Guide to the Gun Range - Gear and Etiquette
Forget those overpriced theme parks, the gun range is the actual happiest place on earth - at least for us gun nerds. A great place to socialize, swap tips, gawk at gear, and get some practice time, the gun range is as exciting for seasoned shooters as it is for the newbies.
We realize not everyone exited the womb with a .22 long rifle clutched in their balled baby fists. For those who didn’t grow up in the culture, the gun range can be a pretty intimidating place. But don’t worry. We’ve compiled his handy guide to help make it a little less frightening.
Here is a rundown of basic gun range etiquette and terminology for the undereducated shooter. (Don’t be embarrassed. Everybody has to start somewhere.)
What to Bring to the Gun Range
Having the proper equipment will help your gun range experience go much more smoothly. Using your own personal equipment every time you shoot will help you feel more comfortable and probably shoot more consistently, too.
Many ranges have gear for rent, so if you do forget to stuff something in the range bag, don’t fret. You can probably pick it up at the range.
Before you leave the house, make sure to pack at least these basics.
Let’s start here since you’ll be packing most of your other gear inside. You want a bag you use only for carrying range gear, so don’t use your laptop bag or your kid’s school backpack. While a laptop bag or backpack can work (especially if you want to keep your range trips on the down-low), you want a bag that you use ONLY for the gun range. There’s nothing like little Johnny getting kicked out of school for having spent brass in his backpack. Likewise, 9mm casings that roll onto the desk during an important business meeting is probably a major faux pas.
Aside from embarrassment and suspension, having a dedicated range bag is just a smart idea. It allows you to permanently store all your essential gear in one convenient location. That way, you are much less likely to forget anything.
A Gun Case (and your Firearm)
The safest way to transport a firearm is in a case. Besides, unsecured weapons make range staff antsy. That’s why many places require you to carry your weapon into the range unloaded and secured in a proper gun case.
You can stuff the case in your range bag or carry it separately. Be sure to unpack and load your firearm according to the range rules.
Most ranges won’t allow you to shoot without proper safety eyewear, although many will let you get by with prescription glasses. However, most prescription glasses don’t meet OSHA safety standards. To save your eyes from uncomfortable dirt and debris (and possibly a dangerous weapon malfunction), it is best to wear a pair of proper shooting glasses (some models are even designed to help you see the target better).
Gun ranges are loud. The noise produced by a single gunshot could cause immediate permanent hearing damage. If you visit a range, you should wear something to protect your hearing, even if you don’t plan to shoot. If you want to learn more about what’s available and why ear pro is so important, check out our Guide to Ear Protection for Shooters
You never know when your firearm may need maintenance. Since luck favors the prepared, it's a smart idea to bring a compact gun cleaning kit with you to the range.
Always bring more than you think you will need. You might be surprised how quickly you can burn through 100 rounds when you’re having fun.
Some ranges have a dress code, so check before you go. Most require close toe shoes for safety reasons. It’s also a good idea to wear a brimmed hat (a ball cap will do).
Even if your shooting range doesn’t have a specific dress code, you shouldn’t wear anything v-necked or low cut. Hot brass flying down your shirt is not a fun time.
Basic Gun Range Etiquette
Knowing what is expected of you before you hit the range can make your first experience a lot less intimidating.
Respect the Range Safety Officer (RSO)
Most gun ranges have an RSO on duty at all times. While RSOs sometimes have a reputation for being mean, It is their responsibility to keep everyone safe. As long as you follow the rules, and pay attention when the RSO calls out orders, you should be fine. However, it is always a good idea to introduce yourself when you arrive, especially if it’s your first time at a gun range. There’s no shame in letting the RSO know. At the very least, you should say hello.
Never be afraid to ask the range staff or RSOs for help, even if you think you have a stupid question. They are used to helping new shooters and would much rather answer a beginner’s question than clean up a dangerous mistake.
Follow Basic Gun Safety
You may need to watch a short video or attend a safety class before you can use the range. Even if you don’t, it is always important to follow the three basic rules of gun safety:
1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.
3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
Read the Range Rules
While it may be tempting to just sign the waiver so you can start shooting, take the time to review the range’s rules and guidelines. Following the rules is the best way to earn the respect of the staff, as well as the seasoned shooters sharing your range time.
Basic Range Commands
While some ranges have their own specific range commands, the reasons behind them are always the same - to let you know when it is safe to shoot and when it isn’t.
A “HOT” range means it is safe to shoot. You may also hear the command “Commence Firing” or “Begin Shooting.”
When the range goes “COLD,” that means it is time to stop shooting, usually to swap out targets or for some routine range maintenance. Some ranges use the commands “Stop” or “Ceasefire” to signal it is no longer safe to shoot.
“Ceasefire” is also the word typically used if there is some unsafe condition on the range. Anyone on the range can call a ceasefire if they see a potential problem, not just the RSO.
When you hear a “ceasefire,” you must stop shooting IMMEDIATELY. Unload your weapon, drop the magazine, and lock the slide or leave the action open. Then place your firearm on the bench and step back behind the firing line. Passing the firing line or touching your weapon during a ceasefire is strictly prohibited.
Once it is safe to start shooting you’ll hear “The Range is Hot” or ``Commence Firing” to signal it is safe to shoot when you’re ready.
Other Things to Remember
- Never leave a loaded gun on the shooting bench. If the range goes cold, a loaded weapon on the firing line is a major safety hazard.
- Shoot only range approved targets. Check with the range ahead of time to see what types of targets they allow.
- Do not shoot posts, supports, walls, or target frames. They’re expensive. Don’t do it.
- Take your time. Accidents are more likely to happen when you are rushing.
- Clean up after yourself. Make sure all your garbage ends up in a trash can, return target frames to their proper place, and pick up your brass.
- Return your firearm to its case before leaving. All firearms should enter and leave the range in a case.
Knowing proper gun range etiquette isn’t just about fitting in with the regulars. It also helps keep everyone safe. And when everyone is safe, shooting is a lot more fun.