Indoor shooting range training
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By Nick Savery

When I first started shooting I began at a public indoor range. I wasn’t a member of a club and I didn’t have any guns of my own to shoot. I practiced with rented firearms, shooting in a lane alongside lots of other shooters.

While waiting for Massachusetts to process my paperwork and to convince my parents to let me store a gun or two in the house (I was a college student at the time) I spent a significant amount of time at the range. After I bought my first guns I continued to shoot at the public range out of convenience.

It was a nice facility and I enjoyed shooting there, except….

One thing you learn pretty quickly when you shoot at a public range: not everyone has a working knowledge of or respect for firearm safety. Most commercial ranges will rent a pistol to any schmuck who walks in off the street. Many of these customers have a better chance of reciting Star Trek’s opening monologue than the four safety rules.

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I’ve seen more dubious examples of gun handling than I can remember. But here are a few that were particularly memorable . . .

  • Turning a firearm and pointing it directly to the shooter’s side to clear a malfunction (muzzle pointed directly at his neighbor on the left)
  • Turning 180 degrees with a loaded pistol in order to take a look at the sights in better light
  • Returning a pistol to a retention holster by holding the flap open with the weak hand and sweeping that hand every time
  • Shooters who show up, fire some shots with one hand, gangster style, and then get excited that they hit the backstop
  • The macho guy demonstrating the functions of a revolver to his girlfriend while pointing it at me while I’m downrange changing targets when the line was supposed to be cold

When I look back on some of the things I’ve seen, not only am I surprised I’m still alive, I’m amazed I didn’t soil myself at least once a week.

As I gained experience, I quickly realized if I wanted to enjoy my range time and leave without any extra holes, I needed to adopt some basic standard practices. Here’s how I stay alive at public ranges without really trying (much).

Bring a partner

Soon after I started shooting, I managed to get my girlfriend (now my wife) involved. She enjoyed outshooting me almost as much as I didn’t. Having another set of eyes and only one lane between us means that, at any given time, one of us can step back and keep an eye on those around us.

If I see something dubious happening I have three options: help the offender see the error of his or her ways, contact the range safety officer or just bug out.

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Most people who make scary safety mistakes are brand new shooters. They usually appreciate it when more experienced shooters provide them with helpful suggestions on how not to shoot themselves and those around them (depending, of course, on how the information is presented).

When the advice doesn’t go over well or something about the offender tells me he sees the safety advice as confrontation, I either go talk to a RSO and have them sort it out or grab my wife and we get the hell off the range. To that end, it’s a good idea to make sure your shooting buddy understands that when either of you say it’s time to leave, it’s time to leave.

Be alert

Maintaining situational awareness is hardly ever a bad idea when people are holding and/or using firearms in your vicinity. When I first enter a public range, I try to size everyone up and try to get an idea of who is a safe shooter and who is most likely to ruin my day. Or my life.

I then keep my wits about me and my head on a swivel. I usually take a step back after each string. I use reloading as an opportunity to keep tabs on what the people in the stalls around me are doing. I can’t see them through the dividers when I’m on the line, but I can get a global view of any potential threats when I step back. If I perceive any safety issues, I exercise my binary approach.

Shoot during off-peak hours

Like Hunger Game contestants, keep the odds in your favor. The commercial range I use is always packed on weekend afternoons. If I show at peak times, I spend an hour waiting for range time. In a room. With strangers walking around with guns. When I finally get a spot on the line, there are already 11 other lanes full of people shooting. That’s at least 11 potentially unsafe shooters in close proximity.

If I show up during on a weekday morning, I might have the range to myself or share it with only a few other shooters. Shooting more-or-less alone is much safer than doing it with a bunch of potential knuckleheads.

Body armor

OK, I don’t do it, but you hear plenty of stories about shooters wearing body armor at the range. And I’ve seen some, particularly at outdoor public facilities. Some are pathetic mall ninjas living out their dreams and some are cops practicing with their duty gear. Some are RSOs. Far be it for me to criticize people trying to increase their chances of getting home that day. Excrement can and does happen.

A public range is no place to be complacent about your surroundings. A little Spidey sense can go a long way to increasing your chances of walking out the front door when you’re finished shooting. If you can’t avoid public ranges, you can still make the experience as safe and rewarding as possible. Be careful out there.

 

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62 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Miyagi got it right: “Best defense = no be there.”

    Shooting in the country, you are plagued neither by safety hazards, nor by safety nannies. I know it’s not easily accessible for everybody, but it’s almost certainly cheaper to live there than most cityholes you might be stuck in, and beneficial in most other respects too (laws, taxes, raising kids, etc.).

