If you're like millions of Americans, you've either recently purchased your first gun, or you're seriously thinking about it. If you're still in the market, you may have decided that you'd like to go to a range to try out a few different types of firearms to see what works best for you. If you've already made your selection, you might have decided that it's in your best interest to make sure that you know how to operate your new firearm properly. Whichever scenario it is, pat yourself on the back: Familiarizing yourself with shooting in a safe, supportive environment is always a great idea. However, during your research you might have become a bit intimidated by the vast array of gear, gadgets and aftermarket add-ons available to consumers. Don't fret, though-for that first trip to the range, there are really only a few things that you absolutely must have.
1. A Gun Case Unless the "range" is your backyard, you're going to have to travel with your firearm to get there. This means you'll want something to transport your gun. You may actually already have one, especially if your new purchase is a handgun; many new handguns are sold with sturdy plastic cases that work just fine for automobile transportation. (We'll leave the requirements for air travel for another discussion.)
But perhaps you purchased your handgun used, or your new firearm is a long gun. Long guns are frequently packaged in cardboard, which is obviously less than ideal. A little casual research is in order, but don't worry: Gun cases are available in just about every conceivable size, for just about every possible firearm-and-optic combination, at a price that won't hurt your wallet. Depending on what you're looking for and the size of your firearm, there are options starting as low as $30.
Of course, be sure to check your local laws as they relate to traveling with firearms before you hit the road.
2. Ear Protection If you've never fired a gun before, or been present when one was fired, the first thing that will strike you about the experience is just how loud it can be. It's nothing like what you hear in movies, TV or video games. In fact, even a .22-caliber rifle can produce a sound of 140 decibels (dB), which is enough to cause hearing damage. The report can also be a bit startling for new shooters. What's more, very few ranges would ever allow you to shoot without ear protection.
There are several different ways to go about protecting your hearing on the range, and no doubt you'll spot some folks wearing top-dollar custom-made inserts. There's no need to break the bank. Those same foam inserts you buy to make it possible to sleep on long flights are a great place to start. To further cut noise, double up with a set of earmuffs-there are several perfectly good ones available in the $30-$40 range.
3. Eye Protection This one might not be as obvious as ear protection, especially since it's so rare that you'll see people using it on television, but eye protection is also crucial. Why? The main reason is expended brass. With the exception of a few types of firearms (like revolvers and hinge-action shotguns), most guns eject the brass casing of the cartridge after each shot. Some do so automatically, as with semi-automatic guns, while others have to be extracted manually, as with bolt-action guns. Either way, when the brass comes out, it tends to be rather hot...and sometimes it ejects directly back toward your face. Even if your gun doesn't eject brass, there's a strong likelihood that one of the other range patrons' does. Protect your eyes with a pair of shooting glasses. Look for glasses that are impact resistant, and specifically labeled for the shooting sports. There are three different safety standard ratings you should be alert to: OSHA, ANSI and the U.S. Military. Ideally, your glasses should meet all three criteria...and again, there are lots available for the same price you'd pay for sunglasses from the drugstore.
4. Ammunition Designed for Your Firearm This may seem very basic, but it's also very important. Many types of ammunition can look similar, especially to the untrained eye. For example, the visual difference between a 20-gauge shotgun shell and a 12-gauge shotgun shell is fairly subtle. What's more, a 20-gauge shell will load into a 12-gauge, but if you attempt to fire it, the shell may become stuck. This will block the bore, and could cause serious injury. Another example would be .22-caliber ammunition. Although .22 Short will fire in a gun chambered in .22 Long Rifle, it may not cycle properly and might require that you load and shoot one cartridge at a time. Check your owner's manual, and make sure you only buy ammunition recommended by the manufacturer.
5. Targets Of course, you'll want something to shoot at. Many ranges supply targets that you can purchase at the range, but not all of them, so you'll want to bring your own. Some beginners like to start with paper plates, since they're inexpensive and allow you to work on your fundamentals without worrying about whether you got a perfect bullseye.
Perhaps you'd like to try a reactive target. Some targets will show a color change where your bullet has hit, giving you a way to accurately gauge where each individual shot is going. Or, depending on the range you're using, you may be able to use targets that bounce and wobble when hit-which always adds to the fun.
You'll want to remember to bring a stapler so you can affix your target to the target holder, just in case there aren't other shooters around willing to share theirs (although most will be).
6. Sensible Clothing No, there's no need for tactical pants, vests or combat boots. You will, however, want to make sure that you're dressed for comfort, and to avoid a couple of range-specific concerns. You may remember the mention of expended brass from earlier in this article. Those brass casings are notorious for finding their way down necklines or onto bare legs, and it can really sting. Opt for a neckline that fits snugly to your neck, and for long pants whenever possible.
You'll also want to avoid high heels and shoes with slick surfaces, like dress shoes. The surfaces of ranges tend to be very smooth, because this facilitates with lead clean-up. That same smooth surface can make it easy to slip-something you don't want to have happen when you're around guns. Go for shoes with a grippy surface, and which cover your foot entirely.
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