It’s been said that you can tell within 15 seconds whether or not a person handling a firearm knows what they are doing, and if they are safe. I have yet to see this proven untrue.
An easy start is to know the 4 rules of gun safety:
1. the gun is ALWAYS loaded
2. never point the gun at something you are not willing to destroy
3. always be sure of your target and what’s behind it
4. keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
After talking with a good friend of mine, I’ve come to the conclusion that when I teach new shooters about the rules, it’s not so much that I’m teaching them gun safety, but rather, gun etiquette. Yes, there are the above-mentioned rules. However, those rules do not encompass the entirety of what is considered good, polite, safe behavior at a shooting range.
As a new shooter, if you want to make sure your first effort at attending a club match is successful, here’s my advice. It’s given based on running, scoring, and setting up matches a few thousand times in the last 10 years or so.
First thing to do is show up early, at least 30 minutes before the scheduled match time. Find the Match Director and introduce yourself. Let the MD know you’re a first timer, and if you have any experience at all in the practical shooting world, let him know. Word of wisdom to you – you are not going to impress any seasoned MD by letting him know how many rounds you shoot, or what tactical schools you’ve been to. In fact, it has been my experience that the more times you’ve been to the holy grail of shooting schools in this country – Gunsite, Front Sight, or Thunder Ranch, the scarier you are on the range. I realize that to some of you, this is heresy, but I’m telling you from my experience, it’s the truth. Every one of us on the Tattler staff can give you stories if you’re interested, but that’s another blog post…. Regardless, let the MD know of your experience, if any, and follow his instructions on how you are to conduct yourself during the match. Again, I don’t care how you did it in SEAL Team 6, you’re going to conform to our club and range rules, or you’re going home. And yes, we have had people show up and try and convince us that they work for all sorts of alphabet agencies and that’s not how they were taught to do it by the Company, blah blah blah. Like I said at the beginning, give me 15 seconds and I can tell if you’re a shooter or not. You’re going to have to sit through a safety briefing where you will be informed of the range and club rules, and what we expect of you. Pay attention and ask questions.
Next thing to find is the Safety Area. Every practical shooting club, whether it’s IDPA or USPSA should have a designated Safety Area. The Safety Area is where you go to fondle your gun, holster up, show off your weapon, whatever. It is the ONLY place on the range where you can handle your firearm without the permission and supervision of the Match Director or Range Officer. Period, end of story. It is also the ONLY place on the range that live ammunition is NOT allowed. Play with your mags and ammo wherever you want, except the Safety Area, and vice versa with your handgun. Do not show your buddy the new pistol you just bought in the staging area. Do not see if your gun is loaded or not in the staging area. Do not do anything with your firearm unless you are in the Safety Area or under the control of a match official. Doing so tends to make the shooters around you very nervous. And it’s exceptionally poor range etiquette.
As you’re holstering up, keep in mind that while an in the waistband (IWB) holster is perfectly suited for daily carry, it has no place on the practical shooting range in my experience, particularly if worn behind the hip. You ask why, dear reader? The answer is simple – every time you holster or draw your weapon, you are effectively hosing the people behind you with the muzzle of your weapon. That, my dear friends, is not good range etiquette.
Speaking of holstering, if you can’t holster or draw your weapon with your strong hand only, you need to get a holster that will allow you to do so and practice until you can do it. Probably the #1 common range mistake we see new shooters do is take their off hand and hold open their holster, or push their gut out of the way or ‘guide’ the muzzle of their pistol into the holster. Don’t do this. Your body came with a set # of holes in it from the factory. No reason to add another one. A final thought on holsters – the cheap assed nylon holsters that sell for a dollar a dozen at the gun shows – leave them at home. They suck and frankly they’re a safety hazard. Either buy quality holsters from folks like Comp-Tac or the less expensive holsters from Uncle Mike’s will do until you purchase a “real” holster but toss the cheapo nylon holsters in the trash.
Ok, where were we?? After getting your gear on (and regardless of which sport you’re playing in, know the rules of what kind of holster you can use and where everything can be positioned before hand – you can find all that information online at idpa and uspsa’s respective websites), help the MD set up the stages for the shoot. Carry walls, barricades, targets, etc; help staple the targets up. Nothing will get you in the good graces of an MD more than lending a hand before and after the match.
