Range Etiquette

by Sandy Keathley

Like most communities of like-minded individuals, the gun community has its own rules of protocol and accepted behavior. For obvious reasons, much of that revolves around shooting, much of which occurs at shooting ranges. While a range will always have a list of its rules for visitors to read, the legalese doesn’t always translate well to the standards of behavior expected by many more experienced shooters. Range etiquette is not just rules, but behaviors that will help you avoid the disdainful glances from other shooters. After all, there are many things that are not illegal, yet are considered gauche.

There are some differences between indoor and outdoor ranges, so let’s look at standards that are common to both, then break out the variances.

Always point the gun downrange. This is Job 1, but it’s not always clear what it means. Of course, point it downrange when shooting, but also when not. Treat the muzzle like a needle on a compass that always points to magnetic North. Never allow the muzzle to point anywhere else, even when casing, uncasing, loading, unloading, racking, etc.

Keep your finger off the trigger. The big one. I see people at the range all the time (not just new shooters), racking the slide with their finger inside the trigger guard. That is dangerous, and perhaps the biggest mistake on the range. It can get you ejected.

Bring the gun to the range unloaded and cased. It won’t go off in your range bag, but a mistake while uncasing a loaded gun could be a tragedy. Wait until you are on the line to load it.

Always use eye and ear protection. If you think this needs explanation, you are not ready to go to a range.

Keep all your stuff near you. If your range bag is several feet behind the line, you may end up carrying a gun to or from the bag. See the next item.

Never carry a gun away from the bench uncased. If trading guns with someone, leave the guns and trade lanes. In case of a malfunction, clear and case the gun before leaving with it. People do not want to see someone wandering around the bay with a gun at their side.

Never draw from a holster. Some ranges have special facilities for this, but most don’t allow it. It can be dangerous, especially when re-holstering. Go out in the country to practice that.

Never shoot at someone else’s target. Does that really have to be said? Evidently so.

Never shoot at the device that holds the target. Ditto. Paying for those repairs makes range fees go up.

Never bring to the range tracer ammo or ammo with steel cores. These are fire hazards, and have started major fires at ranges. Many Safety Officers check for this, but sometimes they get busy. Don’t be an idiot.

Do ask for help. If you have a malfunction or jam, trouble with the target trolley, or just need to ask something about how your gun works, range personnel will always help. More than that, the shooter on the next lane will probably help. Gun people are very willing to assist others, to the extent that they can. By the same token, don’t be offended if another user points out that you are doing something dangerous. Everyone needs to watch out for others on the line, in the absence of a Safety Officer.

Outdoor ranges.

While indoor ranges typically have targets that can be moved individually, on a trolley system, outdoor ranges generally have targets that have to be moved or replaced manually, by going ahead of the firing line. For safety, you must wait until the RSO (Range Safety Officer) calls a periodic cease-fire. At that time, you are expected to remove magazines, lock the action open, lay the gun down (pointed downrange) and step back several yards while the RSO inspects each weapon. Once that is done, the range will be declared “cold”, and you can move downrange to replace or move
targets. On returning, you have to stay away from the bench. When everyone is back, the RSO will declare the range “hot”, and firing can commence. It is important to follow the RSO’s instructions carefully and literally, else you will be corrected. That is embarrassing.

Range etiquette not difficult, and it is part of the discipline that is required to shoot safely among a group of people, and have fun at the same time.

Author: Sandy Keathley

NRA-Certified Firearms Instructor