Over the past few years, millions of new gun owners have joined the family of sportsmen and women, hunters, collectors, reenactors, competitors, and defense-minded or recreational shooters around the country. That means many new shooters may not be familiar with the expected behavior at a gun range or even an outdoor informal shooting area. And from what we’ve seen, plenty of gun guys could also use a refresher course in proper gun range behavior to make it more pleasant and safe for everyone.
Let’s review some important points of gun range etiquette to help you know before you go.
Learn how to operate your gun safely before you visit the range
Safety on a gun range should be everyone’s number one priority. But the range is not the place to learn your firearm's safety features and operation for the first time (particularly after you load your gun at the range). You should read your owner’s manual thoroughly and practice checking that your gun is unloaded before going to a range to shoot. You should be familiar with your firearm's basic operation and manipulation before you take it to the range.
Note: You should never arrive at the range or, even worse, enter the range with a loaded firearm. Ensure any guns you take to the range are completely unloaded before you go.
Learn the range’s safety rules beforehand
This topic is deep and deserves its own article, so be sure to read up on the top 10 best gun range safety practices before you head to the range. Each range has its rules for acceptable behavior. Still, all ranges require you to wear proper ear and eye protection and be familiar with the 4 rules of gun safety, proper transportation/loading/unloading of firearms, range commands, and other safety procedures before you go. So take a few minutes to learn about each particular range and its policies before you head to the range.
Video: The Universal Firearm Safety Rules
Don’t be obnoxious
This topic includes a long list of don’ts; every individual could likely make their own list of grievances. Generally, just be considerate of others and don’t act like an annoying jerk. Loud conversation, shouting to your buddies, boisterous joking or laughter, mocking other shooters’ performance, and immature similar behavior have no place on a shooting range (or anywhere in public, really). Also, avoid the following list of obnoxious range behaviors.
Don’t interrupt people in the middle of a string of fire
Poking a shooter who is looking with concentration down the scope of his rifle and asking how much his rifled costs is not a good way to build friends and influence people. Wait until the shooter is done, or a cease-fire is called. Read our article on range safety rules and commands before asking questions or starting a conversation.
Conversation starters or non-personal questions are more likely to be received well. Asking where someone purchased their Glock 19 or Wilson Combat CQB Elite 1911 can open up the conversation and be the start of lifelong friendships. But be sure to wait until a cease-fire has been called, or until there’s an obvious pause in the shooter’s activity. If your initial questions are met with reserved or curt responses, that’s a signal to you that this person doesn’t feel like engaging in this conversation right now. Don’t take it personally. Just say thanks and move on with your day.
Don’t shoot ridiculously loud magnums or rifles with brakes when other people are on the range, particularly indoors
Some immature shooters derive perverse pleasure out of shooting super-loud firearms that cause other range users to wonder, what the hell was that? This look-at-me behavior may be fun when shooting in the boonies with your friends, but it’s definitely frowned upon at a public range. It’s even worse when at an indoor range where the concussion and noise of certain firearms can be truly brutal, or even a health concern. If you want to blast your snub-nosed .500 Boomtastic Magnumator and rattle your buddies’ fillings out, please do it on your own property, or at least wait until the range is empty.
Video: Hard Lessons from Hearing Loss and Getting Tested for Custom Ear Protection
Don’t assume people want your help
Old-school shooters sometimes assume that new shooters, particularly women, need a real man to show them the ropes. Don’t be that guy. Never assume that people are looking for your advice or help or that they will appreciate it when offered.
If you see someone obviously struggling with some aspect of shooting (not a safety issue), you might approach them during a break in the shooting and ask if they would like some advice. They might say sure, or they might decline. Either way, it’s their decision, so be respectful and don’t take offense if they choose not to benefit from your wisdom and years of experience.
Never touch someone else’s firearm without permission
This shouldn’t be said, but unfortunately, some people think it’s okay to touch or even pick up someone else’s property without permission. This is even worse when it’s a firearm they may be unfamiliar with, and it could be a safety issue rather than just a social faux pas. Don’t do it.
Don’t ask to shoot a stranger’s gun
Asking someone if you can shoot their gun is a big no-no, like asking someone you don’t know to let you try out their car or motorcycle (or girlfriend). If you’re discussing a particular firearm and they offer to let you try out a few shots (and you feel comfortable doing so), then, by all means, take them up on it. If this happens, offering to let them try out any guns you have at the range in return is polite. If they let you shoot a powerful handgun or rifle with expensive ammunition, don’t shoot more than one or two shots, and you might also offer them a few bucks to help defray those costs. Most people will decline this gesture, but it’s still the right thing to do.
