SKILLS: Top 6 Public Range No-Nos

There’s a lot for a new shooter to learn, and a lot of it is learned at the shooting range. But learn first  about the range!

by Jeff Johnston, NRA Family

So you’re heading to the range for the first (or maybe the second, or third) time. Here’s what NOT to do, both from a safety and a common courtesy perspective.

…Bring a shotgun and shoot it with anything except slugs. In most public range settings, lanes are set mere feet apart from each other. While a shotgun loaded with any pellet-type load might hit only your target at 10 yards, at 50 yards the spread of its pattern will turn your neighbor’s pristine new target into Swiss cheese. For this reason most ranges don’t allow shotguns on the range for anything except slugs. You should know this beforehand, so you don’t buy everyone new targets later.

…Place your finger on the trigger before your sights are on the target. This is the quickest way to tell everyone in the range, “Hey, everyone! Look at me! I don’t have the foggiest clue what I’m doing! Ha! Ha!” You may notice people begin to look at you like you’re wearing a Bin Laden costume as they back away slowly. Why? If you don’t know the second NRA rule of gun safety, you are obviously not safe. So keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. Perhaps you can’t hit a bullseye to save your life, but at least everyone around you knows you’re  trying to be safe.

This one is for indoor ranges that max out at 50 yards:
…Bring your .338 Lapua Mag. (or .300 Win. Mag. or any other high-power rifle that’s equipped with a muzzle brake) to “sight it in.” To zero your rifle for hunting you should shoot it at 100-200 yards anyway, so why kill people’s ear drums at the range by getting in on paper there? A muzzle brake sends sound waves and hot gases backwards, and many times the long, 26-inch barrels of magnum hunting rifles extend past the side barriers, sending those unfiltered sound waves and gases directly back at your neighbors. Think the opposite of the Nike commercial and just don’t do it.

…Place your target above or below eye level. Some ranges clearly post rules against this, while others do not. Regardless, consider what your bullet does after hitting the target: It continues on its merry way at its given angle, and if that angle is steep, it will stop in the floor or the ceiling, not the backstop as it should. Wood and debris from the floor or ceiling will fly, and the range officers will begin eyeballing you like buzzards above a bloody road kill. So place your targets at eye level so your bullet goes into the backstop where it should.

…Give unsolicited advice to complete strangers. Sure, it’s OK to politely point out or correct a major safety violation if someone is clearly being unsafe (if the range officers are non-existent), but if the good-looking girl on lane 14 would’ve wanted your advice, she’d have given you some type of signal. That’s right, like a “Hey, you” from across the range complete with “come ‘ere” wave and a tractor-beam eye hook. But 100 times out of 100 she just wanted to shoot her new Springfield a few times without being hit on as if it was closing time at Hooters. And see that cool dude with her? One of the reasons she’s with him is because he’s not always telling her what she’s doing wrong. So go back to your lane, make happy face targets with your .357, then go home and make yourself a few bachelor burritos.

…Let some Magnum PI-looking yahoo on lane No. 13 tell you how to shoot your own gun. I’ve seen it all too often. The minute you try to be polite by saying, “OK, thanks for the advice,” Magnum thinks he’s Steve Spurrier with a renewed license to coach. So instead, just say, “If I wanted instruction, I would’ve hired a professional,” and turn away. I hate to sound crass, but the shooting range isn’t the place to put up with this kind of nonsense. Of course, if he or she is offering good advice in a non-creepy way, and is in fact Tom Selleck, feel free to listen.

What are your public range pet peeves? Tell us in the comments! 



19 thoughts on “SKILLS: Top 6 Public Range No-Nos”

  1. What a great topic! I’ve been going to public ranges for 54 years I’m sorry to say, my first trip I was 7 years old with my Dad to shoot his Winchester Model 52A .22 LR and a Tanker Garand, and I’ve seen all the above, and just about everything else.

    >>The muzzle brake, absolutely. I hate them. If you just have to have one, then go out to BLM land and blast away, but in the meantime invest $10 in a quality thread protector, take off the brake, and screw it on for range trips. Most muzzle brakes can be taken off.

    Also, the author says this is for indoor ranges that max out at 50 yards, but I’ll say it’s for all covered ranges indoor or outdoor. I actually don’t know any indoor ranges setup for rounds like the .338 Lapua, which will punch right thru their bullet traps regardless. In any case, it seems everyone is adding one to their barrels now; I just bought a Savage .308 with one, which is just not needed in that caliber. I can see it for extended shots with a heavier caliber, but get over to a table by yourself away from everyone if you want to try it at the long distance range. You know for all those 700-800 yard running deer shots you’re going to make.

