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Range Safety, and Range Etiquette.

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Range safety, and Range Etiquette.

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Range Rules:

Every range you visit has rules for safety, please read all of the rules thoroughly and if you do not understand something ask the range staff for clarification.

If you are not shooting on a structured range, you need to agree on some rules with your fellow shooters and always maintain proper etiquette and help to ensure everyone's safety.

Range safety usually begins en-route to the range. Being prepared for your outing helps to be safe. Knowing the rules of the facility ahead of time can prepare you for you trip. If the rules state that all weapons are to be unloaded and must be stored in a case or lock box when you arrive, then you can make sure that you have your weapons in the appropriate condition and proper case/box to visit the facility.

Others things you should have to be prepared for safety are:

  • Eye and ear protection (Electronic hearing protection is recommended. Not being able to hear the range commands can lead to confusion, and may lead to an unsafe range condition.)
  • Sunscreen (if shooting outdoors)(spray on  is advised.. avoid excessively greasy ones, and be sure to wipe hands clean after application to avoid potential of slippage)
  • Water bottle (stay hydrated. Dehydration can lead to lack of concentration and coordination.)
  • Appropriate clothing (low neck-line shirts invite the possibility of having hot brass fall down inside the garment and cause burns on the skin. The other danger that presents itself is when the shooter looses muzzle consciousness and inadvertently waves the firearm around as they try to fish the brass out of their clothing) Pants are encouraged and possibly knee pads if the course includes kneeling on rough terrain. No open toed footwear also for the above reasons.
  • Basic First Aid Kit (Bandages for cuts, scrapes, new skin for abrasions in places that are hard to bandage, and eye wash)

As an example here are a few of the rules at the Clark County Shooting Complex that we regularly visit: (To view the full rule sheet click here.)

  • All range users and shooters are personally responsible for range safety and safe shooting.
  • All range users and shooters are responsible to immediately correct any unsafe condition.
  • Immediately report any unsafe condition to a Safety Officer.
  • First time shooters must watch the safety video before shooting.
  • All shooting is to be into the backstops only.
  • Firearms will be cased and uncased, holstered, and un-holstered only at the shooting benches.
  • Muzzles will be kept pointed down range at all times.
  • Do not point your firearms at anyone.
  • All persons in the range area must wear ear and eye protection.
  • Anyone may call a “cease fire” if an unsafe condition occurs.
  • When instructed to “cease fire” shooters will immediately stop shooting, unload their firearms and place them on the shooting table and stand behind the yellow safety line until given further instructions.
  • Firearms will not be touched nor handled during “cease fire-range safe” period.
  • No shooting at unauthorized targets.
  • Respect others and their equipment.
  • Alcohol and drugs are prohibited on range. Persons who have been consuming alcohol or are under the influence of drugs are prohibited from shooting.



When we are running our events our first rule upon arrival is:


This rule covers a few of the above safety rules all at once. Instructed by Staff is an important part of this rule, clear communication between all parties, use of clear and common range commands, and understanding of time and place by the students/shooters also helps to eliminate unsafe conditions that may arise. By preventing handling without instruction, we can help with the following:

  • We can instruct the students as to what are the appropriate downrange and safe directions to point their weapons.
  • Advise the students on how to place their cases or range bags on the tables with the muzzles of their weapons still inside, and make sure they are facing either towards the ground or downrange before the weapon is removed from the case/bag.
  • We can then demonstrate how to handle the weapon safely before it is removed from the bag and either placed on the shooting table, rack, or in the holster. Ensuring the weapons are handled appropriately, helps to prevent anyone from being muzzled by the firearm.
  • We can help supervise manipulations, making sure to remind the students that their fingers should not be in or near the trigger guard until on target, and how to manipulate the weapons while always keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

Besides being unsafe... we think that pointing a gun at someone when it is not part of the training is just plain rude!

Now we have already covered the 4 Universal Firearms Safety Rules in our article "Always start with safety." ......however they bare repeating.

  1. Treat all weapons with respect and handle as if they were loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off of the trigger until you are ready to shoot
  4. Know your target and what is in line with it

This info-graphic has  a lot of great information but we would like to expand upon it a bit further.



