During hunting season, shooting ranges are normally packed with hunters practicing, doing final preparation and load development. While the accreditation requirements for shooting ranges brought additional administrative procedures, it also made ranges inherently safer than twenty years ago.
However, the human factor remains a critical aspect of range safety. Organized shooting days at your local club or hunting association are usually just that – well organized – with qualified range officers (ROs) and RO assistants taking charge of pre-planned shooting exercises. These events normally run smoothly as the members are familiar with the program and know what to expect. But venturing to a new shooting range, or a new event, can be a different kettle of fish.
Most, if not all, accredited shooting ranges have an assistant or caretaker that collects fees, sees to it that the attendance register is signed by the shooters and that range procedures are followed. Sometimes however, this is lacking or not adhered to, and then it is up to the shooters to organize and control the firing point. It’s here that the potential for mishaps is greatest. Not all hunters and shooters are experienced in sharing a range and things can go wrong in the blink of an eye. Even with supervision, a few basic rules and practical guidelines must always be followed.
On your arrival at the range, others may already be engaged in a shooting session. If the range is SAFE, i.e. other shooters are inspecting targets or are forward of the firing line, keep your firearm in its bag or holster and wait until the range is CLOSED before unpacking. During an organized shoot, this will be a verbal instruction from the RO. During an informal shoot, this will probably be omitted; it is assumed that you will know not to unbag your firearm until the range is closed.
No-one may handle a firearm while anyone is forward of the firing line – no adjusting of scopes, removal of bolts, inspections, cleaning of bores or any other action that involves touching the firearm. Do not even insert a firearm into its bag or case, or remove it. The first rule of gun safety is to treat all firearms as if loaded – if nothing is touched, nothing can go wrong. Usually, but not always, there are experienced shooters present who take charge unofficially, and will direct operations and declare the range status. This is absolutely essential for range safety – comply with it, but use your head – if the person doesn’t know what is required or gives vague or ambiguous commands it can create an unsafe situation. I once heard a range declared ‘Okay’. Okay to fire, or okay, it is safe? I always observe and get confirmation from every shooter on the line that they have heard the command and that all are in agreement. If the actions of fellow shooters make you uneasy, I suggest you retreat and wait until they have left.
Arriving without targets, stickers or other equipment and then borrowing these from fellow shooters will not endear you to them, so, come fully equipped. I have often politely refused when asked to share my target with someone – when testing loads I’m unwilling to risk his misaiming and messing up my group.
Usually, each firing session is ten to fifteen minutes long – enough time to shoot your group or two, or get the scope on target. Unless all agree that more time is needed, this time limit is adhered to as a courtesy to fellow shooters who want to check their targets and put up new ones.
Read the full article in the October 2019 issue of Magnum.