Guide to public shooting ranges

Guide to public shooting ranges

David Sparks Ph.D.
David Sparks Ph.D.
First-time visitors shouldn't be intimidated to visit a Fish and Game range and enjoy a day of shooting. Visiting a supervised shooting range for the first time can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Shooting ranges are designed for safe firearms practice for shooters of all abilities, and they can be a great place for beginners to learn more about responsible, safe shooting.

Most of the anxiety that first-time range-goers feel stems from uncertainty. There is also the added pressure of shooting in front of more experienced firearms handlers, which can make an inexperienced shooter feel intimidated.

By learning more about how public shooting ranges work, you can put a lot of that anxiety to rest. If you are a responsible and safe firearm handler, have good range etiquette, and follow the range rules, more experienced shooters shouldn’t intimidate you. In fact, many veteran shooters will be happy to offer help or advice if you ask them for it.

While every shooting range is a little different, this general guide provides the basics, and will hopefully make you more confident during your first trip to a public shooting range and make it safe and enjoyable. 

Before you go

Know the shooting safety fundamentals

Before heading out to a public shooting range, you absolutely need to know the basics of gun safety. If you’ve taken a Hunter Education course in Idaho, which covers firearm safety extensively, you should already have a good handle on this, but it doesn’t hurt to review the “Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety” again:

Watch that muzzle! Keep it pointed in a safe direction. At the shooting range, that’s toward the sky or downrange.

Treat every firearm with the respect due a loaded gun.

Be sure of the target and what is in front of it and beyond it.

Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.

Safely check your barrel and ammunition for obstructions.

Unload firearms when not in use.

Point a firearm only at something you intend to shoot.

Don’t run, jump or climb with a loaded firearm.

Store firearms and ammunition separately and safely.

Avoid alcoholic beverages before and during shooting.

If you haven’t taken a Hunter Education Course yet, there is no time like the present. You can sign up for one here.

Learn the language

At supervised public ranges, the person responsible for ensuring that firearm safety rules are followed is known as the "range master." Following their rules and directions keeps everyone safe, so it's important to know some of the common commands they will give and phrases they might use:

Commence firing: Firing may begin as soon as the shooter is ready.

Ceasefire: This command means to stop shooting immediately, unload your weapon, remove the magazine and leave the chamber open, set it on the shooting bench, and step back from the firing line. There should be no handling of firearms during a ceasefire.

Firing line: A line parallel to the targets, from behind which firearms are discharged.

The range is open (or hot): Shooting is taking place, and no one is allowed beyond the firing line.

The range is closed (or cold): All shooters have ceased firing, have made safe and moved away from their firearms, and shooters can now move forward of the firing line to set up or check targets.

Research the range

Each range is a little bit different, and you need to know the specific rules, restrictions, and procedures for the range where you plan to shoot. For many ranges, you can find the rules online prior to your visit, including those owned or managed by Idaho Fish and Game: Farragut Public Shooting Range, Nampa Public Shooting Range, and Black's Creek Public Shooting Range. Make sure to find out if targets are provided, or are available for purchase at the range, otherwise, you'll need to bring your own.

Ask an experienced shooter to tag along

Whether it's a friend or a family member,  ask someone who has experience shooting at public ranges to join you. Having someone you know show you the ropes will make you feel more comfortable.

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