Back in college I tried to impress a girl by taking her shooting. I grew up in the country, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to forego the public range and take her to a little pond outside of town where I had permission to fish. This way I’d get away from the nerve-wracking stares of range officers and the constant barrage of gunfire, so I could explain techniques without yelling and have fun shooting guns in a more relaxed setting. Trouble was, the weeds were high and she screamed as she noticed a tick crawling up her leg. We hadn’t fired but a few shots when the rancher who leased the land for grazing raced over in his F150 to cuss me out for “shooting at his cattle.”
It was a bona fide date disaster.
If you want to shoot on your own, by yourself, or with a friend or two—or especially if you’re introducing someone to the shooting sports—it’s imperative that you plan ahead. Here are eight rules of shooting at a do-it-yourself range, all of which I learned the hard way.
1. Choose your spot wisely.
If it’s not your land, make doubly sure you have permission to shoot on the property. Ask the landowner if the neighbors should be informed of your shooting—you don’t want someone who’s unaware of your pre-July 4th fireworks calling the authorities. Make sure that whatever backstop you’ll be relying on to contain bullets that pass through or miss your target is tall and safe.
Also consider where the sun will be at the time you plan to shoot, so you don’t shoot with it in your eyes. Set up in the shade of trees or in a barn awning if possible. Bring a portable shade screen if you must.
Finally, consider any natural obstacles that could prevent a first-timer from enjoying the experience. If the grass is too high, mow or weed-eat it a day or two beforehand. As I learned, a tick crawling up someone’s leg while she’s trying to shoot your Taurus for the first time has a negative effect.
2. Buy or build a quality target stand.
A couple years ago I went to the field with promises of teaching my girlfriend how to shoot a rifle at 100 yards. I set a beer can on a fence post, but before I could walk the 100 yards back to the bench, the Oklahoma wind did what it does best: blow it all the way to Texas.
Birchwood Casey’s Sharpshooter target kit, which contains a target stand and frame, backer board and a variety of targets, costs $12.70 and is worth every penny. If you’re handy, you can make your own target stands.
3. Bring the right targets.
You can use paper targets, of course, or even cheap paper plates. Make sure to bring a staple gun and extra staples. Or, you can buy adhesive backed targets. Bring a felt pen to mark targets and tape to repair torn ones. But do consider bringing some cans, old fruit, or clay pigeons to shoot. These reactionary targets are 10 times more fun than shooting paper. Shoot-N-See Targets from Birchwood Casey also let you see hits. Champion has a variety of adhesive and interactive targets, including those with pictures of zombies, if you’re so inclined.
4. Bring a folding table.
This will help you establish a shooting line and give you a place to rest your guns, ammo, targets, and other gear.
5. Make a list of everything you need, and check it.
Once I took the day off and drove to the field with a date only to find out I’d forgotten the magazines to my Ruger Mark II. We wound up eating chicken strips from a quick-stop and discussed at length what an idiot I was for not bringing the magazines.
6. Bring plenty of water.
Like all things in life, shooting is better when no one dies from dehydration. Bring a cooler with water or drinks, and a clean towel. When the shooting is over, you can wash your hands and faces with the cool water. The ride home will be much more enjoyable.
7. Bring several types of eye and ear protection.
Safety is foremost. Cheap foam earplugs work fine—and are even desirable on hot days—so bring multiple sets. Polycarbonate sunglasses suffice for shooting glasses, but don’t count on your shooting partner to bring them. Keep an extra pair on hand.
8. Bring fun guns.
Unlike the public range where you should keep things simple and easy to carry by choosing one or two handguns, this is the time to bring a few guns—maybe even a .22 rifle and a mild-recoiling shotgun, such as a semiautomatic 20-gauge—to show a first-timer how much fun shooting is. Give your guest a refresher on basic safety if he or she needs it, shoot a few paper targets to work on the fundamentals, and then blast a few clay pigeons or oranges into smithereens. Keep it light and have fun. If you do all this right, you may end up recruiting a new shooter into the fold.