Never shoot someone else’s target
This rule is another that shouldn’t need to be said, but unfortunately, this actually happens on occasion. Some inexperienced shooters may assume that any targets posted downrange are free game for all range visitors, and occasionally they shoot at someone else’s targets. This is a big no-no. If you arrive at an empty range and there are leftover paper targets stapled to a target board downrange, you can generally assume those are fine to shoot. But otherwise, if you didn’t post it up, don’t shoot it. When in doubt, ask.
Don’t try to correct someone else’s safety issues. Notify a range officer
If you’re on a range with range safety officers and see another shooter doing something potentially unsafe, you may be tempted to try to coach or teach them yourself. This is almost always a bad idea. It’s better to call a cease-fire, notify a range safety officer of the issue, and let them handle it. People are usually more receptive to corrections from an official rather than from a stranger.
If you’re on an unregulated range and see unsafe behavior, you’ll need to decide whether it’s worth trying to intervene. It’s usually best to just get the heck out of there and, if a potential crime was being committed, notify the authorities.
Stay in your lane
In formal indoor or outdoor ranges with dedicated shooting lanes, staying where you have been assigned to shoot is important. Don’t take your guns from one lane to another (to show them to someone, for example), and don’t try to move locations without asking the range officer or manager if you can switch for whatever reason.
No food or alcohol at the range
Alcohol and guns don’t mix for obvious reasons, so never shoot if you drink or use behavior-altering medications or drugs. Also, don’t bring your double-bacon stink burger and fries and lay your feast on your shooting bench. It’s rude for one thing, and you don’t want to be eating anywhere around lead residue. Wash your hands thoroughly after each range visit, particularly before eating anything.
Video: The 7 Ways People Get Ready For The Gun Range
This can be a safety issue, as low-cut tops, loose collars, tank tops, and crop tops can allow pieces of hot brass down next to sensitive skin, and this can cause burns and scarring, and certainly will distract a shooter, possibly with a loaded gun in his or her hand. Wear sturdy attire that covers your skin appropriately and doesn’t allow hot brass down your neck.
Similarly, open-toed shoes and sandals have no place on a gun range. Clothing with violent wording, sexist, racist, or politically inflammatory imagery or slogans doesn’t belong on a gun range. Make it a safe and fun place for everyone from all political spectrums and all walks of life.
Reserve range time in advance if required
Some ranges require you to reserve a spot in advance, and if you show up unannounced, you may not get a spot, or you might have to wait quite a long time. It’s best if you call ahead and reserve your spot, so there’s no awkwardness from staff trying to keep you satisfied when it’s really you that is the problem.
Take your time, and be honest with yourself
If you feel rushed, harried, stressed out, or overly nervous, you need to step away from the firing line. This is how mistakes are made, and it can be dangerous to you and others. Honestly evaluate your mental and physical state, and if you are just not feeling it today, pack it up and go home.
If you’re otherwise okay but are just nervous that you need to rush, don’t worry about it. Take your time, slow down, take some deep breaths, and focus on the Zen of shooting. You possibly paid for this time slot, so don’t worry about using all of your time. That’s what it’s for. Enjoy it.
Clean up your mess
We can’t stress this enough: pick up your trash. Particularly on outdoor, unregulated ranges or shooting areas, garbage left by inconsiderate morons is a serious problem and has permanently closed more than one shooting area. If you bring items to shoot, clean up your mess. All of it. Don’t leave cans, junk, boxes, wrappers, targets, brass, or 12-gauge hulls around.
Even if you shoot at a dump or a shooting area that has been so cluttered with garbage and debris that the stuff you brought to shoot wouldn’t be noticed, it’s a matter of principle to pack out what you packed in.
Don’t shoot glass bottles, TVs or computer monitors, or similar items. It makes a permanent mess and can spread toxic metals. Diet soda cans make great, inexpensive, fun reactive targets, and are easy to clean up. The lack of high-fructose corn syrup means that the liquid doesn’t attract hornets or bugs and isn’t sticky, and the aluminum can easily be picked up and recycled.
If you had the room to bring your trash and targets to the range, you certainly have the room to take it out with you. Always bring a couple of durable trash bags to fill with your garbage, and for bonus karma points, always pick up some extra trash. If everyone did this, there wouldn’t be any litter or trash lying around on public land.
Follow these rules of gun range etiquette, and you’ll have a great experience and help ensure everyone else does also!