Taking Your First Trip To The Gun Range: What Do You Need To Do?

After I posted on Twitter about heading to the NRA Range and “showing these boys up”, I had several of my fellow tweeters PM me asking what they need to do to go to the range. What better way to answer than doing a post!?

First, just because you’ve purchased a gun DOES NOT mean you should just head on down to the range and go crazy. This is how a lot of people can get hurt. There are a lot of things that play into having a safe and successful trip. In order to make sure there are no accidents, take a safety course. I took NRA’s First Steps Pistol and it was great. It is 4 hours total (3 hours in class and 1 hour at the range). I HIGHLY recommend this because then you’ll have an experienced instructor guiding you the whole time.

With or without an instructor, your first trip to the range can be quite intimidating, especially if you have a competitive edge like me. But also because most people aren’t used to hearing repetitive gun shots going off 5 feet from them. When you’re trying to focus on your target and you hear another shot fired, it’s a bit distracting. Don’t worry though, you’ll get used to it. 

Before I get started, ladies, this tip is for you. Dress normally. You may want to go to the range and impress your significant other with short shorts or a low cut top, well I’m telling you right now that is a bad idea. That cute little v-neck that we all love to wear can turn into a torture device really quick. Having that scorching hot brass casing fly out of your gun and down your shirt doesn’t sound like much fun to me. So, that being said, wear a t-shirt, jeans, and closed-toed shoes.

Now to the main points of this post. What do you need to do to go to a gun range?

1. Bring your gun, ammo, and protective gear (eye and ear). Remember that your gun must be UNLOADED when walking into any range. Most ranges even prefer that the ammo is in a separate casing than the gun (I’ve only been to 1 that didn’t and it struck me as odd). If you don’t have a gun, some ranges have rentals that you can use. This is also a good tool if you’re looking to purchase a gun and would like to shoot before you buy.

2. Walk up to the counter and let them know you would like to sign in. At each range, they will have a list of rules that you must read through and sign off that you will obey. If you go to an NRA range, you will have to take a test with about 30 questions to make sure you understand these rules. If you don’t pass, you don’t get to shoot. These rules are in place for your safety as well as other’s. If you don’t want to follow them, then shooting isn’t for you. It’s YOUR responsibility to learn and abide by the rules. It is not the range officer’s job to remind you and they are very intolerant of people who don’t follow them. If you don’t want to be banned or possibly arrested/fined, then follow the rules. If you have any questions, ask them! Preferably ask them before you line up to shoot. 

Here is a copy of the NRA range rules just in case you wanted an example. Some are more picky and some are less, either way you have to follow the rules of the range that you are at. 

3- Keep your gun UNLOADED and in it’s case until you reach your lane. If you don’t have a gun case, then don’t go. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy either. The case that came with your gun when you purchased it is just fine, but do not BY ANY MEANS, just walk in with a gun in your hand. And just to re-emphasize, DO NOT BRING A LOADED GUN INTO THE RANGE. Check, then check again, and then check it once more. 

4. Once you passed the test/signed your waiver, BEFORE you walk through the doors, put on your ear and eye protection. If you don’t have any then ask they front desk if you can rent some. Although, I would recommend purchasing your own. The loaners aren’t that great and they’re uncomfortable from being stretched and squished by other shooters. Purchase your own pair. You really should anyways. And please don’t be THAT person who doesn’t want to wear protective gear (most ranges won’t let you through without it anyways). 

5. Now it is time to walk through the doors. Most ranges will have a door specifically for entrance and one for exit. If you try to exit using a door that is specifically labeled for entry, you will most likely get in quite a bit of trouble. So lesson here, just use the right door. This isn’t Wal-Mart people! 😉


6. Now for the fun part! Set your stuff down on an empty bay and begin to unpack. Remember to keep your gun pointed down-range the entire time, EVEN when it is in it’s case. If you don’t know what “down-range” means, it means the far side of the lane in which everyone is shooting. Somewhere around the lanes, you will find a table with cardboard and staple guns for your targets. Don’t worry about leaving your personal belongings on your bay. It’s amazing how trustworthy people are in a room full of gun owners. For hanging your target, always pin/staple it to where your bulls-eye (or wherever you are aiming) is at eye level. This is so that if you shoot “low”, your bullet won’t hit the floor and possibly ricochet. Once you have put up your target, select the distance you would like to start at. I would recommend starting at 5 yards (if you’re a beginner). Don’t worry, you can always push it back further once you’ve acclimated yourself to the range and your gun. 

