By: Jessica Anderson
Going to the range can and should be a fun and educational experience, but it also needs to be safe. Making sure you pack the proper gear and take the appropriate safety precautions are key to having a productive day at the range.
Fundamental firearm safety rules are very important when you’re at the range. You always need to know the condition of your weapon, whether it’s loaded, chambered, unloaded, if the safety is on or off, and so forth. No matter what, always know.
Be sure to keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction at all times, making sure you don’t inadvertently sweep your feet or point the muzzle toward anything you don’t intend to destroy. Though the point of being at the range is, obviously, to discharge your weapon toward a specified target, you should still keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until you’re ready to shoot.
You also need to be aware of your surroundings, where your target is and what’s beyond it, especially if there are others nearby or the potential for wildlife if you’re outdoors. Should an accident or emergency happen, it’s a good idea to keep emergency contacts on hand and know where the nearest medical center is and how to provide basic First Aid.
Common Range Commands
Make sure you’re aware of any signals, safety rules, and expectations specific to the range you’re visiting or to the group of people you’re shooting with before anyone starts unpacking their bags. At the very least, you should know a few of the common range commands that are used to communicate important information on the condition of the range.
When you hear a call that the range is “clear” or “cold,” it means everyone has made their firearms safe – chambers clear, magazines removed, action open – no one is handling a firearm, and it is safe to go downrange to set up or move targets. Only when the range is clear, and it has been verified that everyone is clear, may you proceed downrange. If you hear “cleared hot,” on the other hand, everyone has returned from downrange, and it is okay to begin firing at targets. When the range is “hot,” you should never go beyond the range bench or the firing line.
You may also hear “ceasefire,” in which case all firing should stop immediately, and all shooters should make their guns safe by clearing the chamber, removing the magazine, keeping the action open or slide back, and setting the firearm on the bench pointed in a safe direction.
Being polite and courteous at the range is a must. Follow the aforementioned safety rules and listen to the range safety officer (RSO) if one is present. If you disregard the basic safety rules or disobey the RSO, you become a risk to yourself and those around you. Not only could you harm yourself or someone else, but it’s not likely you’ll be welcome on any future trips to the range.
It’s common courtesy to pick up after yourself and keep the range looking nice. Any spent brass or bits of targets should be cleaned up before you leave. Leave the range looking better than how you found it. Respect those around you; don’t shoot at someone else’s target, and whenever possible, give other range-goers enough space between lanes.
What to Pack
It’s far too easy to get caught up in the gear aspect of shooting. Some accessories are necessary, of course, and will make your range experience safer, more efficient, and productive. Other gear, however, can make your bag bulky and might even make it harder for you to find what you actually need when you really need it. The following items are basics for any range bag, and can be adjusted depending on skill level and needs:
• Firearm – A given, but with everything else you’re packing, there’s a chance you might leave the star of the show at home.
• Ammunition – Again, it’s a given, but that doesn’t mean you won’t forget it! Be sure to bring both range-quality ammo for practicing and carry or home defense ammo to confirm your shots on the target.
• Eye and Ear Protection This is a must. It’s a good idea to keep extra foam ear plugs and some lens wipes handy, too.
• Magazines – Bring several for quicker reloads.
• Targets and Target Stand – You can purchase your own targets to staple or stick onto some cardboard and place on your target stand, or you can print off your own targets for fun drills here.
• Staple Gun and Staples – To hang the targets you bring.
• Duct Tape – Can also be used to hang the targets you bring.
• Sharpie, Pen, Notebook – For marking targets and recording notes about your day at the range.
• Towels – Hand towels are good for wiping down dirty surfaces or placing your firearm onto to help keep things clean and dry.
• Gloves – Durable gloves help when you’re handling hot metal and are always a good idea to have on hand.
• First-Aid Kit – Anything can happen. Be prepared for the unexpected with a First-Aid kit.
• Mag Loader – This neat little tool will save your thumbs and make loading magazines a whole lot quicker. No one wants to waste valuable range time loading mags forever.
• Multitool – Having a multitool and your cleaning kit is helpful for clearing stuck cases and for many other things.
• Batteries – Keep an extra set of batteries around for any optics or electric ear protection.
• Bug Spray - When you’re outside, an otherwise beautiful day at the range can be cut short if the bugs are bad.
• Holster – Even if you’re not working on drawing, having a holster makes sure your firearm is pointed in a safe direction when you need to go downrange.
• Garbage Bag – For those who have access to free and public outdoor ranges, be sure to clean up any spent brass or other debris in your area.
• Apps – If you’re running drills, there are plenty of timer apps out there you can download and use. Splits is a great shot timer app that’s accurate and easy to use, and Strelok (Android) and Ballistic (Apple) are great for collecting data if you plan on doing any rifle or long-range work.
• GoPro Camera – This is a bonus item, but I’ve found setting up a GoPro gives you a different perspective and can show things you might not be aware of, like if your muzzle drops when you squeeze the trigger, or if you’re inadvertently violating any safety rules.
Once you have a good idea of the gear you need to pack, you’ll be able to choose the right bag to keep it all in. There are tons of options out there, but you’ll generally want something that has a lot of compartments for organization and something that’s sturdy and can take a beating.
Remember: Safety always comes first, and you should pack for optimal preparedness so you don’t find yourself doing anything unsafe because you forgot something, or your gear doesn’t work. When you pack smart and shoot safely, you’ll be able to have a fun and productive day at the range every time.
Jessica Anderson is a freelance writer from Iowa. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.