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first time guide to going to a shooting range

Venturing into a shooting range for the first time can feel daunting. Did you know that public shooting ranges provide safe environments catered to shooters of all skill levels, including beginners? Our comprehensive first shooting lesson guide is here to tackle your concerns and equip you with essential tips on preparing for your first trip, safety measures to observe, and crucial beginner's pointers.

Key Takeaways

  • Select the right shooting range: Research and choose a shooting range that caters to beginners, offers a safe environment, and has knowledgeable staff.
  • Plan your range time: Reserve a lane ahead of time, visit during off-peak hours for a less crowded experience, and be prepared with appropriate gear and ammunition.
  • Attend a class as your first visit: Taking a class before going to the shooting range provides valuable instruction on safety, handling techniques, and basic skills.
  • Follow essential safety measures at the range: Always assume the gun is loaded, keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot, and know your target and what lies beyond it.

Preparing For Your First Time At A Shooting Range

To ensure a successful first trip to a shooting range, start by carefully selecting the right shooting range in your area.

Selecting The Right Shooting Range

Choosing the right shooting range as a beginner can be daunting, but it's also your first step towards responsible firearm practice. The first step in your journey to try a shooting range for the first time is to pick the right facility. Depending on which state you are located in, it is very likely that you will find a mixture of private clubs and public ranges. These can be either indoor locations or outdoor venues that typically have a covered stall for you to shoot from.

Indoor Range:

With an indoor range, especially at the higher-end of the market, you usually have a nice air conditioned and relaxed environment with private shooting booths that offer a bit of privacy. Targets are typically automatically brought back to where you are shooting from so there is no need to walk down the range and so this makes them particularly appealing for folks with special needs such as those in a wheelchair.

However, they can be quite noisy if it is busy. Even though the top ranges will usually have excellent sound deadening materials to help eliminate echoes from the gun range, this is just a natural part of shooting guns indoors.

Outdoor Range:

The other common format for a gun range is going to an outdoor range. These can be private clubs that are open to non-members for a fee or some are offered by your state's department of natural resources. The nice part about outdoor ranges is that many of them offer more space to spread out so you can have space and noise will be reduced as well. You will always want to wear hearing protection while actively shooting, but if nobody is within a few yards of your lane, this makes it easier to remove your earmuffs and ask a question.

Tourist "Experience" Gun Range:

Additionally, in some places that have a high tourist population (for instance Las Vegas), you'll find specialty ranges that are designed more for pure entertainment than for serious shooters. In many ways, these facilities are much more approachable for novice shooters since the staff is trained and prepared to work with guests who may have never even touched a gun before. These locations can also be a lot of fun for guys that are looking to shoot exotic weapons that they may have seen in Call of Duty. 

On the other hand, I've actually never had a bad experience at any public range. Gun enthusiasts are very much a community that is passionate about their sport. As a result, the staff are usually well-versed in working with first-time shooters. Additionally, since safety is always paramount, their rules and procedures are designed to make you familiar with common firearms related language such as "commence firing" or "ceasefire", as well as making sure that you understand the basic functioning of the range and appropriate etiquette.

Finally, if you have an experienced friend who can help you, many states offer public range spaces for you to practice and some areas such as California and Nevada have BLM public lands where you can practice shooting in the open by setting up your own targets. For new shooters though, a public range that offers education and training is my recommendation for where to start.

Check their hours of operation to ensure they fit within your schedule before embarking on this new journey into gun handling proficiency.

Planning Your Range Time

To make the most out of your first trip to a shooting range, smart planning is crucial. Start by reserving a lane ahead of your visit and checking to see what the policies are in terms of range fees, ammo costs, and if guns are available to rent or if you need to bring your own. many ranges offer this service and it can save you considerable waiting time.

Include some leeway in your schedule for essential pre-shooting activities such as filling out paperwork or setting up targets. It's also wise to plan for firearm malfunctions - an experienced companion could guide you through resolving these issues safely.

For beginners visiting their first gun range, timing is key. Opting for off-peak hours will afford you a less crowded environment where you can focus on perfecting your shooting form and aim without pressure.

Consider mornings during weekdays – it’s typically slower, offering more chances to ask staff about gun handling tips and to familiarize yourself with different on target shooting options available.