    • Yeah, my first “shooting range” was in boot camp. At home, we had our own private “range”. Hills on every side to stop any random shots, some posts with targets, and a couple saw horses with a plywood table top to set up things to shoot at, like tin cans, or whatever. No shooting west through the valley, because you could possibly hit a cow or something in Lietz’s pasture. No shooting east through the valley, because the village was in that direction. Also, the road went east-west, so you didn’t shoot across the road. That was all the rules we needed back then.

      • Sounds wonderful! The area where I grew up had some public land, but – even better – a lot of private land that wasn’t very private (farms, plus land owned by coal, timber, and rail companies, who didn’t care what anyone did as long as you caused no harm).

        Shooting for me is a celebration of freedom. A boot camp environment where RSOs want to control your every movement “because SAAFETY!” is not only the antithesis of enjoyability, but also not very conducive to skills development.

    • Agreed. I grew up in the Rockies and I now live in a city in the Midwest, and that’s something I really do miss: being able to drive a little ways and then have a great place to shoot, for free, with nobody else around save for the trusted shooting buddies I brought with me. We would get so creative and have so much fun

      • That’s the best part. It’s possible to improve if you aren’t having fun, but it’s a lot easier to motivate yourself if you are, and even better if your friends are too.

  2. I’m sure we all have public/commercial range horror stories. The worst one I’ve read happened in Dolan Springs, AZ in 2014. An instructor was showing a 9 year old girl how to fire a full-auto Uzi. He didn’t help her control the recoil; the muzzle recoiled upwards when she fired, accidentally killing the instructor. Now she’s 17. I still wonder how her life changed after this tragedy.

    On two separate occasions, I’ve left the Ben Avery range in north Phoenix because a parent was showing his children how to shoot handguns, but hadn’t spent enough time teaching them the 4 rules, especially the one about not pointing the blankety-blank thing at me! I reported the violations to the RSO each time. I’m in favor of constitutional carry, but I worry about too much ignorance (and arrogance, hostility, machismo, etc.) mixed with live ammunition.

    • If I had to pick a biggest fear for being in public places it would be alcohol mixed with motor vehicles. The trip to and from the range are vastly more dangerous than the time at the range.

    • I coach a kids’ SASP shooting team, and handguns are _by far_ my biggest safety concern. SASP doesn’t let elementary school kids to shoot them in competition, and I can really understand why after having done this for a couple years. Bad gun handling turns dangerous super fast with a handgun. My fifth grader wants to shoot a handgun next year, and I make him dry-fire my SIRT pistol regularly to practice safe pistol handling. The order for me is safety->handling->accuracy->speed. We always get to speed in the end, but the foundation needs to be there to support it.

      • I’d tend to agree. Whenever I teach new shooters (which I used to do on a semi regular basis in an informal manner), I’d always start them with a long gun of some sort until they had the four rules down to instinct. It’s a lot easier for a novice to forget for a second where a handgun is pointing than a rifle

  3. I’ve never worn body armor to the range. Mainly because I don’t currently own any. But people have been killed at ranges so it’s not necessarily a bad idea. Just a quick notice at the other targets in other lanes will let you know how well they can shoot. Some people just couldn’t hit the side of a barn. But that’s why they are there. Outdoor ranges are often better for a variety of reasons. But there are a couple indoor ranges I wont go to anymore because of what I’ve seen allowed to happen.

    If you have a rifle with a muzzle break you might want to consider an outdoor venue.

    I would recommend good electronic hearing protection. Get a range bag and have a few extras in it. like a #2 unsharpened pencil. And make every shot count. Don’t just chunk lead.

  4. The author is exactly correct. Except, he said “public” range. He should have said “every” range. Public, private, military, LE, the back 40. Throw in saw mills and checking the mail. Everything is dangerous. Pay attention.

    • My range puts all new people into a probation period of at least 3 months. It doesn’t matter if they are licensed or not.

      If anything, I prefer complete beginners because they don’t have bad habits to unlearn first.

  5. I shot at indoor ranges and outdoor ones, greatly prefer outdoor, but doesn’t fit everyone’s lifestyle. I only really concerned about someone on the range if they are wearing camo. Oh yea, LEO’s also. usually big city cops, some of them are not very skilled with firearm handling. Officer was about to have a very bad day, put a .40S&W in a gun chambered for 357SIG, fortunately his RO stopped him in time.

    • I’m calling BS! You can’t chamber a .40 S&W in a .357sig the .40 stops at the throat, the weapon wont go into battery.

