Hitting up the range is considered by many to be America’s true pastime, but it turns out there are rules and etiquette to follow, as well as lots of gear to bring with you.
If you don't have your own land where you can have fun plinking, then heading to the shooting range is the next best thing.
Exercising your Second Amendment rights in a safe environment is the best way to have good old-fashioned fun with your handguns, shotguns, and rifles.
However, there are plenty of things to consider before going to the range.
Other folks who are equipped with loaded and chambered weapons will surround you.
You will likely be monitored by a Range Safety Officer or some other authority figure.
There will be gun range rules to follow and etiquette to memorize.
There will be actions you must always perform and some actions you must never perform. There is critical gear you will need—ranges will not even let you on the firing line without it.
Yes, there is plenty to consider, but don't worry. That's exactly why we made this guide for the gun range.
Whether you are a first-time shooter or a veteran with thousands of rounds slung down range under your belt, this will be helpful.
Remember, an expert never learns anything new and new shooters love guides, so let's begin.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, where I make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
The 5 Range Safety Essentials
In order to be safely equipped for the civilian gun range, you need a bag full of goodies and a mind with knowledge. So, what should you always bring, no matter what?
The Four Rules of Gun Safety
Know the four rules of gun safety by heart. Bring them with you in your mind or you will get kicked out of the range.
- Treat your gun as if it is always loaded.
- Never point your gun at something you do not want to shoot.
- Know what your target is and what is behind it.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
Knowledge of Your Own Gun
If you do not know your gun, do not go to the range. You must first know your gun and how it operates.
Learn how to toggle the safety, how to cycle your weapon, how to clear it and make sure it is empty. In addition, you should know how to shoot it. If you don't know, then get someone who does to help you learn.
Do some dry-fires and learn how your weapon’s trigger, slide, and grip feel. Become familiar with it.
You must always wear hearing protection. The average firearm discharges 150 decibels of sound. That is louder than a jetliner taking off from 200 feet away.
Going to the range without protection will damage your hearing—permanently. Lucky for you, hearing protection is cheap.
A good set of reusable, comfortable ear plugs designed specifically for firearm use is fairly inexpensive.
You can opt for ear muffs, which may provide more decibel reduction.
You can even get active sound-cancelling or pass-through hearing protection. The Howard Leight Impact Sport are one of the most popular and top performing muffs for the price.
Active hearing protection keeps everything at a normal volume while reducing firearm sound decibels to safe levels. To learn more, check out our article on electronic ear muffs.
You should wear shooting glasses at the range. Some ranges make it optional, but it is just a safe investment.
Hot brass is just as likely to smack you in the face, as it is to hit your arms or feet.
A piece of hot brass taken to the eye will cause permanent damage.
You can pick up a pair of stylish shooting glasses by big gun brand names for cheap.
You may select clear or tinted lenses. A great pair to get are the Remington T-72 glasses.
Yeah, that sounds silly—who would not wear shoes at a gun range, right? We are talking about not wearing open-toed sandals. Sandals are a terrible idea at the range.
Hot brass will burn your feet and you will get blisters—simple as that. Many ranges actually ban open-toed shoes. Wear fully closed shoes or boots.
The Gear and What to Bring
The safety equipment is just the stuff that puts you on the range without any risk of harm. Now you have to consider all of the shooting range gear that you will need to shoot and have a good time.
Look at the list below to make sure you have all the accessories and tools you need to make your range time worthwhile.
A good range bag keeps everything together nice and neat.
We have seen too many folks with arms full of ammo, scopes, targets and safety gear, sprawling it out on the counter when they sign in to go shoot.
There are many pretty nifty range bags with plenty of storage space for ammo, gear, and optics.
You can even pick up a soft gun case with plenty of extra storage compartments if you want to travel with your weapon and gear together.
Spotter Scope or Monocular
Especially newer shooters surprisingly overlook this one. How will you check your target?
Some ranges have automatic targets that will come off the range to your firing line for you to inspect, but that takes up valuable shooting time.
Invest in a good spotter scope or monocular.
This will let you check your target from the firing line with a simple peek so you can adjust your weapon accordingly.
If you need to punch out further, take a look at the Barska Blackhawk 20-60x60mm. This should definitely be good for any distance you will ever shoot. For more choices, check out our article on spotting scopes.
Shooting range targets are a given. Most civilian gun ranges like to keep things simple by allowing paper targets only.
Yeah, those reactive rubber ball targets are fine to spit around the range with every shot.
Metal targets are satisfying to ping.
Check your range rules before bringing targets with you.
Reactive paper targets work best because your shots will change the color of the paper where when they hit.
This makes spotting and correcting easy. We recommend Splatterburst targets. Their black face with yellow reactive shots makes visibility easy, making them great gun range targets. They also happen to work great for BB guns as well.