Bear in mind that most indoor ranges and shooting ranges have varying hours of operation so check before heading out.

Choosing Appropriate Gear

Selecting the right gear for your first visit to a shooting range is crucial to ensure both safety and comfort.

  1. Wear clothes that will offer you protection: Opt for long pants, closed-toe shoes, and a high-necked shirt to protect against flying spent cartridges.
  2. Consider investing in eye and ear protection: Shooting ranges can be loud environments. Protect your eyes from any debris with safety glasses, and reduce the noise with earmuffs or plugs.
  3. Don't forget gloves: Quality shooting gloves can improve grip and prevent blisters.
  4. Pack hydration essentials: Especially if you're visiting an outdoor shooting range in Texas in warm temperatures, staying hydrated is key.
  5. Carry enough ammunition: Bring more bullets than you think you'll need - running out of ammo can cut short your practice session.
  6. Use a sturdy gun case for transportation: Besides adhering to laws about firearm transportation, this ensures safe handling of guns when not in use.

Preparing Your Gun Ahead of Time

I would never recommend that someone purchase their first firearm or accept a gun as a present before they have proper training on how to use the firearm safely. As such, your first visit to a gun range should probably involve renting a weapon and the proper ammo. The range manager can help you identify the right gear - ranging from exotic rifles to handguns like a Glock 9 that are good options for home defense.

However, if you have a gun already and want to bring it to a shooting lesson at the range, make sure to prepare it before heading to the shooting range. Here are some important steps to follow:

  1. Clean your gun thoroughly, removing any dirt or residue that may affect its performance.
  2. Check the barrel for any obstructions such as debris or spent cartridges that could cause a potential misfire or even an explosive rupture.
  3. Ensure that your gun is unloaded before leaving for the range. Always double - check by visually inspecting the chamber and magazine.
  4. If you plan on using a different type of ammunition than what is currently loaded, safely unload the gun and replace the rounds accordingly.
  5. Familiarize yourself with your gun's manual to understand how to disassemble and reassemble it if necessary during cleaning or maintenance.
  6. Stock up on ammunition appropriate for your firearm and be aware of any restrictions or guidelines set by the shooting range regarding allowable types or quantities.
  7. Consider bringing a firearm repair kit containing essential tools in case of minor malfunctions at the range.
  8. Make sure you have enough magazines or speed loaders readily available to efficiently load and reload your gun during practice sessions.

Consider Attending A Class As Your First Visit To A Shooting Range

Attending a class as your first visit to a shooting range is highly recommended, especially for beginners. These classes provide valuable instruction on gun safety, proper handling techniques, and basic shooting skills. Learning from experienced instructors will give you the confidence and knowledge you need to make the most out of your first time at shooting range time. Plus, it's a great opportunity to ask any questions you may have and get hands-on practice with an instructor guiding you every step of the way.

Not only will a class teach you basic firearms safety and proper operation of your gun but it should also include a briefing on what the gun laws are in your state. While an experienced expert such as Berry Law federal weapon attorney can help answer questions that you might have about federal vs state and local regulations ... trust me, the education officer at your local range will be much less expensive than hiring a lawyer.

Remember, safety should always be your top priority when handling firearms, so taking a class before hitting the range is definitely worth considering.

Safety Measures to Observe at the Shooting Range

All reputable gun ranges will have a range safety officer who is in charge of monitoring for safe behavior from the guests as well as helping to ensure that weapons are being used properly. This is especially true for indoor ranges but any professional gun range will have someone responsible for the safe operation of both the range equipment as well personal protective equipment such as guns and ammunition brought by the guests.

He or she will also be responsible for range commands and most ranges will also have this person or another range officer available to assist with situations where the gun might malfunction so that you and fellow shooters can resolve the issue safely.

Always Assume the Gun is Loaded

One of the most important rules to remember when going to a shooting range is to always assume that the gun is loaded. This may seem like common sense, but it's a crucial mindset for ensuring gun safety. By treating every firearm as if it's loaded, you create an extra layer of caution and awareness that can help prevent accidents or mishandling. Even if you're certain that the gun is unloaded, this rule still applies.

It serves as a constant reminder to handle firearms and other shooters with respect and take all necessary precautions. By following this simple guideline, you'll be taking a proactive step towards maintaining a safe environment at the shooting range.