      • I could understand how the reverse would happen. I’ve seen a .32ACP case fired from a .380 chamber.

        But a .40SW would not chamber into a .357SIG unless the chamber was really worn.

  6. How to Survive a Public Shooting Range? Don’t go. I’m fortunate to live very close to tens of thousands of acres of public land. I just load up the ATV and head out.

    • I had a dumbass do the same thing around here. He drove out the old logging road thinking he was in the middle of nowhere shooting but actually he was shooting at us up the trail near a waterfall. Good news he was wearing hearing protection and didn’t hear us yelling.

  7. I am fortunate to have an indoor range close by. I go once a week. Yes, people still do really stupid stuff but at least there is a steel plate between me and the bay next door. Here in Arizona it gets pretty windy out at the ranges at there are just way to many people. I enjoy the target return, no walking. The only time I go outdoor to shoot is with the long guns. then we go waaaay out !

  8. I’ll wear armor when forced to go to a public range, having some old jerkoff point an AK pistol at me, center mass no less, twice in 15 minutes caused this change in behavior.

    Call it “LARPing” all you like.

    Generally, I just don’t do public ranges if I can avoid it.

      • It was close enough that I reached out and “tipped” the barrel away from myself (Another reason to wear gloves.) and in a downrangerly direction, not fantastic from an RSO’s point of view if they want to be a stickler but safe enough for everyone else.

        Words were spoken. Feelings were hurt. I left before I did something he’d regret and I’d get arrested for.

  9. What a great topic! It’s so very true. Public ranges are sketchy at best. I only go to one indoor range and only during off hours. Never attend a public range Saturday or Sunday. The indoor range I go to has ballistic panels between the lanes.

    The local large outdoor range my wife refuses to go to anymore and I rarely go myself even at weird weekday hours.

    I have seen the following happen there.

    – a range officer probably loose his hearing in his left ear when a guy put a round into the ground after a line break with his face ( no ear pro )2 feet away trying to grab the rifle from him as he had no clue how to make it clear.

    – I put a tourniquet on a fellow who blew a .45 through his hand splitting his middle and index finger down to the center of his palm. (Tried to break down his Glock and forgot the chambered round I assume)

    – watch a guy put a load of birdshot through his foot while resting the barrel on his foot.

    – lastly my good friend and his wife were feet away from a man who was shot in the guy by a fellow 1 feet away making his ar15 clear with the barrel facing the opposite way it was supposed to.

    All this was over a 6 year period.

    In short…… join a private range if possible or find open land you can shoot on. Stay away from the yahoos. Can

    • I’ve seen the “been shootin’ for 20 years” types often making beginner mistakes.

      My reply they’ve been shooting ONE year 20 times is priceless.

      One reason why I avoid Fudd ranges.

  10. keep it up guys and this will be the next gun control initiative. the answer is not “get rich and shoot on private land.” industry needs to step it up.

  11. I shoot every week at an indoor range about 10 miles away. They are serious about safety. I don’t usually go on weekends as there are more “new” shooters there. I know the RSO’s there and if they see me back up from my lane they start looking for why I’m off. Ballistic plastic between lanes. Nearest outdoor range is 45 miles away so outdoor shooting is not going to happen.

    • Who boy this is a sore spot! My best buddy is a nightmare about safety. I’ve tried to instill in him all the safety I can muster but hey still does a bunch of dumb stuff. I wasn’t there but a dude got shot in the head(!)at Point Blank,Merrillville,In last winter(where we shoot). Pundits laughed it off(here). Lot’s of newbies & Gary types not paying attention. Can’t wait until the weather breaks to shoot outside!

    • this. there’s no reason for ranges to be dangerous. owners need to step up the safety or government is going to force it on them and shut them down.

  12. Watched a guy consistently putting rounds into the ceiling. I told him, but he didn’t believe me, and showed me his target with a bunch of good hits. Long story short, he had hotrodded his Glock trigger,
    and he was double tapping every trigger pull, but the trigger was so light and fast that he didn’t even know it. Fortunately it only took 2 or 3 mags to notice – he got suspicious when his mags were emptying out faster than expected.

  13. You cannot buy your way into safe shooting anymore than you can buy a fiddle and play Carnegie Hall. It is shut up and listen up no matter how smart you think you are. Can’t do that then there’s the door.

    We are fortunate to have a private range and everytime we shoot with 3 or more people there is a desinated range master. Such things as someone down range changing a target and someone on the bench working on a firearm do not and will not happen come hell and high water. Anytime someone needs to go down range all weapons are cleared and everyone steps away from the bench until the person down range is back behind the line of fire.

