As Pennsylvania’s Largest Gun Show, we see a lot of experienced shooters at every stop, but we also get to meet a lot of first-time gun owners looking for a new handgun and nervous about learning to use, carry, and store it properly. That includes understanding where and how to practice with a weapon. Firearms training and education are two of the most important aspects of gun ownership, and putting in the range time to develop practical gun handling skills is an enjoyable part of your Second Amendment rights and your responsibility to use them properly. If you’ve never been to a shooting range, you may not know what to expect, how to behave, or if it’s safe. Don’t worry. With a little preparation, your first time at a shooting range can be a personally rewarding experience that makes you a better gun owner.
Why Range Time Matters
Visiting a shooting range for beginners can be daunting. It’s an environment unlike any other, with the smell of burnt powder, the concussive sounds of shots fired, and a group of local subject matter experts that are uniquely experienced when it comes to firearms. Visiting your shooting range lets you practice with your weapon, familiarizing yourself with the way it feels and fires in your hand. You can improve your accuracy, learn gun handling safety, identify any issues with the weapon, and form a connection with firearms professionals and long-time hobbyists who can help you grow. Your first time at the shooting range is the start of a lifetime adventure, secure in your own abilities to protect yourself and those around you.
The Modern Shooting Range
You’ll still find traditional outdoor ranges peppered around the country. Built with sand berm backstops and positioned out in the country or deep in industrial areas, they give you an open-air experience to safely learn the ins and outs of your weapon. These outdoor ranges are susceptible to environmental damage, but they let you experience the use of your gun in a “real world” setting, wind and weather included. Newer, modern ranges, however, are making inroads in city economic centers and even strip malls as technology works to improve firearms training and practice opportunities to support the ever-growing number of gun owners.
Indoor gun ranges are built to allow live firing in a safe environment that shields you from the elements. Featuring motor-driven target trolleys, soundproofing, and backstops designed to contain rounds at the end of individual shooting lanes, they let you get your range time in year-round, whatever the weather may be. Additionally, modern laser-equipped shooting ranges using specially modified weapons or specific compatible weapon systems let you save the price of ammo and the wear of live-fire training while improving accuracy and shooting techniques.
Getting Ready For Your First Time at a Shooting Range
The preparation you put in beforehand will go a long way toward making your first time at a shooting range enjoyable and instructive.
- Visit the Range’s Webpage – Most shooting ranges will now have a web presence, whether it’s a dedicated webpage or a social media account. These give you a glimpse into the environment they create and the expectations they have for shooters, shoppers, and guests visiting their facilities. Look for rules, prices, range times, and a list of the products and services they offer. Many ranges also sell firearms while also renting out select models to let you “try before you buy.” They may also have a trained gunsmith on staff or offer shooting and concealed carry training.
- Learn the Rules of the Range – If they’re available on the website, take your time to read and understand the rules in place at the shooting range you’ll visit. While this is important for shooting range beginners, it’s a step that should be taken for any new range you visit. While some gun safety and etiquette rules are universal, others can vary based on the range owner’s preferences.
- Get Your Ammunition – Make sure you have several boxes of the appropriate ammunition for your firearm. While many shooting ranges do sell ammunition, “range prices” can often be higher than what you’ll find at your local gun show, sporting goods show, or gun shop. If it’s your first time and you aren’t sure of how much you’ll enjoy shooting or your ability to withstand extended training, stick to three boxes–about 150 rounds–of target ammunition. Generally lighter weight with less recoil than personal defense rounds, it will let you get a good feel for your gun without the price or recoil of full-power rounds.
- Get Your Shooting Protection – While some ranges have loaner gear, every gun owner should have the appropriate eye, hearing, and body protection for the range, both to ensure proper fitting PPE and for hygiene purposes. This includes a long sleeve shirt with a high neckline, long pants, and closed-toe shoes to protect your body. Eye protection should consist of glasses or goggles designed for shooting sports to keep your peepers safe from metal and powder material your gun can eject. For your ears, the large muff-type hearing protectors are the best as they cover the small bones and cartilage near the surface of the ear, but some people choose to use ear plugs instead.
At the Range
When you visit the shooting range for the first time, remember that you’re entering a place of business. Be polite, professional, and keep these tips in mind.
- Unload Your Weapon Beforehand – Make sure you unload and clear your weapon before leaving for the range. The range master will likely want to inspect it as well as your ammunition before you’re allowed onto the shooting lanes. This is a safety concern as an unsafe weapon could injure you or another shooter. Your weapon should be completely unloaded and stored in a case or holster separate from the ammunition for the safety of everyone at the range as you enter and get set up for your range time.
- Introduce Yourself to the Staff and Range Master – They’re used to beginners shooting at the range, and trust me, they’ll be able to tell even if you don’t let them know it’s your first time. This gives them a chance to talk to you about the range rules, specific commands, etiquette, and safety commands.
- Ask Questions When You Don’t Understand – Your range staff is there to help you, and they’re a great resource for general firearms information or how to successfully navigate the range. They’re also there to help with safety issues and concerns that could negatively impact the experience at their shooting range, first time or other.
General Safety Rules
- Keep Your Finger off the Trigger Until Ready To Fire – This prevents misfires that can cause injuries and endanger lives.
- Never Point Your Weapon on a “Cold” Range – If “Cold Range” or “Cease Fire” is called, no shots should be fired, and the gun should not be pointed downrange.
- Do Not Aim or Fire Until Instructed by the Range Master – On a busy range, the range master will tell you when to make read, aim, and fire or “Go Hot.” This means the range has been cleared of people, and it is safe to resume shooting. On some ranges, when slow, you will bear the responsibility yourself of ensuring no one is downrange, then loading and firing at your discretion.
- Leave Your Area Clean – Shooting range beginners should get used to leaving their area clean and tidy for the next shooter. Boxes and ammo trays should be thrown away, and any brass behind the firing line should be picked up or swept to a designated area unless otherwise directed by staff. DO NOT GO PAST THE FIRING LINE WHILE THE RANGE IS HOT.
Get Ready For Your First Range Visit
Everything you need for your first time at a shooting range is found at your local gun show. We bring in vendors from across the country with the top guns and accessories on the market. From weapons to protection and ammunition, you can be range-ready just from shopping in one safe, comfortable location. Book your tickets online to your next Eagle Shows gun show today.