Keeping Finger Off the Trigger

One of the most important safety measures to observe at the shooting range is keeping your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. This simple rule helps prevent accidental discharges and ensures that you maintain control over your firearm at all times. By keeping your finger outside of the trigger guard, you eliminate the risk of unintentionally pulling the trigger when you don't mean to. Remember, a gun should only be fired when you have identified your target and made a conscious decision to shoot.

So, always keep your finger off the trigger until you're absolutely ready to fire.

Knowing Your Target And What Lies Beyond It

When at the shooting range, it is crucial to always know your target and what lies beyond it. This is an essential safety measure that cannot be stressed enough. Understanding your target helps prevent accidental injuries or damage to property. It's important to remember that bullets can travel far distances and penetrate through objects, so you need to ensure there are no unintended targets in the line of fire. Being aware of what lies beyond your target ensures a safe environment for everyone at the range by minimizing the risk of stray bullets causing harm.

Always prioritize safety by carefully selecting your targets and being mindful of what may be behind them.

Common Commands That You May Hear From The Range Officer

The range safety officer's job is to watch and monitor the activities of all guests to ensure the safest environment possible. As a result, these commands will typically be yelled so that they can be heard clearly through layers of hearing protection that guests are expected to be wearing. Unless you are deliberately disobeying, the range officer, these commands shouldn't be taken personally. Even though the first time you get yelled at for doing something stupid or making a rookie mistake, it can certainly feel a bit embarrassing. Don't worry - it happens to everyone.

  1. "Eyes and Ears!" - This command means you should put on your safety glasses and ear protection immediately. Your response should be to promptly equip your safety gear.
  2. "Range is Hot!" - The officer is informing everyone that the range is active and shooting can begin. You should ensure you're ready to fire and understand the safety rules.
  3. "Range is Cold!" - Shooting has stopped for now. Do not touch or handle your firearm during this time. Step back from the firing line.
  4. "Cease Fire!" - Stop shooting immediately, regardless of the reason. Unload your firearm, open the action, and step away from the firing line.
  5. "Down Range!" - Someone is going downrange to set up targets or perform other tasks. All firearms should be unloaded, with actions open and placed on the bench. Do not handle firearms at this time.
  6. "Line is Clear!" - No one is downrange and it's safe to handle firearms. However, wait for the "Range is Hot" command before starting to shoot.
  7. "Load and Make Ready!" - It's safe to load your firearm and prepare to shoot. Only do so if you're at the firing line and pointed in a safe direction.
  8. "Unload and Show Clear!" - Unload your firearm and show the officer that it's clear. This often involves opening the action and physically or visually verifying no ammunition is in the firearm.
  9. "Muzzle Direction!" - Your firearm's muzzle is not pointing in a safe direction. Immediately correct this by pointing it downrange.
  10. "Fingers Off Triggers!" - Your finger should not be on the trigger unless you're ready to shoot. Immediately remove your finger from the trigger.

These commands are designed to be easily understood and so you should make sure to know them before your first visit to a gun range.

Essential Shooting Range Tips for Beginners

Ask for assistance if you're unsure about anything! The range safety officer's job is to keep you and the other guests safe. As such, don't be afraid to ask questions. If he deems you to be unsafe, it is far better that you get a recommendation to attend a class, than to get hurt (or hurt someone else) and be ejected for not following range safety rules. Safety is paramount and while shooting guns can be fun, this is not a sport to be treated casually. Guns are tools designed to kill and so they demand your respect and constant vigilance. Thankfully, most experienced shooters are often willing to help beginners and this will go a long way towards making your first shooting range experience a positive one.

Asking for Assistance

If you're a first-time shooter heading to the range, don't hesitate to ask for assistance. Experienced shooters are often more than willing to offer help or advice if asked. It's understandable that you may feel unsure or nervous about handling a gun for the first time, but by seeking guidance from other expert shooters or those with more experience, you can gain valuable insights and tips that will help boost your confidence and ensure safe firearm handling.

Remember, shooting ranges are places where everyone should focus on safety and responsible practices, so don't be afraid to reach out for support when needed.

Understanding Correct Trigger Positioning

Proper trigger positioning is a crucial aspect of safe and accurate shooting. When your finger is on the trigger, it should be placed only when you are ready to shoot. Remember that keeping your finger off the trigger until you're ready to fire is a fundamental rule of gun safety.

