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.
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.
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.
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.
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.