Range Safety & Etiquette, Part I

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posted on November 16, 2020
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Most shooting is done at a range, which can be anything from an empty field with a suitable backstop to a modern indoor facility with automatic targets and state-of-the-art ventilation. All of the established rules of gun safety and safe gun handling apply when shooting at a range; however, additional rules and procedures also apply.

Identifying Range Areas  
Whenever visiting a range for the first time, a shooter should identify important range areas, including:
  • ready line or preparation area
  • firing line(s)
  • target holders
  • backstop/impact area
  • downrange (safe) direction(s)
  • left/right range limits
  • firing points and firing line numbers
  • safety berms, walls, baffles
  • entry and exit routes
  • range flags or warning markers
  • first-aid kit
  • fire extinguishers

If you have trouble finding any of these items, seek a range safety officer (RSO) and ask.

Obey Range Safety Rules 
Most ranges have their own safety rules, which are usually posted. It is the responsibility of the shooter to:
  • know and obey all range safety rules
  • know where others are at all times
  • shoot only at authorized targets
  • stop shooting immediately if you have experienced an ammunition malfunction

Range Commands 
At many ranges, there are range personnel (usually one or more RSOs) who control range activities and can provide assistance to shooters when necessary. RSOs usually issue the following three basic range commands:
  • "Load" (shooters may load their firearms, but keep safeties on)
  • "Ready on the right, ready on the left? Commence firing" (shooters may take safeties off and fire in a safe direction)
  • "Cease fire" (shooters must IMMEDIATELY stop firing, take their trigger finger off the trigger, keep the gun pointed in a safe direction and unload, then wait for further instructions from the RSO)

Note that "cease fire" is a safety command that can and should be given by anyone who observes an unsafe situation. Also, all shooters must immediately stop firing when anyone gives the "cease fire" command. At many ranges, there may be additional commands to indicate to the shooters when the range is clear, or when shooters may go forward and change or mark their targets. Also, there are often special commands used in specific competitive shooting activities. 

Stay tuned for Part II next week!

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