Are you making these five common mistakes on the gun range? The reasons may surprise you!

As a firearms instructor, I’ve been on countless gun ranges whether it is an indoor or outdoor range, and I notice many of the same mistakes repeatedly. Would you believe that these mistakes are not always coming from beginners? In fact, most mistakes are from well-seasoned shooters who know better.

Although I could write for days on all of the mistakes seen at the range, I’m narrowing it down to the top contenders. If not corrected, these simple mistakes could create big problems later on. This list should not supersede the need for following basic rules of safe firearms handling.

  1. NOT DRESSED APPROPRIATELY
  2. LOADING THE WRONG AMMO
  3. EATING, DRINKING, CHEWING GUM ON THE FIRING LINE
  4. POOR PRACTICE
  5. LEAVING FIREARMS UNOCCUPIED
MISTAKE #1 NOT DRESSED APPROPRIATELY

Would you purposely go for a jog in jeans? Or go swimming in a suit? It’s not practical. The same goes for not dressing for the range. At best, you need closed-toe shoes, pants, and a high-collared shirt. A hat is helpful, and of course, you need “eyes and ears” (eye protection and hearing protection). Why? Because of the hot brass.

I’m generally fazed by little on the gun range, and brass is one. So, I am not always in “range gear” on my off time outside of teaching classes. Case in point: One day I was at the range on a Sunday afternoon in a sundress and wedges. That is my typical attire, and that is what I wore when shooting. Why? Because in a self-defense situation no intruder/attacker/threat is going to wait until I am properly outfitted for a gunfight. Keep in mind, on the range you still need to be outfitted where you can safely handle a firearm. Your shooting stance should be a solid, stable platform.

So, what does this mean for you? Dress appropriately to what is consistent in your normal clothing style, and then change it up. As your daily outfits vary so should your training wearing them. Do you wear suits during the workweek and relax in joggers or loungewear? Word of caution: if you are shooting at a public range, you’ll still have to adhere to some societal rules of public decency.

MISTAKE #2 LOADING THE WRONG AMMO

People load the wrong ammunition, or ammo, in countless ways. One way is literally attempting to load a cartridge that the firearm is not designated to fire. An example is shooting the pistol cartridge .380ACP through a traditional 9mm PARA. To be fair, depending on the manufacturer or brand, often both boxes have a big 9MM on the side of it – 9MM Court or Browning (9X17) which is the .380, and 9MM Parabellum or Luger (9X19). We’re talking about differences in millimeters! However, they are not the same cartridge. If you aren’t careful, you could potentially destroy your firearm or worse hurt yourself and others.

In traditional chambered rifle cartridges, an example is mistakenly interchanging 5.56 NATO and .223 REM. A 5.56 caliber rifle can shoot .223 but a .223 stamped rifle shouldn’t shoot a 5.56 through it. Note that these cartridges can be fired in both rifle and pistol platforms, but the cartridges themselves are traditional in rifle use.

Reading the owner’s manual is one of the smartest moves you can make. Many adhere to SAAMI specifications, which is an acronym in the firearms industry. The owner’s manual will also address how to load, unload, clear, clean, and even what ammo not to shoot. Standard rated ammo actually has a standard it must follow in production. +P ammo is more powerful, and most manufacturers will warn you that using this type of ammo may result in more frequent maintenance. +P+ can be volatile and it may be a mystery to what type of power or pressure you are dealing with and if you end up shooting ammo the manufacturer specifically said not to, you could void the gun’s lifetime warranty.

Then there’s hollow points, or defense rounds. This type of ammo should not be used on the range in centerfire cartridges except if you’re testing a few to see how they cycle through the gun, or if the ammo is deteriorating and you want to shoot it and get rid of it. Deteriorating hollow point ammo has signs of corrosion (a white or green ring around the bullet). Why? Defensive ammo costs more money. If ammo prices aren’t sky high enough already, this should make perfect sense.

For a list of common ammo questions, visit SAAMI.

MISTAKE #3 EATING, DRINKING, CHEWING GUM ON THE FIRING LINE

This is one of those “range rules” most ranges have so you only buy drinks from their vending machines. I’m kidding! This has nothing to do with sales, and everything to do with safety. Lead is a health hazard. It causes reproductive harm among other things, which is why indoor ranges should be well equipped with adequate ventilation. Outdoors the lead disperses differently in the open air but lead is still a concern. This is the sole reason why you should not eat, drink, or chew gum (or tobacco for that matter), while on the firing line, otherwise, you’re ingesting lead.

Additionally, post-range time you should wash your hands with cool water and soap. Some ranges even turn off the heated water but not as a means of cost-saving. Warm water will open the pores in your skin, which is why washing with cool water is recommended. Any soap will do, it does not have to be commercial grade or a lead-off type soap.

MISTAKE #4 POOR PRACTICE

What is poor practice? I’m not saying you’re a bad shot and your practice needs improvement. If you are going to the range to get better that is improvement. After all, practice makes almost perfect! What I am saying, is it is in poor practice to only do what you do well.

When you go to the range, once you have the fundamentals down (grip and stance, aiming, breath control, trigger control, and follow through), practice what makes people question your marksmanship. In other words, train for the unexpected.

If you are right-handed, shoot left-handed! One day on my lunch break (working in a corporate office), I went to grab a few dry goods from the grocery store. When I returned my shopping cart to the corral, I slipped and fell to the asphalt parking lot. My hand that broke my fall was quickly swelling and turning wild shades of black and blue. This real-life mishap caused pain and minor injury to my dominant shooting hand. By training to shoot left-handed, my shots weren’t perfect, and nowhere close to what shot placement looks from my right hand, but it was enough for me to know if and when I may ever have to use my non-dominant hand, I can.

Do you close an eye when shooting on the range? I do, and it’s my left eye that I close. As a right-handed shooter, this is called cross-dominate. Did you know under high stress (a self-defense situation) that closing an eye has been proven by the military and even NASA as physically impossible? So why close your eye in a controlled environment (no threat/training on range) when in a high-stress situation, you won’t be able to? Train to keep both eyes open.

Train outside of the box. If you only rely on a stationary target on a target stand or one on a pully that slides different distances you aren’t helping yourself. Real threats are moving, and you need to shoot on the move, too. Locate action ranges where you can shoot seated, from a vehicle, on the ground, from behind cover, and so on.

MISTAKE #5 LEAVING FIREARMS UNOCCUPIED

Why does this happen so frequently! People drive off and leave their guns at the range. It happens way too often than it should. If you have trouble remembering to pack up your guns at the gun range what on earth is it like carrying and leaving a firearm at inopportune places, like a public bathroom? The point is, you need to keep your firearms within reach or safely locked away. Then, routinely ensure they are where they are supposed to be – not left behind, lost, or stolen.

A principle that works for me is if my firearm is not physically on my person, then it is housed in my safe. I never ever leave a firearm out in the open, unattended, unoccupied, or out of reach. When it’s placed in my safe, I still want the peace of mind that I can quickly access it if and when a need should arise.

SecureIt has revolutionized modern gun storage with a full line of gun storage options. I especially like the Fast Box, which can be set horizontally or vertically with an amazing accessory bundle. This safe comes with pre-drilled holes that allow for mounting under your bed, in a closet, other strategic locations in your home, or even in your vehicle.

You can never be too safe on a gun range.

I hope you have found these tips helpful. Now that the five common mistakes on the gun range are explained, what’s next? Perhaps there are some changes you might consider in your training techniques. Or maybe you decide to search for unique training options and other challenging courses. Don’t forget to store your guns properly post range. Stay safe!

Written By: Emily Pritt