7. Once you’ve set up, notice the red line in front of your table. Always assume that line is “HOT”. DO NOT step over that line. EVER. If you drop your gun or your phone or $1,000,000, I don’t care. Call the range officer over and he/she will take care of it. If you pass over this line, there is a very high chance that you will get shot. And while we are on the subject of dropping things, NEVER try to catch anything that you’ve dropped. Just LET IT FALL. I have heard horrific stories of people trying to catch their gun and grabbing the trigger by mistake. If you need to pick something up, unload your gun, place it on it’s side pointing down-range, check to make sure your item is not over the firing line (“HOT” line), and THEN you can pick it up. Once again, DO NOT try to catch something as it falls and DO NOT bend down to pick something up with a loaded gun (or unloaded gun) in hand. 

8. Always, always, ALWAYS listen to the Range Officer. If they say you’re doing something wrong, then it doesn’t matter if you disagree. Their job is to keep everyone in that range safe. If they make a mistake or don’t watch someone closely enough, it is possible that someone could die, so swallow your pride and just do what they say. If they yell CEASE FIRE, stop shooting IMMEDIATELY, take your finger off the trigger, and DO NOT SHOOT. Wait for further instructions from the range officer. Some ranges even insist that you drop your mag, pull back your slide, and lay your firearm on the table pointing down-range. Like I said earlier, it all depends on the range and what rules they have in place. 

9. Once you have finished, clean up after yourself. It is extremely rude to leave your targets, trash, and brass casings everywhere and very inconvenient for the next shooter. Most ranges have this listed as a rule and will have brooms for you to use. 

NRA Women’s Only First Steps Pistol Course

As I mentioned in my first post, I signed up for a NRA gun safety course called Women’s Only First Steps Pistol. 

Before going to the range to shoot or purchasing a gun, I wanted to make sure that I learned the proper steps to ensure that I use the weapon safely and correctly. After coming to the realization that I had absolutely no idea what to do if ever handed a gun, I immediately started googling. It wasn’t long into my search that I found a women’s only safety course that was taught at a location not too far from me called Virginia Gun Safety.

Registering for the course was easy and took less than 5 minutes. There was also a very detailed description on their website that told me exactly what to expect from the course. The course was to be conducted into 2 parts; classroom time and range time. Since my course has 2 parts, so will my blog post. After all, I’m sure they had a good reason not to shove it all at me at one time so I won’t do that to you. 


PART ONE: The Classroom

I left work a couple of hours early yesterday to make sure that even with the horrors known as DC traffic, I could still make it in time for the course. I arrived to the training academy about 30 minutes early and went on inside. I was immediately greeted by a couple of guys who were very friendly and inviting. As I enter the lecture room, I noticed only one other name tag on the table. Turns out not many people take advantage of the weekday courses. I had no issue with this. All this meant to me was that I could get more one on one time if needed. 

After the second girl showed up, we went ahead and started learning the basic rules of gun safety:

1) Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction

2) Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot

3) Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use

(Note that “use” and “shoot” are two different terminologies. Ready to shoot means you are ready to take a shot at your target. Ready to use means that the gun is loaded and will be ready to fire at any time)


Next we went into the parts of the gun and how to check if it is unloaded. First of all, NEVER assume a gun is unloaded. Check, double check, and check again. Make sure the magazine is released and the chamber is empty, preferably by locking the slide and checking the barrel. If you are unsure of the terminology I am using, I will be doing a video once I purchase my handgun to show the different parts of the gun. 

Now it was time for our “practical”. Before we entered the next room, we were told to practice safe habits by “letting it fall” if anything was dropped. The other student and myself were a little curious about the reasoning behind this. Your instinct when something falls is to either catch it or pick it up right away. When it comes to guns, that is not the case and can be very dangerous. When we both agreed that we wouldn’t pick anything up if we dropped it, we were able to go to the next room. 

In the practical room, we were taught to pull and lock the slide back, load/unload the magazine, and the correct ways to check if a gun is loaded. This was extremely helpful to me and gave me the opportunity for some hands-on learning before actually having to shoot. In this case, I did not feel that I was being “fed to the wolves”. After practicing this a couple of times and taking some constructive direction, we were then redirected back to the lecture room. 

We then entered the last stretch of the lecture which covered bullets, pistol shooting, and gun maintenance/cleaning. 

All in all, walking away from this class I felt very well educated and ready for the range time the following day. The instructors at Virginia Gun Safety were very conscientious about going at our own pace and answering any questions we had. They took the time to go into depth as to why certain things are done the way they are done. 

I would definitely recommend taking this course, especially as a woman. The only recommendations I would give the NRA for a “women’s only” course is to go a little bit into protecting yourself as a woman. When men get in an altercation, their attacker is usually in front of them whereas a woman’s attacker normally comes from behind. Briefly going into the basics of this may make this course seem a little more specialized for women.

Have you ever taken a women’s only safety course before? If you’re a man, what courses have you taken that you would recommend?

Tomorrow I will be writing about part two, my experience at the range. See you soon!