How to Look Like a Pro on Your First Gun Range Trip
If you’re brand new to shooting or have only been to the range a few times, you might be feeling self-conscious about a lack of experience. In fact, you might wonder if everyone is looking at you, or if it’s obvious that you’re a new shooter. Don’t worry – it won’t be obvious if you focus on one thing.
After decades of regular range trips and some experience teaching shooting courses, I can say definitively that there are only two kinds of shooters. You might be surprised to learn that the division between the two groups has very little to do with how many times someone has picked up a firearm. Instead, the division has everything to do with how that person picks up a firearm.
There Are Only Two Types of Shooters
What are the two types of shooters, then?
Those who are safe with firearms, and those who are unsafe with firearms. This is the only criteria I use to judge shooters. I don’t think I’m alone in this – it’s how I evaluate the professionalism and competence of those around me at the range and it’s how others do, too.
Whether you go to a structured shooting range or an unofficial shooting spot in the desert or the woods, very few people are going to care about the type of gun you have or how many times you shot (or didn’t shoot) the bullseye. Everyone is going to care if you point a gun at them.
Before you go to the range, you must understand that unlike nearly everything else in our lives, there are no do-overs or takebacks with firearms. Guns are not like car keys, phones, computers, pens, or any other miscellaneous items we grab and casually carry with us throughout the day. A range safety brief is not something you should ignore while staring at your phone the way some people ignore flight attendants before takeoff.
Which Rules Should You Follow?
It is never okay to be casual in handling firearms. When you pick up a gun, your focus must be on keeping it pointed in a safe direction, keeping your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot, and treating it as if it were loaded even if it is not. Violating any of these cardinal rules even for a tiny fraction of a second will make you look like an idiot to everyone within sight.
Again: it is NEVER okay to violate these rules for ANY length of time. It does not matter that you swept (pointed a gun at) another person for just a second. It does not matter that you cavalierly posed with a gun pointed in an unsafe direction for a selfie for just a few seconds. It does not matter if you were really excited after shooting and turned with a gun in your hand, finger on the trigger, toward other shooters to talk to a friend standing behind you.
Anyone who violates these rules gets harsh looks at a minimum and could even be kicked off a range. I’d say that’s the maximum, but the real maximum is putting a bullet into someone else’s body because you pointed a gun at them for “just a second.”
New Shooters Can Be More Professional Than Old Shooters
Why might these rules not separate new shooters from people who’ve handled guns for years? Because I’ve seen plenty of people who have been shooting for years do it wrong. Just because someone who handles guns in a cavalier manner hasn’t killed anyone yet does not mean they are doing things right. How might you, a new shooter, be able to look like a pro right out of the gate?
Easy: before you go to the range, burn the weapons safety rules into your mind. Every time you pick up a gun, have your focus be on handling it safely. Even better, don’t rush to shoot. Once you make it up to the line, practice handling your unloaded firearm, but still treat it as if it were loaded. Make sure your finger doesn’t automatically go on the trigger when you pick it up, but make sure your finger DOES automatically come off the trigger as soon as you start lowering the gun from the point at which you’re aiming at the target.
Perhaps most importantly, ensure that when you have a gun in your hand, you are always aware of where the muzzle is pointing. Do not let yourself get distracted by other people around you – don’t turn toward them with a gun in your hand and don’t casually stand there with it pointed off to your side. Ever. Even for a moment.
Safe Shooters Are Pro Shooters
These rules seem harsh, but the penalties for violating them are harsher. Few people want to look dumb, but that’s exactly what cavalier gun handling is: dumb.
If you do follow the rules, though, you will look like a pro. Few things say “experienced shooter” to me like watching someone’s finger come off the trigger every time their gun comes off target. Others at the range will think the same thing.
Everything else comes second, and everything else is easy to fix, too. A shooter who is flinching and missing the bullseye can be straightened out in a few minutes or an hour at most, but someone with a cavalier attitude about gun safety might never be “fixed.” Even better, it’s possible to be serious about safety and able to shoot the right part of the target your first time out!
Just remember what’s more important – not only to you, but also to everyone around you. If you do that, you’ll look like a pro.
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