Usually, targets at a range should be clearly marked so that you can see what distance your targets are set at.
However, for long distance shooting, sometimes it may not be clearly marked, and you may forget what distance you set your last round at after the long walk back to the line.
Sometimes, it's handy to have a good rangefinder in your bag in case this happens to you.
Gun Range Rules
Most ranges have a common set of rules. Some ranges have quirky requirements or seemingly overzealous restrictions on what you can and cannot do.
We will go over the most important gun range requirements. We will list the ones we can nearly guarantee you will have to be aware of and follow:
Bring hearing and eye protection.
It simply is a requirement for 99% of all civilian ranges. Even if you do not want to wear it, you will likely have to.
Even if it is optional, we still think it is a good idea to be equipped for your safety and health. Bring a pair of hearing and eye protection no matter what.
Know what calibers are allowed.
Most civilian ranges have limits on what can be fired. Many ranges restrict rifle calibers like .50 BMG and even some hot loads, like .338 Lapua.
As far as handguns go, it is usually the same deal. Do not expect to get away with firing your .500 S&W at the line unless the range explicitly allows it.
Check caliber rules first before you pack up everything and head off.
Know the condition rules.
“Conditions” are the levels of readiness your weapon is allowed to be in. Some ranges require you to un-chamber and unload your weapon in between firing sequences.
To be safe, always have your weapon unloaded and stored unless you are shooting it. When your weapon is on the line, always have it pointed down range with the safety on until you are ready to fire.
Know the clearing rules.
Some ranges will have to clear your weapon before and after you shoot. That means keeping everything unloaded, ammo and mags separate from the weapon unless you are at the firing line.
If you walk off the line and a Range Safety Officer checks your weapon to find it is still loaded, expect some harsh words and do not expect to be allowed back.
Know whether shot intervals are enforced.
Many ranges restrict rapid firing for several reasons. It is disruptive to other shooters. It creates the risk of the shooter losing control of his or her weapon.
Most ranges have a shot interval rule—usually one shot every 2 to 3 seconds. Check if this rule applies before trying out that new bump-fire stock or testing how quick your handgun trigger can empty a mag.
Know if there is a magazine load limit.
Just like shot intervals, ranges often restrict the number of rounds you can have in your magazine.
Some ranges go as far as limiting you to three rounds per magazine. This is to keep the pace of the range consistent and risks of negligent discharges reduced.
If you are rocking a black rifle or double-stack handgun, be sure you are not overloading if this rule applies.
Know if there is a gun limit.
Some ranges restrict the number of weapons you can carry onto the firing line at one time.
Check before you go packing up all your ammo, rifles, and handguns with all their accessories. It will save you time and cut down on the risk of theft if you show up and find you have to keep some stuff in your car.
Know if you have to clean up.
Some ranges are cool with all your spent brass just kind of lying around. Others will make you police up every cartridge you fire.
Know beforehand so you can prepare for this if it is required.
We recommend keeping a pair of gloves handy with a denim or thick cloth bag so you are not burning your fingers when it is time to police up your brass.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
You know all the range rules and you know what to bring. You are pretty well prepared!
However, that does not mean that the guys or gals around you are just as prepared and safety minded as you. Always be aware of your surroundings. Some shooters may not take gun range safety seriously.
Take note of what is happening on the firing line without being nosey. Sure, it is polite to let others mind their business just as they should mind yours.
However, if you notice someone going full plunder with an AK or big barrel handgun next to you, assess whether your safety is being compromised.
If someone is walking around the range blindly flagging others with his or her muzzle, tell a Range Safety Officer immediately.
Get off the firing line and stay out of the line of risk that person is creating. They will be removed quickly and firmly because they are creating the potential for injury or death.
Be Polite and Calm
We hate to say it, but the firearms community attracts a few wayward individuals who like to be rude, demanding or nosey. It would be nice if everyone could follow shooting range etiquette, but some do not.
Most shooters are very polite and courteous, but some may not be. You might encounter that crusty older gentleman staring over your shoulder, telling you “you're doing it wrong.”
You might encounter a shooter who thinks he or she is a joker by purposefully letting their weapon spit brass at other lanes.
If someone is interfering with your lane or causing problems, politely make them aware or ask them to stop what they are doing.
If they react poorly or if you are uncomfortable confronting the shooter, you should talk to the Range Safety Officer.
Things can always be handled with civility. Just stay calm, be polite, and speak clearly.
The civilian gun range is a heck of a fun time if you are prepared.
Make a safety and gear checklist, make sure you have everything you need, and review your range’s rules before leaving your house. Make that you understand the shooting range requirements, otherwise ask the range officer for clarification.
Obey the shooting range rules. Be polite and courteous to others. Always be aware of what is happening around you. Speak up if you feel unsafe.
If you can manage those things, you will have a great time, every time.
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