    >>Related: Please don’t stand _behind_ me on the firing line with your hand cannon and blast away “to get more distance from the target,” I swear. Hearing protection or not, the blast and noise from a gun discharging behind your ear is huge. Get up to the damned line or go home.

    >>Related: if you are to my left with an autoloader, don’t assume that I want to be pelted with your red hot brass. Look where your ejector is throwing them, and adjust your position if you can. Don’t get me wrong, I reload so will pick up every scrap of brass you toss over, I just don’t want to be hit with it. That’s why I always go as far left as I can on the firing line. If there’s a barricade between us make sure it’s in place.

    >>The biggest no-no I’ve seen a thousand times: DON’T break 180. Guys think nothing of turning around with a loaded pistol. At my range you’re asked to leave. I saw a guy “teaching” his girlfriend how to shoot a Colt Lawman .357 snubby. She loaded it up, cocked it, then turned 360 with it pointed out in front of her, finger on the trigger! Asked to leave, but there was 10 guys in the deck while she waved it around.

    >>Another: learn how your gun works BEFORE you get to the range. Saw a guy pull out a beautiful Colt Commander, old hard red rubber rampant Colt grips, fire 7 rounds, then walk over to me with the slide locked back and asked how to remove the mag and return the slide to battery. His Dad had left him the pistol, and he had no idea how it worked. I did my part and told him those old Colts were dangerous, but I’d take it off his hand for $100, but he didn’t appreciate my generosity…

    Another guy just last year pulled out a beautiful stock Colt Series 80 in nickel, and it kept jamming. Fire, he’d struggle with the slide and a blown casing would fall out. Fire, struggle, blown casing. I picked up one of the cases: .40 S&W split down the side. I asked him, “is that a .40?” He looked at me like I was an idiot: “Of course not! Everyone knows these are .45 ACP!” Uh, Ok, I asked him, then why are you shooting .40’s in it?!!

    He mumbled some excuses, then immediately started dissing my 686: “Well, I have an 8 3/8″ Python! Paid $2k for it!” Well, great Mr. King $h!t, but you do know that takes .38/.357 right, not 9 mm?

    The point being, he had all his ammo mixed up in a freezer bag, instead of in proper cartridge boxes.

    >>The point the author makes about “teaching” and getting tips from strangers, absolutely. I like to talk to people, and am always willing to learn, but no unsolicited advice, please. Also, I am an NRA and CA DOJ Certified Instructor, and when I’m with a paying student I don’t need some camo commando yahoo “operator” with his threaded barrel Glock and ridiculous “can” eavesdropping and contradicting me.

    Generally it’s when I’m with a female student, and some droid with his new .500 S&W is telling her over my shoulder that her carry 9 mm is insufficient, so she needs him to teach her how to shoot a “real gun.” Say, how about we have a division of labor? I’ll reach the woman how to shoot, and you f&$! off and go play with your penis extension? You sure can’t hit anything with it.

    >>One more, and I’ll shut up: DON’T walk up to where I have my range bag, rolled up targets, ammo bag, etc., and move or touch any of it. I was there first, and I didn’t give you permission to touch my stuff. If it’s in your way for some reason, no problem, we can work it out, but don’t just grab it and move it somewhere else. We share the range.

    >>Oh yeah, one more: I don’t want to shoot your spiffy dreadnaught killer handloads. I learned that lesson in 1977 when a guy almost ruined (actually I took them so I almost ruined) an Old Model 3-Screw Ruger Super Blackhawk, with his patented load of 25 grains of 2400, with a CCI Magnum primer (I found out after pulling the trigger.) Way, way too hot, and would have cracked a Smith I think, but the Ruger held. Really, really, stupid on my part. Lesson learned: Just because someone has the money to buy a reloader doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing.

    Ok, last one for sure: no, you can’t shoot my guns, sorry. Please don’t ask.

    1. I hope “your stuff” aint setting on 2 or 3 benches. If it is, I wont move it but I expect you to.. So many have the “I was here first
      attitude” and like to pile their crap on 2 or 3 benches.

      1. My “stuff” is in a range bag and ammo bag on the single bench directly behind me, where it belongs. If I can, I’ll put it under my feet, but that’s not always possible. I would be pissed too if someone took up all the space, but that’s not the case.

        The example was from when I was at an indoor range once with a single range bag, and a guy walked up and moved it 5′ further down the table because he wanted the space I had.

    2. A few years back a fried of mine loaned me his brand new Savage .338 Lapua complete with muzzle break. It was pretty much OOB with the stipulation that I clean the rifle between shots. It didn’t have a muzzle cap. I took the last bench to the left (covered range). A gent showed up at the next bench to my right and I advised him to consider moving to another bench that was open since I expected that the muzzle blast wasn’t going to be too pleasant. He chose to stay so I told him that I would let him fire his shot and then I would give him time to get up from his bench before I fired mine. He didn’t move after he shot, I waited but he didn’t make any move so I let go with my shot. He got up from the bench after each of his shots after that. Since I had to clean he gun after each shot I let him know when I was ready for my next shot.

