You’ve acquired a firearm, studied up on how it operates, learned about gun safety, bought the right ammunition, and picked up some eye and ear protection for shooting. Now, it’s likely you are chomping at the bit to shoot your new gun. That means going to a gun range.

Hitting the Gun Range for the First Time

However, before we get too far, there are basically two types of ranges—outdoor and indoor.

Outdoor rangers are typically where you will be shooting shotguns and rifles, although many have pistol bays also.

Indoor ranges are primarily for shooting pistols, although some allow pistol-caliber carbines and even rifles. Before you go, check with the range you plan to visit to determine if the type of gun you want to shoot is appropriate for that range.

As with any activity involving firearms, safety should be your utmost concern. It’s a good idea to review the rules of firearm safety the night before your range trip.

In case you’ve forgotten, they are:

  • Always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction
  • Treat all guns as if they are loaded
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot
  • Be sure of your target and what is behind it.

When planning your first trip to the range, it’s not a bad idea to have an experienced shooter accompany you. Having a seasoned shooter walk you through the steps will reduce uncertainty and stress, leading to a more enjoyable experience.

Range Specific Terminology

Regardless of what kind of range you choose to visit for your first shooting experience, there are some range-specific terms that you should know. Here are a few important ones:

Bench: The bench is the table or stand where shooters rest their firearms and ammunition when not firing.

Hot/Cold Range: A “hot” range means that live firing is taking place. “Cold” means all shooting has stopped.

Firing Line: This is the line shooters stand behind when firing. Never cross it when the range is “hot.”

Downrange: This is the direction guns are fired (toward your target) and should always be pointed.

Commence Firing: Also termed “Fire in the Hole,” at some rural ranges, this is a green light to begin shooting at your targets.

Ceasefire: This is the command to stop firing. When you hear it, stop immediately, place your firearm on the bench, and step back from it.

Lane: Indoor ranges and some outdoor ranges will have lanes. Each person or group will have their own lane. Stay in your lane to shoot.

Many ranges, but not all, will have a Range Safety Officer (RSO) on duty. He or she gives range commands and ensures everyone is following the rules of gun safety.

If the range you are visiting has a range safety officer, it’s a good idea to let him or her know that this is your first time shooting. This will let him or her know that you might need a little extra help. If you have any questions or concerns, this is your go-to person for help.

Tips To Help Enjoy Your Range Experience

While not hard and fast rules, there are a couple of tips that will help you fully enjoy your trip to the range.

First, put on your ear and eye protection before entering the firing area. It only takes one loud blast to damage your hearing, so be diligent about this. Also, if you take your ear and/or eye protection off when the range is cold, be sure to put it back on before you resume shooting.

If you have a hard time remembering this, just leave them on all the time, and you’ll never go wrong.

What to Expect on Your First Range Trip

For brevity’s sake, here’s a brief rundown of what you’ll likely experience on your first visit to a pistol range. Of course, visiting an outdoor range will be different, but many of the same things will apply.

When you go, it’s best to have your gun and ammo in some kind of case instead of in your hands. Range bags are super handy and not that expensive.

First, you’ll enter the shop part of the range, sign any necessary waivers, and pay for your lane. If you’re not with a seasoned shooter, this is a good time to tell the person behind the counter that you are a beginner. You’ll be directed where to go for shooting. Put on your ear and eye pro when entering this area.

You will go to your numbered lane, ensure your gun is unloaded, and lay it on the bench alongside your ammo. Always make sure it is pointing downrange. Some ranges have targets that run mechanically on tracks from your bench downrange and back. On these ranges, there might not be any time the range is “cold.”

Clip your target in and send it to whatever distance you would like.

Some indoor ranges have a mechanical target holder.

However, if shooters walk to their targets, you’ll need to wait until the range is called “cold” before walking down and setting your target.

Once the range is called “hot” or you’ve sent your target downrange mechanically—if there is no “cold” period—it’s time to shoot.

Carefully load your gun, keeping it pointed in a safe direction. You’re ready to take your first shot. Be careful and enjoy. When not shooting, it’s best to always have your gun unloaded, lying on the bench, and pointing downrange.

Follow the Rules and Have Fun

You are likely to be nervous on your first trip to the range, but you must rise above that. If you need help with something, there are typically plenty of seasoned shooters around willing to lend a hand.

There are a lot more things to know about shooting at ranges. But you’ll pick up many nuances over your first several trips. However, if you always follow the rules of gun safety, follow the range rules, and pay attention to the Range Safety Officer, you’ll find shooting just as much fun as you hoped it would be!

Wherever you go, experienced shooters will usually be happy to help.

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