I have been involved in various forms of pistol matches since I began competing back in 1986. It has had its ups and downs, but I wanted to be a part of something and I wanted to stay involved. That has paid off in the form of my current job for the past few years. I work for a gun manufacturer and travel around the country with my colleagues setting up and administering simple competitions geared toward bringing new shooters a taste of competitive shooting.
This post is to give those of you who haven’t been out to the local range a bit of instruction to help you safely on your way. If you remember these rules of gun safety, and abide by them, you will never have an accident involving a firearm. If you break any of these rules, the consequences could be tragic.
Rule #1. The Gun is ALWAYS Loaded. This rule means that you ALWAYS treat every gun (even those you KNOW are unloaded) as if it is still loaded.
Rule #2. Never point the muzzle at anything you are not willing to destroy. The muzzle (that’s the end of the barrel, where the bullet comes out) should always be pointed in a safe direction – not at any part of your body, or at the wall or anywhere else that would be a problem if the gun went off. Walls will not stop bullets. Remember that when you are in your apartment or home. Remember that bullets travel pretty far.
Rule #3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. The gun will not go off by itself – I don’t care what any of the antigunners would have you believe! You have to put your finger on the trigger to fire the gun. If you practice keeping your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot, you will never have a problem.
Rule #4 – Be aware of your target and what is behind it. Again, bullets travel surprisingly long distances and can penetrate many materials.
This really happened: Once upon a time, a local gunsmith had just finished a very nice trigger job on a revolver. He was in the store area of the shop and, making sure the gun was not loaded, snapped the trigger a few times with the revolver pointed above the shop door. Satisfied, he set the revolver down and went to help a customer. Unknown to him, someone came over and loaded the gun and set it back down. The gunsmith finished what he was doing and came back to admire the trigger job one more time. He pointed the gun at the sign over the door just as a new customer was coming in. The gun went off. The customer didn’t say anything, but turned around and went back out the door. The gunsmith, surprised by the loud bang, bit the pipe in his mouth in two pieces. There was no word on the condition of his pants!
Additional things to be aware of when visiting your local range:
Don’t climb on the berms or allow your children to climb on them. People can get shot.
Always wear eye and ear protection while at the range. You only get one pair of each, so make sure they are protected.
If you are on a shared firing line (where you have other people to the right and/or left of you and you are all shooting), watch out for yourself and your neighbors. NEVER go downrange to check or replace your target until all shooters have stopped firing and have made their guns safe. A “safe” gun means that the gun is unloaded and has either been placed in a container like a box, bag or case, or the gun is unloaded with the chamber locked open and is lying on the bench or table at the firing line. Shooters may NOT touch their guns (even empty ones – see Rule #1) while ANYONE is downrange. If you are the only one who seems to want to go downrange, you politely let your neighbor(s) know and wait until the above conditions are met.
When clearing your gun on a shared firing line, be sure to keep the muzzle pointed downrange at the backstop. Do NOT point it at any part of your body. Do NOT point it toward the side, because that is where your neighbor is standing!
If you see someone doing anything that is unsafe, be polite but tell them firmly to stop the unsafe action. If they don’t stop or become belligerent, leave the area at once and go tell the person in charge of the range. If there is no one in authority at the range, leave the range and make sure the range manager is notified.
If you are at a range that has individual pits and you have one to yourself, make sure you are shooting completely within the berms of the pit. Your target placement, especially the height, should be made carefully to avoid bullets hitting the floor of the pit and skipping outside the berms. Make sure your fired shots hit ONLY the back and/or sides of the berms. Where you stand to shoot your targets can be an important factor in keeping all the shots contained within the pit.
Last, but not least, clean up after yourself. If you bring it in, either take it back home or throw it into a trash container.
A simple practice exercise: If your range has target stands and stakes available, bring a cardboard backer and staple it between the stakes. Some of the best and least costly targets you can buy are 6-inch white paper plates. Staple a couple of those to the cardboard backer and start off placing it about 7 feet away from you. Shoot at it six times. If all your shots are within the paper plate, move back a few feet and do it again. If any of the shots (yes, even one of them) are not within the paper plate, slow it down a little and try again. You can repeat this until you are tired or run out of ammo, but always try to end your practice session on a positive note.
What happened to all my target stakes?: We had been trying to figure out for the past couple of months why our target stakes never seemed to last us much beyond a couple of weeks. They would get all splintered and look like Swiss cheese from the bullet holes. I wondered who was such a poor shot that he or she kept hitting the stakes instead of the target. Well, I just happened to be at the range one Saturday morning to pick up a couple of things, and in driving around, I discovered a family of four in a pit practicing their shooting. They had taken a target stand and two stakes (with no backer) and stapled up four paper plates on each stake to use as targets. Mystery solved!
Until next time, stay safe on the range.