Once it’s time to start shooting, listen to the stage description. Ask questions. Pay attention to where you can and can’t shoot from or what targets can or can’t be engaged from a particular position. This is more important in IDPA-land because generally the scenarios in IDPA are much more specific on what you’re going to do vs. the freestyle nature of USPSA. Typically, as a new shooter, you are not going to go first on any stage and you’ll have time to watch other shooters and how they attack the COF. Watch the better shooters – they’ll be easy to spot – and try to emulate them. Not necessarily on how fast they shoot, but where they shoot targets from. When they’re done shooting, ask them questions – keeping in mind that it’s poor etiquette to ask any level of shooter how they’re going to do something right before they shoot, so it’s best to wait till they’re done, or if you know they’re not shooting for awhile. Again, if you know that someone’s getting ready to shoot, the polite thing to do is stay out of their way and leave them alone until the shooting’s over.
When it’s your turn to shoot, follow the direction of the RO and don’t be offended if you feel you’re being watched like a hawk. Remember, as an unknown quantity, you have to earn my trust. You are going to impress me by shooting smoothly, accurately, and safely. I don’t care if it takes you 10 times as long to shoot something as I do, shoot smooth, safe, and accurately and you’ll have earned my respect. Shoot out of control, throw mikes, and be reckless, you’re going to get a lecture, and if you can’t chill out you’re not going to be allowed to continue shooting – particularly as a new shooter. When you are shooting, be predictable in what you’re going to do. Don’t go hauling ass one way only to stop and back up and go back the other way. Be smooth and be predictable and you’ll make friends with your safety crew.
Don’t bring Hollywood to the range. I think most of us know that Hollywood is full of shit, and this of course spills over into the gun world. With very few exceptions, everything you see on TV or in the movies is just plain bullshit. We will tell new shooters to not do either a “Charlie’s Angles” (hold the gun pointing straight up when you’re not shooting) or a “Miami Vice” (point the gun at the ground when they’re not shooting). If you were to trip or fall or have an AD and the gun’s pointing straight up or down, there’s going to be a problem. The weapon should either be in the holster, or pointed at the targets (and as a by product, at the berm). Period, all stop, end of story.
Be prepared to handle yourself if there’s a problem while you’re shooting. If your gun jams, pukes, blows up or just plain quits working, know what you are going to do before hand. Do NOT look down the barrel or your gun or wave the firearm around recklessly while you’re trying to fix the problem. Stop, figure out what the problem is, and fix it. If it can’t be fixed, tell the RO and he’ll instruct you as to what to do next. I have seen someone look down the barrel (a cop); I have seen someone cover the entire crowd with their muzzle after they shot a double charge; and I have had more guns than I care to admit pointed at me by someone who had their head up their ass when they had a problem while they were shooting. Don’t be one of those people. Keep the muzzle pointed downrange and solve the problem.
When you're not shooting, you are also expected to help run the match. Tape the paper targets, reset the steel, and reset any doors or activators that are used. If you're not the shooter, on deck (next), in the hole (3rd), or re-organizing your gear after you shoot, you are expected to help out. Sitting back behind the range and talking about how great you are, or how you're going to run the stage or just flat out being lazy has no place at a match. I don't care if you're a brand new shooter or a World Class champion - you're expected to work. In fact, the bulk of the World Class shooters I know will literally race you downrange to tape targets.
After you’re done shooting for the night, it is decidedly uncool, unhip, and flat out rude to leave. Wait till everyone’s done and then help tear the match down, put stuff up and help the match staff as much as you can. I can think of few things that piss off a match crew more than having someone pack their shit up and leave as soon as they’re done. Again, don’t be one of those people.
Follow these simple guidelines and you’re on your way to being a responsible club member and shooter. After a while, learn how to run the timer and score other shooters and make it easier for the match staff to provide you with an afternoon or evening’s worth of entertainment. You’ll earn their respect and can then pass on everything you’ve learned to the next batch of new shooters, which is our obligation to begin with.