What Is Proper Gun Range Etiquette – Beginners Guide

gun range

Going to a gun range for the first time can be an exciting yet daunting experience. With the loud bangs of gunfire echoing through the range and the smell of gunpowder in the air, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the new sights, sounds, and experiences. However, with the right knowledge and proper etiquette, your trip to the range can be safe, enjoyable, and help you become more familiar with using firearms. In this comprehensive beginner’s guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about proper etiquette at the gun range.

Key Point

The most important aspects of gun range etiquette boil down to safety, awareness, respect, patience, and preparation. Always keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction, follow all range rules, be considerate of others, take your time, and come equipped with all the necessary gear. If you enter the range with the right mindset and adhere to proper etiquette, you’ll have a great experience.

Gun Range Rules

The first and most crucial step when visiting a gun range is to fully understand and closely follow all the facility’s rules and regulations. These rules exist entirely for safety reasons, so adhering to them is of utmost importance. While specific rules vary by location, there are some nearly universal guidelines:

Safety First

Safety must always be your top priority. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot, never point your gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot, and be aware of your target and what’s beyond it. Only load your gun when instructed at the firing line, and keep it unloaded at all other times. If you’re unsure about something, ask the range officer.

Listen to Range Officers

Range safety officers (RSOs) are there to enforce rules and oversee operations. Always follow their commands promptly and respectfully. RSOs have complete authority, so you must obey their instructions or risk being ejected from the premises.

Cease Fires

When a cease-fire is called, stop shooting immediately, engage your safety, remove your finger from the trigger, and step away from the firing line. Wait for the all-clear before resuming shooting. This pause allows range staff to change targets, or for shooters to check targets safely.

Stay In Your Lane

At indoor ranges especially, it’s crucial to fire only from your assigned lane. Never reach over or shoot across into neighboring lanes. Ensure your shots impact the backstop downrange, not the dividers, floor, or ceiling.

Mind Your muzzle

Always keep guns pointed downrange when loaded. Control the muzzle direction at all times, even when loading, unloading, or packing up. Never sweep your muzzle dangerously towards others.

Approved Targets Only

Shoot only at paper or steel targets approved by the range. Prohibited items include glass, cans, electronics, and exploding targets. Don’t shoot at target frames or range equipment. Place targets at approved heights.

Ammo Restrictions

Ranges often prohibit certain ammunition like tracer rounds and armor-piercing bullets. Some also specify caliber limits or FMJ vs hollow points. Always check and adhere to the range’s ammo allowances.

Time Limits

Many ranges enforce time limits, especially if people are waiting. Be courteous and limit your session to the allotted duration. Don’t monopolize a lane without permission.

Guests & Supervision

Children and new shooters must usually be directly supervised. Children under a certain age may be prohibited from handling firearms. Follow all range policies regarding minimum ages and guest requirements.

Gun Safety

In addition to specific range rules, following fundamental gun safety guidelines is imperative to avoiding accidents and injuries. Here are some key tips:

  • Treat all guns as if they are loaded. Don’t rely on mechanical safeties. Always handle firearms as if they could fire at any moment.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. Your trigger finger should remain straight, outside the trigger guard until you are ready to fire. Avoid any accidental discharges.
  • Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. Only point the muzzle at your intended target or downrange, never at anything you don’t intend to shoot. Control muzzle direction.
  • Know your target and what’s beyond. Be certain of your target and aware of its surroundings before firing. Bullets can penetrate far beyond your target.
  • Be sure the gun is safe to operate. Understand how to handle the gun safely. If it’s malfunctioning, stop using it and alert staff. Know how to clear jams safely.
  • Use proper eye and ear protection. Wear ANSI-approved ballistic eyewear and noise-reducing headphones or earplugs to prevent injuries.
  • Avoid alcohol or drugs when shooting. Your motor skills, cognition, and judgment must not be impaired when handling firearms.
  • Store guns securely. Keep guns locked and unloaded when not in use. Use gun cases for transport and avoid open carry to ranges.

Following these fundamental rules both on and off the range will help ingrain safe gun handling habits.

Range Safety Officers

Range safety officers (RSOs) play a critical role in maintaining safety and order at shooting facilities. They have extensive training and experience with firearms and range management. While exact duties vary, RSOs generally:

  • Oversee operations on the firing line
  • Ensure shooters follow rules and practice proper etiquette
  • Enforce safety protocols and the proper use of equipment
  • Declare cease-fires and control the hot/cold range
  • Supervise new shooters
  • Provide guidance and answer questions
  • Monitor shooters and stop unsafe behavior
  • Handle emergencies and injuries
  • Inspect targets and backstops
  • Resolve disputes between shooters

Range safety officers have complete authority over the range while on duty. Always follow their commands promptly. RSOs are there to ensure a safe experience, so your cooperation makes their job easier. Extend courtesy to them, adhere to cease-fires, and ask them if you have any concerns. With attentive RSOs, the range operates smoothly.

