Your first trip to the range can be an anxiety-producing event, especially if you are going by yourself. Here are some tips to help make your first range session a safe and enjoyable experience that makes you want to do it more often.
Before Your Range Session —
Sometimes preparation is the key to success. Consider doing these things before you go to the range:
You will likely feel more comfortable using gear that belongs to you instead of renting or borrowing it from someone else.
Of course, you should wear hearing protection, but the type of hearing protection can make a big difference in your experience. I find electronic hearing protection that allows me to hear a conversation yet still blocks out the sound of gunshots is the best. Ear protection that blocked all noise made me feel a bit disoriented.
I use this set of electronic ear pro from ReadyUpGear. And while I'm talking about electronic ear pro, I suggest these gel ear pads. They are amazingly comfortable and allow an even better seal around the ears. I wouldn't choose to wear a pair without these inserts again.
If you're shooting indoors and can't seem to focus on what you're doing because of the sound of gunshots, try doubling up your ear pro. First, use earplugs, and then put your electronic or standard ear muff hearing pro over the top.
Eye protection is similar to ear protection in that you can get something that works best for your specific needs. For example, if you wear prescription glasses, you want to make sure the eye protection you wear can fit over the top of your glasses. You may opt-out to get prescription eye protection if you know you will be shooting regularly.
I find SSP Eyewear makes great safety glasses at a reasonable price.
Constantly adjusting eye protection that is falling off your face because of your prescription glasses or distorting your vision is not enjoyable or safe.
Familiarity with the gear —
I've decided not to include the firearm as part of the ‘gear' section above but include it under familiarity for an important reason.
When someone is heading to their first range or class session, I usually advise against purchasing a gun specifically for that event. Unless the person has done the research, handled the gun, and feels confident in their choice. The reason is that there are so many different guns with different actions and features that often they purchase a gun that isn't suited for their needs. Once they make the initial investment, it can be expensive to go a different route.
But you also want to be familiar with how the gun you're about to shoot operates, even if it is something you will rent or borrow. If borrowing it from a friend, see if you can get together before the range session to handle the gun and learn how it functions. Use dummy rounds to fill empty magazines, so you can be somewhat familiar with the basic skills you will need to possess at the range.
Anytime you use a firearm, you're engaging in an inherently dangerous act.
Following fundamental safety principles will ensure no one is injured. Here are the safety rules you should always follow anytime you are around firearms:
- 1 – Know the condition of your firearm and always treat it as a potentially dangerous tool.
We should always know the condition of our firearms. Are they loaded or not? Also, we should always treat it as a potentially dangerous tool. The moment we grow complacent is when mistakes happen.
We can include the rule to check the condition of a firearm you're handed or are picking up under this first safety rule. If you give a firearm to someone, except under specific circumstances, you should open the action to check the condition and leave it open as you hand it to them.
- 2 – Always be attentive when handling a firearm and know where the muzzle is pointing.
When someone points a gun at another person or themselves on the range, it's rarely intentional. It's almost certainly due to a lack of attentiveness. We have to be attentive to where we point the muzzle to know if we're pointing it at something we don't want to shoot.
- 3 – Keep your finger out of the trigger guard unless you are on target and prepared to fire.
Except for mechanical failures, something must manipulate a gun's trigger for the gun to fire. However, keeping your finger off the trigger isn't likely enough. We all have flinch reflexes and sympathetic squeezes that can allow us to press the trigger and fire a shot inadvertently.
Instead, keeping your finger outside of the trigger guard is altogether preferable unless you're on target and prepared to fire.
- 4 – Identify your target, all surroundings, and be prepared for changes.
Identifying your target involves determining if it is something that needs to be shot in a self-defense context or the target you're supposed to shoot in a practice context.
Secondly, you should be aware of all your surroundings. This includes whatever is around your target, around you, anywhere else in between, and beyond.
Finally, you must prepare for changes to happen. In a self-defense context, you, your threat, and anyone else in the area is likely moving in unpredictable directions. Therefore, you have to be aware of anyone running into your line of fire or who may enter your line of fire because of position changes.
Where you choose to shoot can make a huge difference, especially for the first-time shooter. I prefer shooting outdoors if at all possible for several reasons. First, the sound and concussion of the gunshot are much greater indoors.
The loud concussion can make it harder to focus or relax and concentrate on learning. The constant loud, unpredictable sounds can also produce anxiety.
Secondly, indoor ranges can produce an uneasy, claustrophobic feeling. Shooting outdoors in the sun and fresh air feels more natural and can be a big psychological help for the shooter.
Thirdly, indoor public ranges usually have lanes or bays separated by dividing walls between the shooters. If you've seen the level of safety, many people at these public ranges have, you would be justifiably nervous about standing next to a stranger with a gun.
Shooting buddies —
I recommend your first trip to the range be with someone rather than all alone. This could be a trusted friend or relative with prior knowledge of firearms, or better yet a certified instructor. It's important to mention that just because someone “has been around guns their whole life” doesn't mean they understand safety or know how to instruct.
For that reason, I recommend you take an introductory, one-on-one handgun class as your first trip to the range.
Stay away from going with your best friend, who is also going to the range for the first time ever. This is not a good combination for obvious reasons.
First, it is beneficial to have someone who can catch potential safety concerns and shooting fundamental issues.
I would also refrain from going to the range for the first time as a group.
Group dynamics sometimes encourage carelessness and the assumption that someone else is in charge of safety. It is also more likely that someone who sees something unsafe won't speak up if others don't. Minimize the distractions and variables for your first trip.
For your first time at the range, you have enough to worry about. So don't try to see how fast you can shoot or run challenging drills. Instead, work on the fundamentals of shooting and overcoming any anxiety of shooting firearms.
Experience all that goes into shooting before trying to test your skills. It takes time to become proficient, quick, and comfortable with a firearm. Don't rush the process and try to cram 1o years of firearm experience into 1 hour. That is a recipe for bad habits and unsafe conditions.
Once you are ready to wrap it up at the range, you should do a few things. Double or triple check your firearm is unloaded. The biggest oversight for new shooters is the round in the chamber. If you're not going to carry the gun on your person, you may want to take this opportunity to insert a product like BarrelBlok. This device renders the firearm incapable of firing.
BarreBlok is a great training device to be used during dry fire practice and gives you a visual indicator that the gun in the case is unloaded and inoperable.
Clean up all your trash and, if necessary, spent casings. Cleaning up after myself is a general practice ingrained in me, and I feel it is part of good shooting etiquette and being a responsible human.
Clean and maintain your firearm per your owner's manual.
Ensure you wash your hands and change your clothes before playing with young children. This is very important if you have been shooting at an indoor range. Many powder charge components are potentially unsafe in large dosages. How much is necessary to cause health concerns is dependant on many different factors. To me, it doesn't make any sense to intentionally not take this precaution if you can.
Now you are ready to ENJOY your first of many trips to the range! Be safe and have fun!
If after your first trip, you find you'll be returning to the range, you're going to need a good range bag. I've gone through a lot of different styles through the years, and find this backpack style range bag superior to every other I've used. All of your gear has a specific spot that allows quick access and protection.
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