    Nothing says amatuer like an individual who holds a firearm in a manner where it is pointing at another person. And if you say something about looking down the barrel 99% of the time the moron will say, “it’s unloaded” instead of owning up to a mistake. If someone cannot keep a firearm pointed in a safe direction they should never touch a firearm IMO.

    • that’s great that you found a safe range. from the comments here it’s clear that not always the case for many shooters. i’d imagine you can buy some safety–ballistic shields, more range safety officers, more qualified staff, better facilities, cameras, etc. Investing in safety is definitely something that ranges can do it they want to.

  14. First time I went to an indoor range (rented pistol) I talked to them beforehand, letting them know the limit of my training to make sure they were comfortable with me shooting at their facility.

      • You could take it a 180 too and see what it takes to be asked to leave.

        It would be hilarious if you got to the point of saying “OK, this place doesn’t take safety seriously at all, I’m kicking myself out… for my own safety. Y’all should have asked me to leave a LONG time ago”.

  15. Guess I’ve been lucky. Have never been around a range when an accident occurred. I have seen a couple close calls back in the Army. Usually either some young officer who thought they knew everything. Or some dumb kid being taught to shoot for the first time. Neither had enough training or experience but thought they did.
    Haven’t been on a public range in a couple years. Last time some dope decided to use my target as well as his own. He claimed he didn’t know they were not on the same lane. Target stands were clearly numbered. Had to bite my tongue and let the RSO handle it. Finished building my range the next week. Haven’t been on an indoor range since I left Minnesota. Used to use the police range for pistol practice. Made in nice to be in a nice warm building in a Minnesota winter.

  16. My local public range is in a state park and unsupervised. Thats how I like it. Usually I have the place to myself, but sometimes there will be a few people around. Almost always they are safe and friendly. No problem.
    The ones that drive me nuts are the old duffers with yellow glasses, wearing the vests with patches all over them, strutting between the benches commenting on peoples’ guns and stances. Nobody asks for their advice; they just come around and give it. All it takes is one to ruin a good day at the range.

  17. We don’t have “commercial ranges” here in NYS. You can’t “rent” are pistol in NYS. you can’t even tough a handgun unless you hae a pistol permit legally. So we don’t have these problems for the most part. You always have ninnies though who don’t practice good range safety procedures, whether there are public or private ranges.

    • yep; not hard to imagine such laws will sweep the rest of country in the next 5 to 10 years if private ranges don’t step up. actually kind of amazing gun grabbers haven’t already jumped on this.

      • I’m sure they will soon.

        I only use ranges with quality RSOs there. If the guy/gal isn’t keeping track of safety, I move on. I work part-time as an RSO and kick people off my range when warranted. You get one warning. Strike two and you’re out.

    • Yeah, right! I betcha someone without a “pistol permit” touches a handgun in NYS in excess of 10 million times a year, very literally. Who do you think you’re kidding? Such laws are pure eyewash, meant only to acclimate the law-abiding to the infringement of their Constitutional rights.

    • This 100% this.
      Fuck public ranges.
      My god – last time I was there it was a couple of scrawny gang bangers firing off AKs with the muzzle pointing at the ceiling with each shot.
      Nope.

  18. Many many years ago, first time at a range after a class, I pointed a revolver I rented down the line.

    Old man next to me yelled at me. I apologized and have I taken safety serious ever since.

    He did me, and the people around me in the future, a solid correcting me.

  19. I’m covered. When I go to the range I have full spectrum safety coverage used by todays modern war fighter. I wear a PT belt, eye pro, and gloves. Unparalleled safety system guaranteed by the experts in the pentagon.

  20. Remember that anytime you are on a public or private gun range with other people, you are at the mercy of the lowest IQ turd with a loaded gun who is there also. It only takes one mistake to turn a fun day into a tragedy.

  21. There’s almost nothing left of TTAG except fear and venom propaganda, but this is one of the best articles I’ve read in here in years and years. Well-done!

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  23. I watched a coworker bang the buttstock of his shotgun on the ground with the barrel pointed at his face because it jammed and wouldn’t fire.

    Public ranges suck, private sportsman’s clubs are a lot better although you can still find some bad members but the clubs in my area require you to be an NRA member.

    I will NEVER support Wayne Lapiere again period.

    • Rusty, to not support Wayne LaPiere is your perogative. Where I live you are REQUIRED to be an NRA member to be a club member.
      What has your coworker’s misuse of a firearm to do with the NRA?

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