Proper Gun Range Attire

Wearing suitable attire to the shooting range is important for safety and performance. Here are some guidelines on proper gun range clothing:

Closed Toe Shoes

Do not wear flimsy footwear like sandals or flip flops, which offer no protection from hot brass or debris. Opt for sturdy, closed toe shoes instead. Athletic shoes with good grip work well.

No Loose/Flowing Clothes

Avoid loose-fitting shirts or jackets with strings or drapes that could catch on gear. Tie back long hair. Loose clothes can also obscure draw strokes from a holster.

Hearing & Eye Protection

Bring your own ANSI-rated eye protection and noise-reducing headphones. Don’t rely on rentals. Quality eyewear ensures your vision is protected from debris or case failures.

Comfortable Attire

Dress for comfort and freedom of movement since you may be standing a while. However, avoid overly revealing clothing. Wear clothes suitable for a public space.

Long Pants / Sleeves

For protection from hot brass, wearing long pants and shirts with sleeves is recommended. Have no exposed skin that ejected casings could land on.

No Drawstrings/Cords

Remove drawstrings or cords that could catch on something when shooting. This includes hoodie cords, bags, belts, etc. Eliminate anything that can snag.

Brimmed Hat (Outdoors)

At an outdoor range, a hat with a brim can shade your eyes and protect you from brass falling from above. Ball caps work well for this.

Weather Appropriate

Check the forecast and dress accordingly for hot/cold weather. Bring rain gear if precipitation is likely. You’ll be stationary outside for an extended period.

Avoid Bulky Clothing

Thick, bulky clothes can obstruct your range of motion when shooting. Overly thick jackets also make concealed carry more difficult. Dress in layers if needed.

The combination of closed toe shoes, long sleeves and pants, form-fitting clothes, protective accessories, and the range’s eye/ear protection will maximize safety and comfort when shooting.

Gun Range Lingo

Shooting ranges have their own unique vocabulary full of jargon and lingo. Here are some of the most common terms and phrases you may hear:

  • Cold Range – Guns cannot be handled or shot when the range is cold. Actions must be open and guns unloaded.
  • Hot Range – Shooting is allowed on a hot range. Firearms may be loaded and fired downrange only.
  • Make Ready – Prepare your gun for live firing but do not shoot until instructed.
  • Cease Fire – Stop shooting immediately and make guns safe until the range is declared hot again. Step away from firing line.
  • Clear – Verify no ammunition remains in the gun’s action or magazine. Remove all rounds and open the action.
  • Safe – A gun with its action open, magazine removed, unloaded, and pointed in a safe direction.
  • Downrange – The area beyond the firing line where the targets are located.
  • Muzzle – The end of the barrel from which the bullet exits. Always point muzzles downrange.
  • Berm – A raised earthen backstop designed to safely capture bullets.
  • Squib – When a bullet gets stuck in the gun barrel, creating a dangerous blockage.
  • Sweep – Swinging the muzzle dangerously across others violates basic safety. Never sweep anyone.

The lingo used at ranges reinforces safety. Familiarizing yourself with these terms is key to following instructions, communicating effectively, and having a smooth experience. Don’t be afraid to ask others for clarification.

Range Signals

Along with common vocabulary, shooting ranges use visual and auditory signals to maintain order and safety. Learn these basic range signals:

  • Flashing Range Lights – Get the RSO’s attention for assistance, questions, or concerns.
  • Verbal Commands – Listen for “Clear” to unload guns, “Cease Fire” to stop shooting, and other directives.
  • Whistles – One whistle blast is a cease-fire. Multiple blasts is an emergency.
  • Horn Blasts – Used by the RSO to announce hot range, cease fires, or other alerts.
  • Red Flags/Lights – Indicate the range or a specific section is cold. Do not handle guns until the RSO gives the all-clear.
  • Green Flags/Lights – Signify a hot range where live fire shooting is authorized.
  • Yellow Flag – Means there’s a temporary delay before the range can go hot again. Stand by.
  • Red Strobe – Emergency indicator. Stop shooting immediately, make guns safe, and await urgent instructions.
  • Paddle or Sign – Used by some RSOs to visually signal range status, especially outdoors.

These visual and audible commands facilitate communication on the range and allow the RSO to control operations safely and efficiently. Learn their meanings before your visit.

Range Cleanliness

Maintaining cleanliness at the shooting range is a shared responsibility among all patrons. We must respect these facilities so everyone can enjoy them. Follow these range etiquette tips for cleanliness:

  • Dispose of Trash – Clean up spent shells, discarded paper targets, boxes, plastics, trash. Use provided receptacles.
  • Clean Bench – Wipe down your shooting bench after use to remove residue. Discard fouled patches and debris.
  • Sweep Up Brass – Be considerate and tidy up ejected casings around your stall before leaving.
  • Report Issues – Notify the RSO promptly about cleanliness issues like broken glass or overflowing garbage cans.
  • No Food/Drink On Range – To avoid spills and garbage, save snacks and beverages for the lounge or parking lot.
  • Use Cleaning Supplies Provided – Some ranges offer free gun cleaning products. Use appropriately and clean up any leftover materials.
  • Avoid Illegal Dumping – Never abandon used oil, batteries, tires, or other hazardous/prohibited materials at the range.

