Hit the Range: A New Shooters Guide to Etiquette and Safety

Posted by Kippi Leatham

Mar 13, 2018 11:12:00 AM


New to shooting? Whether you're going with a friend to the range or taking a class, there are a few things you should understand before you take your first shots.  

Here are first-timer tips and best practices for firearm safety and range procedures.

Safety First - Safety Always 

The first and most important thing to learn as a first-time shooter is safety. There are four basic rules of firearm safety. Read them, understand them and always follow them. You don’t want to end up getting the "attention" of the range safety officers - or worse yet, booted off the range for not following the fundamental, universal safety rules. 

1. The Gun is Always Loaded

Always treat your gun as if it’s loaded and keep it pointed in a safe direction (more on that in rule number 2). Check - and double check - the condition of the gun BEFORE you continue with the task at hand. 

Check that the chamber is empty and there is no magazine inserted BEFORE you clean, disassemble, store, dry fire, or put the gun on a table to walk down range, etc. This important rule applies also when you are getting a gun out of storage, whether from a safe, range bag, gun case, etc.

Even if you’re positive the gun is not loaded, check again. You never want to have a negligent discharge and potentially injure someone because you “thought” the gun was unloaded.

2. Never Point The Gun At ANYTHING You're Not Prepared To Destroy

Muzzle direction is especially important, regardless of whether or not the gun is loaded or unloaded (and it's ALWAYS loaded, see rule #1). The muzzle must never point at any part of your own body, another person, family pet, or in any unsafe direction.  


Most ranges are designed with a common firing line. That means all shooters are standing in a line next to each other, parallel to the backstop, shooting at targets downrange. You are allowed very little muzzle movement right and left (laterally) because of the shooters next to you.

From the moment you pick up your gun or draw it from your holster, the muzzle should point straight downrange, parallel to the ground. The muzzle should never point up (toward the roof, light fixtures or sky) and it should never point down (toward your feet, shooting table or the ground/floor).  

When you finish shooting, keep the muzzle pointed downrange when UNLOADING the gun. Many right-handed shooters rotate the gun and muzzle to the left - pointing it at the person to their left - when unloading. Lefties do the opposite. Teach yourself to keep the muzzle STRAIGHT downrange. Rotate your body 90 degrees if you need additional leverage to unload the gun and/or lock the slide open.  

muzzle direction - not at the range

Want to show your best friend the new Range Officer® Elite you just purchased? You can easily do this when not at a live firing range. Here is the etiquette to follow:

  1. Create a dry-fire line - facing in a safe direction - perhaps behind a table, counter or workbench, pointed into a corner.
  2. Make sure none of your family members - or the dog and cat - will be walking in front of your dry-fire line (downrange).
  3. Take the gun out of the case, with the muzzle pointed downrange and your finger out of the trigger guard.
  4. Ensure the gun is unloaded (no magazine and an empty chamber).
  5. Lock the slide open so the empty chamber and empty mag well are visible to everyone.
  6. Hand the gun to your friend, keeping the muzzle pointed downrange with your finger out of the trigger guard.
  7. Continue to handle the gun as if it were loaded.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target

This is an extremely important safety rule to follow, but even many experienced gun owners put their finger on the trigger at the wrong time. This can unfortunately cause accidents. 

Remember, your finger should be on the trigger ONLY when you have fulfilled the following criteria:

  1. You are pointing the gun at the target.
  2. You have made the decision to shoot the target.

At all other times, there is absolutely no reason to have your finger on the trigger. Train yourself to keep your finger off the trigger (and out of the trigger guard) during ALL other times that you handle the gun, including:

  • When taking the gun out of a case, bag or safe. 
  • When picking the gun up from a table. 
  • When drawing the gun from a holster. 
  • When checking the status of the gun (loaded or unloaded). 
  • When loading or unloading the gun. 
  • When reloading the gun or changing a magazine 
  • When locking the slide back. 
  • When putting the gun down on a table or bench.
  • When holstering the gun.
  • When clearing a malfunction.
  • When placing a gun back into its case, bag or safe
  • When disassembling the gun.
  • When handing the gun to another.

If you develop a good trigger finger habit, you will hopefully never have a negligent discharge, firing the gun when you are not ready to shoot. That's a club you should want to belong to. #LifeMember 

Being aware of your finger position is one of the best "safeties" on your gun. If your finger is not on the trigger, the gun won't, can't or shouldn't discharge. 


It is our responsibility as shooters to know what we are shooting at, what is beyond our target and what is between our gun and the target. We call that "the line of sight."

  • TARGET - Always shoot at targets that are approved for the shooting range layout, and your gun and type of ammunition, i.e. paper, steel, clays, etc. Never shoot at glass or anything that could ricochet or leave dangerous remains on the ground.

  • BEYOND TARGET - Make sure you know what is beyond your target also, as the bullet doesn't typically remain in the target. At indoor ranges or outdoor ranges with berms and backstops, this is usually not a problem. But if you're not at one of these types of ranges, it's your responsibility to know what is in the area behind your target (for several miles possibly), as bullets can and do travel a long distance.

  • LINE OF SIGHT - It's imperative that there is nothing obstructing your line of sight. That means there shouldn't be any objects between your sight picture and your target.  

Follow these first-timer shooting tips to stay safe and have fun - whether you're at home or at the range. 

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Topics: Range Life

Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual.  These articles are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory®.

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