It helps prevent accidental discharges and ensures that you have full control over your firearm at all times. By understanding correct trigger positioning, dads can instill good habits in their children and set an example of responsible and safe gun handling.

Keeping your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot not only enhances safety but also improves accuracy. When your finger rests outside the trigger guard or alongside the frame of the gun, it allows for better stability and control over the weapon.

Bringing an Experienced Companion

Bringing an experienced companion to the shooting range can greatly enhance your first-time experience. For me it was my Father In Law who brought me to an outdoor range at a club where he was a member. It was a cold day but we had a lot of fun and I learned a lot. The next few times that I visited a shooting range, even though I had more experience - it was always a great asset to have a friend with me that I could learn from. They can offer valuable guidance and support, helping you become familiar with gun handling and range etiquette. An experienced companion can provide tips on proper technique, correct trigger positioning, and how to aim effectively. They can also assist in identifying any potential mistakes or safety issues that you may overlook.

Having someone by your side who is knowledgeable about firearms ensures that you have a trusted mentor who will prioritize safety while helping you navigate the range's rules and procedures confidently.

Importance of Eye and Ear Protection

Eye and ear protection gear is essential when going to a shooting range. It's not just about looking cool or following the rules; it's about protecting yourself from potential hazards. Shooting at a range can expose you to brass flying around, lead particles in the air, and loud noise that can damage your hearing.

So make sure you have proper eye protection like safety glasses or goggles to shield your eyes from debris and spent cartridges. And don't forget to wear earmuffs or earplugs to protect your precious sense of hearing from the loud bangs.

Safety first, dads! This is not just an extremely important move for you to protect yourself, but also for you to be a positive role model for your sons and daughters.

When you're at the shooting range, remember that eye and ear protection are non-negotiable for a reason. 

And as for your ears, did you know that gunshots can reach up to 140 decibels, which is equivalent to standing next to a jet engine? Yeah, not good news for your eardrums! So always wear proper earmuffs or earplugs designed specifically for shooting ranges.

Checking the Barrel Before Loading

Before loading your gun at the shooting range, it is crucial to check the barrel for any obstructions. This simple step ensures safe shooting and prevents potentially dangerous situations. By visually inspecting the barrel, you can ensure that there are no objects or debris blocking the path of the bullet. This helps avoid incidents like explosive ruptures or misfires that could cause harm to yourself or others. Remember, always prioritize safety when handling firearms and make checking the barrel a routine part of your range preparation.

Staying Hydrated

To ensure a successful and enjoyable trip to the shooting range, it's crucial for beginners like you to stay hydrated. Drinking enough water not only helps you maintain focus and energy throughout your session but also prevents muscle cramps and fatigue. When spending hours at the range, it's easy to forget about hydration, especially if there's no drinking water available on-site. That's why it's essential to bring your own cooler filled with water or sports drinks.

Remember, staying hydrated is just as important as practicing good gun safety and following range rules. So make sure to prioritize keeping yourself refreshed while honing your shooting skills.


In conclusion, going to a shooting range for the first time can be an exciting and rewarding experience. By following the safety measures, seeking assistance when needed, and practicing proper gun handling techniques, beginners can enjoy their time at the range with confidence.

Remember to always prioritize safety and respect for others on the firing line. So gear up, aim high, and have a blast exploring this thrilling hobby!

Written by:
#MenWhoBlog MemberBlogging GuruThought Leader

James' passion for exploration and sense of duty to his community extends beyond himself. This means he is dedicated to providing a positive role model for other men and especially younger guys that need support so that they can thrive and be future positive contributors to society. This includes sharing wisdom, ideas, tips, and advice on subjects that all men should be familiar with, including: family travel, men's health, relationships, DIY advice for home and yard, car care, food, drinks, and technology. Additionally, he's a travel advisor and a leading men's travel influencer who has been featured in media ranging from New York Times to the Chicago Tribune, and LA Times. He's also been cited by LA Weekly "Top Travel Bloggers To Watch 2023" and featured by Muck Rack: "Top 10 Outdoor Journalists for 2022".

He and his wife Heather live in St Joseph, Michigan - across the lake from Chicago.