The cooperation of patrons is essential to maintain clean, functional shooting facilities. Do your part to leave the range better than you found it as a courtesy to others.

Gun Range Equipment

When preparing for your trip to the range, having the proper equipment will make your outing smoother and safer. Try to bring:

Gun Range Equipment Checklist

ItemPurpose
Firearm & AmmoBring your unloaded gun and at least 50 rounds to start
Magazines/Speed LoadersHave spares so you don’t have to stop to reload
Eye & Ear ProtectionBring your own quality protection
Staple Gun & TargetsTo properly hang targets at the range
Shooting MatProvides a clean portable surface
Spotting ScopeLets you see target hits from a distance
Gun CaseSafely transport unloaded firearms
Cleaning KitWipe down guns after shooting

Miscellaneous

Other useful items include gloves, tape, towels, sandbags, binoculars, and a range bag to carry everything.

Take inventory before leaving for the range and ensure you have everything needed for an enjoyable time training. Having your own quality gear prevents hassles and helps maximize your experience.

Range Disciplines

Shooting ranges support a variety of firearms disciplines to suit different training needs:

Pistol Shooting

The most popular discipline, typically done at 15-25 yards with handguns. Encompasses target shooting, draws from a holster, defensive drills.

Rifle Shooting

Usually conducted at longer distances of 50-100+ yards. Various positions like prone, benchrest, offhand. Both manual and semi-auto rifles.

Shotgun Shooting

Performed with shotguns firing birdshot or buckshot at clay targets or paper targets. May include trap, skeet, 5 stand.

Steel Challenge

Involves shooting sequences of steel targets with handguns. Emphasizes speed and accuracy on an official timed course.

Bullseye Competition

Precision shooting discipline with .22lr rimfire handguns and rifles. Shoot tight groups in timed stages at 50 feet.

Plinking

Casual recreational shooting at miscellaneous objects for fun, like cans, bowling pins, spinners. Less formal practice.

3-Gun Matches

Timed competitive stages requiring proficiency with semi-auto rifle, shotgun, and handgun. Tests versatility and transitions.

Long Range Shooting

Precise shooting at distances up to 1,000 yards. Requires high-powered rifles with scopes and superior marksmanship.

Be sure to check which disciplines the range accommodates before visiting. Not all facilities support certain activities like holster draw, rapid fire, or firing from unconventional positions.

Range Shooting Stations

Shooting ranges offer different types of shooting stations to meet various needs:

Open Benches

Simple tables or benches without dividers to support your rifle or handgun. Typical at outdoor ranges.

Partitioned Benches

Benches with protective partitions in between. Prevent crossfire issues. Found at outdoor and indoor ranges.

Shooting Booths

Fully-enclosed stations commonly used at indoor ranges. Offer excellent sound and splash protection.

Firing Line

Marked shooting positions on the ground for firing without any table. Used for positions like prone or offhand.

Shooting Lanes

Numbered, partitioned shooting alleys leading to targets. Isolate shooters and prevents cross-lane fire.

Shelters

Covered pavilions or sheds to protect shooters from sun, wind, and precipitation at outdoor ranges.

Shotgun Fields

Special open areas for firing shotguns at moving clay targets. May include trap houses, towers.

Classrooms

For classroom instruction in between live-fire practice on the range. Conducive to teaching.

Carefully inspect the shooting facilities at a range to ensure they offer suitable amenities for the type of shooting you wish to do. If needed, time your visit to access specific stations or gear.

In Closing

It’s easy for inexperienced shooters to feel bewildered or intimidated when first visiting a gun range, given the loud reports of gunfire, strict protocols, and array of equipment. However, by taking it slow, focusing on safety, exhibiting courtesy, having a plan, and following proper beginner’s etiquette, your inaugural trip to the range can be smooth, enjoyable, and provide a solid foundation for developing your shooting skills.

The most crucial practices for beginners are: abiding by all range rules, heeding the RSO’s instructions, handling guns carefully, keeping your finger off the trigger until ready to fire, only firing at approved targets downrange, maintaining awareness of your muzzle direction, wearing eye and ear protection, packing necessary gear, cleaning up after yourself, and extending common courtesy to fellow shooters.

With this comprehensive guide, you now have the essential information to visit shooting ranges safely and responsibly. Always prioritize safety during your time at any range. Applying these etiquette tips will help you avoid mistakes, prevent accidents, and become integrated into the recreational shooting community. Enjoy your experiences developing marksmanship skills at the range!

Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website CaptainHunter.com. When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.

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