Who knew that being on the range requires a certain etiquette! Although, like table manners, not everyone is aware that range etiquette exists.
Range etiquette correlates very closely with the range rules. If you at least follow the range rules, everyone around you should be content and you won’t embarrass yourself and/or your guests. Every range is different and will have variations and additions to the 4 main firearm safety rules, you should always take the time to read all the rules if you are new to a range.
If you have never been to a range before or are hearing for the first time that range etiquette exists, please settle in and allow me to share some important knowledge with you.
But before we go any further, here is some bonus content that will help you understand some of the behaviors that will be covered.
Commonly used phrases you will hear on the range:
Live Fire - When shooters are actively shooting their weapons.
Firing line - This is typically a clearly distinguishable line on the ground that you are not allowed to cross during live fire, or else you will be in danger of getting hit by a bullet.
A firing line can also be a line of shooters all facing in one direction standing in place or moving at the same pace together as a group. You still do not want to be in front of this line.
Down Range/ Up Range- In relation to the firing line, we shoot towards the targets which are down range. If you have finished putting up a target and are headed back to the firing line, then you are headed up range. You should never shoot or point your firearm up range.
Range is cold/ Range is hot - This is typically shouted by the instructor and the students verbally repeat it. A hot range means that there are shooters on the range and currently firing their weapons. A cold range means that everyone has stopped shooting, and do not have the intent to continue shooting for the time being.
Flagging - Pointing your weapon (loaded or unloaded) at a person or in a direction which you should not be pointing it. “Don’t flag the person to your left or right on the firing line!”
Condition 1- (A military term) To have a loaded weapon with a round in the chamber. See all the conditions here.
Dry Firing - Pulling the trigger on a firearm that is completely unloaded and free of ammunition while following the basic marksmanship fundamentals (Hold control, sight alignment, trigger control etc…).
Clearing a weapon – To remove any sources of ammunition from the weapon AND visually look into the chamber to ensure that there is not a round left in the chamber. (Some instructors suggest physically feeling the inside of the chamber, especially during low light, or night shoots.)
Cease-Fire – This is verbally called out and should also be repeated verbally by all shooters on the range. A cease-fire means that everyone must immediately stop shooting, set their firearms down and step away from them. If you are not shooting from a booth or bench, you should holster your weapon.
Here (in no particular order) are some ways to ensure that you are showing proper range etiquette:
When the time comes to remove your firearm from it’s case, range bag, or holster, your first action should be to clear your weapon or double check to see what condition it is (condition 1, or empty?). If you are not immediately going to shoot that firearm leave it in its case or lock the slide or bolt back so that other shooters can glance at it and know that it is clear.
If you are handing a firearm to someone, keep it pointed down range (or in a safe direction) and always have firm control of it until the other person has a decent grasp on it also. In this case, it is also encouraged to inform them if you are handing them a loaded or unloaded weapon. As you hand it to them, you can say something like “It’s loaded with one in the chamber/condition 1” or “This gun is unloaded/empty”.
Do not try to multi-task with a firearm in your hand. (i.e. taking selfies, digging in your range bag or purse.)
Never enter a range carrying a gun that is not in a gun case, range bag or holstered on your body/ in your purse. You could be seen as a potential threat.
Pro Tip: If it takes you a long time to load magazines, buy yourself a speed loader, or load them at home before you get to the range. This will save you time on the range since most ranges charge an hourly fee to shoot.
Shooting someone else's firearm: This is a great way to start a conversation and get more experience handling different firearms, I always offer to let interested onlookers try out whatever firearm I may be shooting. If you are trying out someone else’s firearm, be conscious of how much of their ammo you may be shooting or use your own if you have the same caliber. Unless they encourage you to shoot more, 5 rounds is the max amount that you should shoot. Be conscious of the experience too, they want you to feel the grip, trigger pull, maybe admire their fancy new sights.
Some ranges do not allow shooters to pass a firearm from one lane to another, in this case, simply swap lanes temporarily while leaving the firearm in the lane.
Pro Tip: Even if your gun is in-fact cooler than theirs, refrain from immediately pointing that out.
Being corrected or correcting someone: Being corrected on the range is the hardest pill to swallow for some. The only time that it’s okay to correct a someone on the range is when they are being unsafe with their actions. You should first find the Range Safety Officer (RSO) and explain to them what is happening. If there is no RSO, then you have the choice to either tell that person that they are being unsafe and suggest a safer action or simply remove yourself from the situation/range. (What a concept!)
If you are the one being corrected, do not argue. Simply say “Okay, thanks.” and fix your behavior. The absolute No. 1 priority on the range is always safety. If you believe that what you were doing was not unsafe, ask an RSO. Do not start an argument with the person that corrected you.
Picking up Brass: This is typically an overlooked and much avoided task for many shooters. Brass is a precious metal. Currently, it can be sold for approx. $1.60/lb and can be considered an important source of income for many ranges. Almost all range owners collect the brass that is left on their ranges. The brass collecting procedures are different for indoor and outdoor ranges.
For indoor ranges, brass is typically swept out from underfoot and down range past the firing line during business hours, and then collected into buckets for recycling after the range closes. Some shooters choose to keep their brass and will pick it back up after they are done shooting. This typically only happens if they are shooting a rare or expensive caliber and want to reuse the spent casings.
For outdoor ranges, brass becomes an environmental hazard and can affect air, land and aquatic animals and/or livestock (livestock can be found wandering around ranges that are on one’s private property). The issue here is lead poisoning. Lead accumulates inside and on plants that grow within the vicinity of the range, which is then consumed by animals and insects. To mitigate this issue as much as possible, shooters should pick up their brass after they are finished shooting on the range. It is a team effort, everyone that got to shoot their firearm also gets to pick up brass. Don’t be the "Range Diva" that comes and has fun and doesn’t pick up after themselves afterward.
Pro Tip: Wash your hands afterward, you don’t want to absorb that lead into your body either!
Bringing guests to the range : The first thing people want to do when they discover something awesome is share it! Yay! The more the merrier!
When you bring your friends and loved ones to the range give them some time to take in the experience and please do not do everything for them. As a former range employee, I have had many customers bring in their guest and in the excitement of getting straight to shooting, they wave them through important experiences. Give your guest enough time to read range rules thoroughly before whisking them off to send some lead downrange. Show them around a bit before checking in. Once on the range, do not pressure them into shooting a gun that they don't want to shoot or give them a very powerful caliber to shoot on their first try “as a joke”. That can completely ruin their experience and is unsafe.
Lastly, teaching children and teens about marksmanship and gun safety early on is encouraged and can be a fun activity to bond over. If you decide to bring children to the range to teach them about firearms and firearm safety, do not let them out of your sight or allow them to wander about unsupervised around the range or retail section of a range.
Since you have made it this far, you are probably already planning out your next trip to the range. Yay! Now you can go with your new knowledge of proper range etiquette, new vocabulary to use and armed with some professional tips on how to be the best gun owner that you can be.
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