstop as intended.
4. Be mindful of other shooters. When fired, guns — especially larger caliber rifles — create tremendous shockwaves and noise, and it’s generally not the shooter, but rather the shooters immediately to the right and left of the shooter, who receive the brunt of this “muzzle blast.” Keep this in mind if you plan to shoot a large caliber rifle, and let the range officer on duty know what you intend to shoot; he or she might assign you a special lane or one without neighbors to ensure everyone’s range enjoyment is maximized.
5. Follow NRA firearm safety rules at all times. For example, never place your finger on any gun’s trigger until that gun is pointed downrange and its sights are on-target. Not only will failing to do so create an unsafe condition for everyone on the range but it will also inform everyone that you are probably in need of a basic course in firearm safety.
In sum, be safe, polite and mindful of those around you. If you do so, you’re almost guaranteed to have a good and productive time at the range!