Even if you’ve never played golf, you probably know that it’s not good form to drive your Chevy Suburban onto the green or paint your chest to root for your favorite Senior PGA Tour player. I’m not sure that either of those activities is outright prohibited in the United States Golf Association rule book, but if you do either of them, you probably won’t be welcomed for cocktail hour at the 19th hole.

As with most things, there are expected etiquette rules that apply at shooting ranges. In other words, you can follow the letter of the law with rules and procedures and still be a rotten range neighbor.

The hard part about shooting range etiquette is that Emily Post never, at least to my knowledge, published a Shooting Range Manners Guide. No worries, we’re here to help.

Here are five things you can put into practice to be a thoroughly genteel shooting range colleague:

It’s always a good idea to leave whatever guns aren’t in use pointed down range with the actions clearly open.
It’s always a good idea to leave whatever guns aren’t in use pointed down range with the actions clearly open.author photo

1. Be a Drama Queen

You know how morning talk show hosts are so overly peppy and effusive? That’s because if they act normal, then it comes across on television as blasé and sleepy. Same with stage actors. When you’re doing something on television or at a distance, some exaggeration is required to get your point across.

Here’s what I mean: Being safe is great. Making it really obvious to others that you’re being safe gets you points in the mega-bonus round and helps everyone around you relax. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • When you're not using a gun, keep it on the table with the action open and the muzzle pointed down range. For extra credit, stick a chamber flag in the action.
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  • When the range is cold, don't go near the shooting table. Step several feet away so that people down range can see that you're not anywhere near your guns. You may know you're being safe, but others can't necessarily see that. Use the time to step away and socialize with other shooters or to work on your one-handed texting skills.

  • Don't carry around uncased guns. When moving guns to and from the firing line, uncase them there and re-case them before leaving the line. Other shooters tend to get nervous when folks are coming and going behind them waving guns around.

In short, just try to do things in such a way that people down the line can easily see you’re being safe, and don't have to assume.

2. Watch Your (Br)ass

You should expect to get hit with some hot flying brass, especially at an indoor range where spent casings tend to bounce around a bit.
You should expect to get hit with some hot flying brass, especially at an indoor range where spent casings tend to bounce around a bit.web photo

If you’re shooting a semi-automatic pistol or rifle, then empty brass cartridge casings are going to fly somewhere off to your side. They leave the ejection port at Warp 312 and carry an ambient temperature 17 times hotter than the sun. Or at least that’s how it feels when one goes down your shirt.

When we go to the range, expect stuff like this and dress accordingly. It's also one of the many reasons we wear eye protection.

It's not a bad idea to wear shirts with a tight collar and not to wear flip flops or sandals on the feet. In case you were wondering, the tops of my feet are particularly sensitive to molten metal. Don’t ask me how I know.

When it comes to ejected brass from your gun, you don’t technically have to worry about where it's flying, because it’s up to all of us to protect ourselves against it. However, if you want to be extra polite to your neighbor on the right (with most guns) then take notice of where each gun is ejecting shells. If every one of your casings is hitting them square in the head, see if you can shift left a bit or otherwise adjust your position a hair so they stop nailing your next-door neighbor in the schnoz.

3. Give Your Neighbors the Finger

Good trigger finger discipline is not only safe, it’s polite. Keeping your finger like this when you’re not actively shooting signals your safety habits to other shooters on the line.
Good trigger finger discipline is not only safe, it’s polite. Keeping your finger like this when you’re not actively shooting signals your safety habits to other shooters on the line.author photo

Yes, we've all heard eleventy-trillion times how important it is to keep our fingers off the trigger until ready to fire. It's so important that it made the Billboard Top Four Chart of gun safety rules.

However, every single time I go to the range, without exception, there’s at least one shooter waving a gun around with their finger on the trigger. In this day and age of texting and SnapChat, there’s no excuse not to get the word out to everyone about how disturbing it is to others nearby when one is handling a gun with their trigger finger firmly inside the trigger guard.

Whenever you're not inside the half-a-second of firing a shot, make sure your trigger finger is outside the trigger guard and laying alongside the frame of your gun. Rifle, handgun, shotgun - it doesn’t matter. Let everyone nearby clearly see that you’re practicing safe trigger finger discipline. This should be so ingrained that your hand does it when you pick up a bottle of Windex.

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4. Celebrate, but With Modest Enthusiasm

We all get pretty jazzed up when nailing a perfect shot far down range. The natural instinct is to high-five our range buddies and break out the YooHoo. Just remember that you’re holding a gun before you turn around to show everyone the results of your superior shot. Why? You’ve still got a gun in your hand!

Like the trigger finger, this is one that largely self-corrects with repetition. If you focus on keeping the gun pointed at the target, always, you’ll soon find yourself doing things like turning your head around without moving the gun from a safe direction without even thinking about it. I’ve seen competitive shooters trip to the point of falling head over heels without the gun muzzle moving in an unsafe direction. It can become that much of a subconscious habit if you practice.

It’s always considerate to do as much target setup as possible before the range goes cold so people aren’t waiting on your to build your target array.
It’s always considerate to do as much target setup as possible before the range goes cold so people aren’t waiting on your to build your target array.author photo

5. Take Your Time with Targets, Quickly

When shooting at ranges where you have to go down range to set and change targets, take advantage of “hot range” time to get everything ready to go. No one can resume shooting until everyone has finished the process of setting, changing, or removing targets. That means everyone’s fun is dependent on the slowest and most leisurely group present. While not required, it’s good manners to prepare things before you go down range.

Make sure your stapler is full and go ahead and put targets on backers or whatever else you need to do back at your range bag. If you want to inspect your groups carefully, peel the target off and take it back to the line so that everyone can resume shooting while you take glamour photos. You don’t need to rush to the point of being unsafe, just be aware that everyone else waits on the slowest person. At some ranges, a Range Officer on a bullhorn will loudly and publicly remind you that you're holding up the works.

Those around you will appreciate your knowledge, courtesy, and safety. Who knows? The life you save with good manners may be your own.