  2. I recently took my granddaughter to the range for a teaching session. I read this with a bit of trepidation. It looks like I didn’t break any of the top rules. It can be a bit daunting to put oneself in the role of teacher. Not only does one need to respect and teach the overall safety aspects of shooting, but range etiquette is also important.

    Perhaps I have been fortunate, but I have always been impressed with the mutual respect shown by shooters at the range I prefer. I suspect that respect for others is one of the most important “rules” at any range.

  3. And this was at a club range: Please don’t hog the range with your high capacity magazine and continuous blasting away while the rest of us are trying to sight in or shoot for groups. A proud owner of a 30-something round magazine ruined the range time for the rest of us till he ran out of ammo – and even shot across lanes! Blam-blam-blam-blam-blam ad infinitum!!! Rude.

  4. Mind if I quote Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident….”
    A PAST friend of mind who reloaded was constantly jamming his firearm or having rounds not go off. Hey Phil, let me borrow your Dan Wesson and see if these reloads work in it…… WTF! How does someone so stupid that he can’t follow reload charts and expect “try them out” in my pistols.

    Same PAST friend. Hehe, didn’t you know I was shooting at YOUR target.

    I hope this goes, I didn’t find a place to sign up but would love to continue to receive it. Wait, dah, I got here through your email to me. I must have purchased another 1000 rounds of 9mm from you. Thank you for the great blog. I’ll be buying again soon!


  5. Number 1: Always be the first one to run out to change the target, never fails one on the line needs a mobile target. And having to take care where expended shells land is offensive, it is a range, semiautos are used, if you only want wheel or bolt guns, then the range you use should be limited to wheel or bolt guns so you don’t have nasty nasty brass flying. I can’t imagine a controlled range with rapid fire, so the incidental round is really a poor sportsmans complaint, rapid fire would be too for that matter.

    1. Having to watch where your brass flies is “offensive?” Wow. I call it considerate. I mention it because often shooters are so self absorbed they don’t realize that the barricade between stations isn’t in place, or that just by moving a few inches they can stop pelting the person to their right with hot brass, which by the way can cause severe burns.

      Not paying attention to how your actions affect others is rude, and ironically poor sportsmanship, not a “poor Sportsman’s complaint.”

  6. All great comments and subject matter, some pretty dangerous too. What are the range safety officers doing during such shenanigans? One of my pet peeves is when range users turn range time into a social event. Conducting a BS session at the firing line while would-be users wait for access. I’ve lost count of the times this situation has ruined a trip to the range. If you are not setting up targets, shooting or working with an instructor, be considerate, clear the range for others. You can chew the fat in the lounge, club house, or at the bar.

  7. The last one happened to me at an indoor range. Everyone that came in had to tell me I was shooting my 1911 wrong and I was going to cut my hand. I’d been shooting this particular gun for 4 years and not a scratch. I packed my gear and left. Had them take my name out of their computer and let them know I would never be back and why.

  8. I’m pretty sure the range pictured in the email is the local public range. Is that picture of the rifle range in Ocala national forest in Florida?

  9. Those are all dead-on.

    Here’s another one,; Disappearing brass! I’ve come across a few caliber brass collectors that will ask and others whom will collect brass from on or near your table at outdoor non-automated target ranges on crowded days without asking.

    Please don’t collect other people’s brass without their permission!!!

    I’ve had 338wm and 450 marlin just walk away. Automated target ranges are preferred and best. Soon more than brass will start disappearing.

    1. That’s a great point I forgot about the brass. I agree that most range folks are very considerate, so I always let folks know I’m keeping mine. Losing some is going to happen, but I just started reloading .357 sig and want to make sure I keep it. In that case moving to the far right guarantees I should be able to keep if from getting snagged.

      That was my beef with the guy who showed up late and moved my range bag down the table. The second thing he did was to grab a broom and sweep up 200 of my .40 s&w brass and drop them in his bag.

  10. I’ve never been to a range. It sound about as enjoyable as a public urinal. Think I’ll stick to my spot in the desert. I still have to share it with shooters who haul all their trash out shooting. I did not get the point of being able to hit a kingsized mattress, but it obviously brought someone some satisfaction.

    1. My favorite was a giant eight foot tall plastic Santa Claus someone took out to the foothills where we used to shoot and shot it up and left it there. After several years of people not picking up their trash the county closed the spot. It’s always a few slobs who ruin it for everyone else.

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