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Shooting at an Outdoor Gun Range: What to Expect
The Typical Experience at a Public Range
Our local manned outdoor gun range is run by the state Department of Conservation. Shooting is available five days a week (closed Sundays and Mondays), and the cost is $3 per hour. First come first serve. The first rule of the range is safety, and the second is respect for both firearms and safety, and everything about the experience is strictly controlled and ritualized. The range master calls a cease-fire every 15 minutes. You must unload your weapon, open its chamber and/or pop the mag out, put it in a wooden rack, nose up, for inspection, get out of the booth and wait, along with everyone else there, until the range officer checks every booth and weapon and the range master says shooting may commence. If this bothers you, don't go, because most public manned outdoor shooting ranges operate like this. A privately-owned indoor or outdoor shooting range allows you more liberty.
Long before you approach the office to check in, you will hear what sounds like a war and will want to put on your hearing protection. If you have no hearing protection with you, you can get plastic ear plugs at the check-in for $1. At our range we stop at the check-in window and give our names and pay $3 in advance for the first hour. The range office's huge picture window has a view of the shooting booths and the range, and it's equipped with a sound system so the range master can yell "Cease fire!" and "No rapid firing! At least three seconds between shots!" You can bring handguns of all sizes. Automatic weapons are not allowed, and if you want to practice with a shotgun there is a separate skeet range for that, charging a very reasonable $3 for 25 skeets.
The check-in officer assigns you a numbered booth in what looks like a stable with 20 numbered stalls. When you are allowed to, you unhook the chain across your booth and enter it.
Our range has 20 wooden shooting booths, each roofed and canopied so you could target-shoot on a rainy day if you wanted, each booth with a capacity of two people. The view is like a strange, low-ceilinged kind of racquetball court, but all concrete with an open top, and it goes way way back into the side of an artificial hill. Two-legged target stands, one for each booth, fit into slots measured at 7 yards, 10 yards, 15 yards, and all the way up to 50 yards away. You do not bring your own targets; you use only their paper targets, and there's only one kind.
Respecting the Power of Firearms
You may shoot sitting or standing. On-site range officers make sure there's no horseplay. If you are trained in firearms handling, you know the rules, and they are strictly enforced on the range:
- Your weapon must always be pointed in a safe direction.
- Load only when you plan to shoot, and apply your finger to the trigger only when you are aimed and ready to fire.
- Respect the power of firearms. This is not the movies.
- Have fun, but no horsing around. Lives are at stake; they really are.
Every 15 minutes a cease-fire is called and you must stop shooting at once, unload, open your weapon and put it in a rack and let go of it. Then you step out of the booth and replace the chain across its entry. All weapons in the racks are then inspected by the range officers. Only then is the range part opened so people may enter it to move or change their targets.
If you don't want to change your target right then, you just wait. When the range is clear, and only then, people are allowed back into their booths to resume loading and shooting.
If people are waiting in line at the office, those who have been shooting for a while are asked to leave so the new arrivals can have a turn. The range master can order you out if he or she thinks you have been there long enough.
When leaving, you must sweep up your booth and dump your shells in the range's special shell container, and chuck your paper targets into another container.
Use their special wet wipes to get some of the lead and powder off your hands and eye protection. There is so much drifting gunsmoke at an outdoor shooting range you breathe it and get drenched in lead and powder even if you can't see it. I have been taught that when I get home I should immediately remove my clothes, wash myself thoroughly in cold water (hot water encourages lead to leach into your skin), and wash the clothes before wearing them again.
In short, the manned shooting range is a very serious place and extremely regimented. It takes time to get used to the rhythm of it. Despite the rules you can still get a good amount of shooting in. The regimentation has its reasons, as you will understand if you see something scary like two teenage jerks laughing and elbowing each other and getting into the next booth with .45s and ammo.