Gentleman's Guide to Old-School Gun Range Etiquette

Gentleman's Guide to Old-School Gun Range Etiquette

When's the last time you went to a public range and had a horrible day—not because your guns weren't cooperating, but because well-meaning idiots offered unsolicited coaching, handled your stuff without asking, asked questions or "corrected" your form when you were in the middle of shooting groups, or just plain made a nuisance of themselves? If you're a regular at the shooting range, I'll wager it happens to you all too often.

Not so very long ago, guns were regarded as something between tools and musical instruments, and a stranger wouldn't presume to correct one's shooting any more than they'd correct the way you use a crescent wrench or finger your fiddle during the schoolhouse jam session.

Don't get me wrong: There are lots of fine, respectful shooters that are a pleasure to share a range with. I've made some greatly valued acquaintances by sharing a mellow afternoon at the range with courteous gun people. But today, every well-meaning mall ninja wants to show off the tricks they picked up at the local tacticool academy, and even stump-sitting, tobacco-spitting handloaders will heave themselves off their seat if they figure there's something wrong with your ammo—and they're the ones to fix it for you. Trying to spend a peaceful day at the range can sometimes be akin to standing on a fire ant hill and hoping if you ignore them, they'll go away.

Recently some friends and I kicked around what we figure to be the most exasperating habits regularly exhibited by annoying range-goers. Here they are, along with are a few old-school gentlemanly tips to help you be the best range stranger you can be.


Don't Coach or Correct Strangers

Unless specifically requested, don't offer advice or attempt to correct a stranger at the range — no matter how sure you are that you can help him or her. As good friend and NRA editor Jeff Johnston put it, 'Unless a man points a gun directly at you, don't say a damn word about his shooting techniques or range habits unless he asks for tips. ' Over my decades of shooting, I've almost never received a quality unsolicited tip from a total stranger. Capable, accomplished shooters know how to behave like a gentleman at the range, and the techniques so eagerly pressed upon you by others are usually erroneous — and unwelcome to boot.

That doesn't mean that if a neophyte shooter — or even an old hand — notes your expertise and politely asks your advice that you should refuse it. Quite the opposite: Offer all requested help, but wait until rapport and mutual regard is established before proffering knowledge unasked.

Don't Hover Over Someone

There's nothing more annoying and distracting than feeling a stranger breathing down your neck — literally or figuratively — while attempting to shoot tiny groups or dust a tricky clay bird. This ill-mannered behavior usually precedes a harangue on why your shooting isn't better and how to fix it. Even if you're on a small, crowded range, stand back and give concentrating shooters some space. They don't need you examining them, their technique or their equipment while they shoot any more than they want the advice brimming on the edge of your lips.

Don't Pick Up a Stranger's Gun without Asking

This one would seem to be common sense, and anyone that would flat-out pick up a total stranger's gun should be thrown off the range. It goes a step further: Good shooters that adhere to old-school shooting etiquette won't pick up another shooter's firearm without asking — even if they've just been discussing it. Always break the ice — 'Beautiful rifle. Does she shoot as well as she looks? ' — and then if you desire to handle it, ask. Even if you're chewing over your best buddy's new toy, a polite 'May I? ' with a nod toward the firearm in question is suggested by classic courtesy.

Don't Help Women You Don't Know

Approaching a woman at the range and proffering advice, assistance or your company is a bad idea. Worse than that, it's positively unrefined. If they're there with family, friends or their significant other, none of them want you nosing into their shooting experience. More significantly, if a woman is alone at the range, she's alone there for a reason and can probably outshoot you. One of my writing mentors brought up this common, well meant but disagreeable range mistake. Though his wife is an incredibly accomplished hunter and marksman, I'm guessing that like many women she sometimes receives unwelcome attention while at the range testing a rifle or preparing for a hunt.

Watch Your Empties

A lot more semi-autos are being fired on the range these days than one would have seen even just a couple of decades ago — and semi-autos throw hot brass with every shot. As a result, more than one unsuspecting bystander has gained an unwanted burn tattoo under the collar. Be aware of where your empty brass lands, and if it is annoying a fellow shooter, apologize and either time your shooting to take place while he's reloading or cleaning, or rig something to block the brass. Some ranges have removable brass deflectors or screens that can be attached to the side of a shooting bench or prone position.

Brass Salvage Rights

Not that long ago, it was considered uncouth to leave empty brass cartridge cases scattered all over the range. Brass was valued as much — or even more — by handloaders back then, but there was a greater sense of both personal stewardship and personal property. Nobody would have even thought of picking your empties up along with their own and piling them in their range bag. Today, overeager shooters will sometimes do just that, and even range officers — who on some ranges are allowed to salvage and sell brass — sometimes get sour if you pick up all your brass.

That's not right. Empty brass is the property of he who created it. While 'policing ' up brass, keep your own and put your neighbor's on or near his shooting bench or position. A polite, 'Do you handload? ' will usually be answered with either a smile and affirmative thanks, or a suggestion that you take the brass if you wish.

Muzzle Brakes Don't Make Friends

If your shoulder-fired cannon is mounted with a brake that would do a field artillery piece credit, be mindful of your fellow shooters' hearing and give them a wide berth when setting up to shoot. It's easy to forget how deafening the sound and how jarring the blast of a really good, effective brake is when you're firing from the position least affected (right behind the rifle).

I know several shooters — especially big game guides — that trace the majority of their hearing loss to a heedless shot or two that some muzzle-brake-equipped shooting acquaintance or hunting client blasted off too close for safety. If you simply must shoot a big blasty Magnum — but aren't up to firing it without a muzzle brake — at least exercise a little old-fashioned courtesy and shoot it where it won't aggravate or cause irreparable physical damage to others.

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