Why It’s Crucial to Follow Range Rules

Range safety rules are established to keep everyone safe.photo from Windigo Images

It’s August, which means a lot of hunters are looking at their calendars and saying, “Oh my gosh, dove season starts in a month!” They next plan a trip to a gun club to warm up. For them, and for others who haven’t been to the range in a while, let me offer these safety reminders:

1. Remember shot size restrictions

Gun clubs require shot size 7½ or smaller. There is good reason for this. The only time I have ever been shot (although no blood was drawn) was at a club, now closed, where the last station on the sporting clays course overlooked the trap and skeet fields. It was far enough away that small shot wouldn’t carry, but a load of No. 4s did, and they stung. We were at the last station getting ready to shoot when everyone in my squad said “Ouch!” simultaneously, then looked at one another wondering what just happened. After we got hit a second time we figured it out, but by then the offending shooters were done with their round. I have also seen clueless newcomers annihilate skeet targets with 3-inch steel BBs. Yes, the breaks are impressive, but it’s not a safe practice. Big steel pellets can ricochet dangerously.

2. Wear eye and ear protection

You can do permanent damage to your ears shooting even just shooting 75 to 100 shells without plugs or muffs (I wear both). Glasses are important, too, and not just to guard against stray pellets. I have seen clay target shards gouge gun stocks and cut flesh. You don’t want a sharp chunk of target in the eye.

3. Don’t load your gun until you’re about to shoot

A lot of hunters walk up to the post or cage shoving shells into their guns as if the clay were going to launch any instant. Relax. The bird doesn’t go until you say “pull.” Don’t load your gun until you are in position and ready to shoot. Then, only load the number of shells you will shoot. I shot sporting clays with someone earlier this year who would fill his pump gun full of shells, but of course would then forget how many rounds he had left in the gun. Sometimes he left the cage with a shell in the gun, but mostly he would shoot at the first target, work the slide and his gun would go “click” on the second target. He would then put more shells in his gun and shoot the pair again. It was both annoying and unsafe. When I told him to load just two at a time, he looked at me blankly and kept on doing what he was doing.

4. Keep your muzzle pointed downrange

I have seen two accidental discharges at gun clubs. One was by a kid who had his finger on the trigger of a Model 12 when he closed the action. Model 12s have no disconnector, and will shoot if you do that. The other was by me, testing a new gun that had the unnerving habit of slam firing when you closed it, no matter where your trigger finger was. In both cases, the guns were pointed downrange and nothing bad happened, although I made an impressive divot in the ground when I did it.

To borrow a phrase from the TSA, if you see something, say something. Most new target shooters, unlike the moron who wouldn’t stop filling his gun with shells, will take gentle but firm correction to heart. It’s your job as an experienced shooter to help newcomers have a good, safe time at the club. After all, you were a clueless new shooter once too.