If you’re looking to learn the fine art of marksmanship – the basis of armed self-defense or any other shooting discipline – indoor ranges are where you start. That’s where you learn the tano kubwa of firearms: safety, grip, stance, breathing and trigger control. They’re safe, supervised and satisfying. Most indoor ranges offer a wide range of firearms to sample, free advice (not all of it sound) and provide instruction at low and sometimes no cost. But indoor ranges can intimidate beginners. So here’s three tips for enjoying your first trip(s) to the firing line . . .
1. Bring your own hearing protection, “double up”
Guns are extremely loud. While most people understand that a standard 12-gauge shotgun blast is dangerously loud, a 9mm pistol is even louder (150dB vs 160 dB). Either sound is loud enough to create permanent hearing damage. One shot. Even if you diminish the sound to “reasonable” level, gunfire can be dangerously distracting and cumulatively harmful.
Some indoor ranges are louder than others, ranging from really loud to ridiculously loud. (Sound insulation is pricey and can present a fire hazard). Some ranges are more crowded than others. All indoor ranges are louder than outdoor ranges. All indoor ranges require hearing protection.
But there’s hearing protection and there’s hearing protection. If you want to enjoy shooting at an indoor gun range, places where people fire incredibly loud long guns as well as pistols, don’t use the ear muffs that the range provides. Bring your own hearing protection, ear muffs that are both comfortable and effective.
Look for hearing protection with the highest possible NRR (Noise Reduction Rating). I have sensitive ears; I won’t wear ear protection that’s rated at anything less than 30 NRR. And then I double-up; I insert foam plugs and then don my protective earmuffs as well. This creates two barriers against the sound; a practice that I recommend no matter what muffs you choose.
Problem: you may not be able to hear an instructor or hold something resembling a conversation with your shooting buddy.
That’s why a lot of people use “electronic ear muffs,” cans that amplify sound and then cut out for a gunshot. They’re slim (a bonus for long gun shooting), way cool and excellent for outdoor ranges (where the aural assault is radically diminished and I still double-up). But they typically offer an NRR in the low 20’s. That’s not enough for me.
I tell my instructor to yell or use hand instructions. Or schedule my instruction for times when the indoor range is relatively uncrowded (where I can hear him or her through my passive muffs and ear plugs). Or, better yet, take instruction at an outdoor range, where I can move and shoot and not risk hearing loss.
2. Be situationally aware
The rabbi (one my first and best gun gurus) doesn’t frequent indoor gun ranges. “Dozens of strangers with guns, what could possibly go wrong?” Not much does go wrong. There’s the statistically insignificant incident of suicide – a messy business. I know a one-off of murder (a mother shot her son). Your biggest risk: yourself.
You MUST practice basic firearms safety at the indoor range with religious fervor. NEVER point your gun anywhere but downrange. ALWAYS move slowly and carefully when manipulating your firearm. If something goes wrong – the gun doesn’t fire, it jams, etc. – STOP. Wait. Think. Keep the gun pointed downrange. If you can’t sort it out, slowly place the gun down, muzzle pointing downrange, walk away and contact a range safety officer.
Yes, well, your neighbors may not display the same discipline. They are a genuine danger. Watch them. If someone is unsafe, place your gun down, walk away and contact a range safety officer. Do not talk to the person who’s being unsafe. If there are a bunch of yahoos nearby, leave the range. Try again another day. The rabbi recommends keeping a second loaded gun on your person, but that’s him.
By the same token, identify your nearest emergency exit – as you would anywhere, anytime, anyway. Again, indoor ranges are safe – as long as you are. But it’s a place – another place – where you should raise your situational awareness and be prepared to take action, should action be required.
I know I just recommended raising your situational awareness. And now I’m recommending that you relax. These two mental states are not mutually incompatible. In fact, learning how to combine the two could save your life should ballistic push come to shove. It will also help improve your performance in a wide range of disciplines and activities.
Why not relax? You’re in a place where The People of the Gun are having fun exercising their natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. Individually. Together. There’s a tremendous sense of camaraderie at indoor ranges. Shooters are almost always friendly and helpful. They often share guns and shooting tips.
Range etiquette is simple enough. Be safe, be polite and relax. If you have “stupid” questions – how do I put the target on the carrier? – don’t sweat it. Keep your gun pointed downrange. Ask. If you’re shooting badly, relax. Bring the target closer. Slow down. Speaking of which . . .
Newbies often experience an adrenalin rush at the range. That’s great if you love endorphins, and who doesn’t? The issue there: adrenalin creates time distortion. You tend to rush things without knowing it. (Rushing isn’t good.) You have to force yourself to relax and slow down. The trick to mastering your physiology: breathe. Slowly and evenly.
Pause between activities. Get to your lane. Stop. Look around (see situational awareness: above). Control your breathing. Take your gun out. Stop. Think about what you’re going to do. Control your breathing. Load your gun. Stop. Think about what you’re going to do. Control your breathing. Do it. Stop. Think about what you’ve done. Control your breathing.
Shooting at an indoor range should be safe and fun. If it isn’t, something’s wrong. It could be you, your gun, your shooting partner or the range. It could simply be a bad day to shoot. Don’t stress. It’s better to keep your session short and try another day.