As we have been stating, you always start with safety first, but as the shooters skill level increases or the need to advance the exercises to increase the shooters skill level we modify how the safety rules apply to those individuals.

Places for your weapon:

Safe locations for your weapon will vary from range to range but they are generally:

  • When not being handled:
    • On the shooting table (When weapons are tabled, they may be required to be unloaded and actions locked open. Usually ejection port facing up for easy visual inspection. (If your weapon does not lock open, a chamber flag may be required as a visible sign that the weapon is unloaded and clear.)
    • On a storage rack (Weapons may be required to be unloaded and cleared of any and all ammo, such as in side saddles, butt cuffs, or bandoleers that may contain additional rounds.)
    • In the holster
    • NEVER be pointed in an unsafe direction (Even when the weapon is unloaded!!!!)
  • When being handled:
    • The Low Ready
    • The High Ready
    • Sul
    • Slung Muzzle down (usually pertaining to a long gun, either shouldered, or mounted in front of the shooters chest)
    • Slung Muzzle up (usually pertaining to a long gun being slung on the shooters shoulder)(For slung weapons the addition of a control hand is used to ensure the weapon does not fall off, or point at anyone unintentionally.)
    • NEVER be pointed in an unsafe direction (Even when the weapon is unloaded!!!!)


Having set "Range Commands" is incredibly helpful to prevent accidents or injuries that could occur. For instance if an unsafe condition presents itself or an injury occurs a "STOP" or "Cease Fire" command can help alert others that there is a situation that requires attention. Upon hearing a Stop or Cease Fire. Immediately remove your finger from the trigger guard and wait for additional instructions. Most often times it will be unload, place your weapons in a safe condition, and move behind the safety line. NO handling of firearms during a cease fire!

It might not be a range command on some ranges but we recommend before beginning any exercise on the Firing Line, a reminder should be given to have the shooters protect their eyes and ears.

There should also be a command that confirms that the downrange area has been inspected and is clear to commence with handling weapons or a firing exercise. The general command for this is usually "The Range is Clear"

An additional preparation command is usually to "load and make ready", or a prepare for a "firing drill"

A command to commence with shooting is usually a variety of "Fire", "Go", "Move", "Engage", "Up", "Bust Em" etc.. and whatever other colorful action word the instructor can come up with for that specific exercise. (Be sure you know what the appropriate response is for a command before you begin firing.... it never hurts to ask for clarification if you don't understand. Always error on the side of safety over the fear of embarrassment.)

Once the firing exercise or duration is over, some commands that instruct where and how the shooters weapons should be stored should be given, such as:

The "How" and "Where" (Instructions as to whether the weapon is loaded or unloaded and where should it be placed.)

  • Unload, lock your actions open, and table your weapons ejection port up...
  • Unload, show clear, and safely holster...
  • Once loaded make your weapons safe, and safely, slowly return to the holster...

Once all the shooters weapons are in a safe location, the range should be inspected before anyone proceeds ahead of the firing line to check or hang new targets, or retrieve gear on the ground. The general command for a range that is safe to move about on is simply that "The Range is Safe"

So to sum up communications, you should have some of the following commands:

  • A Stop or Cease Fire command to immediately make the range safe if an unsafe action, or injury occurs
  • Commands to inspect and clear the range (no shooters ahead of the firing line and safe conditions to proceed with handling weapons)
  • Preparation commands (get the shooter ready)
  • Commencement commands (instructions on the activity, and action/reaction words)
  • and Conclusion commands (instructions to end the exercise, pause between sequences, or clear and make the range safe to move about)

One more side note about communications is conduct and content. If you can't be polite and professional and offer productive, constructive criticism you might want to keep your comments to yourself. Conversations that lean far to one side, whether it is political, religious, or tac-tic-cool might be cause for concern to your neighbors that are not your closest friends....so perhaps those commentaries are best saved for behind closed doors. This also goes for apparel that speaks volumes about your beliefs without opening your mouth. Protect your operational security after all.

The Firing Line:

The firing line can either be a marked out with cordage, signs, paint, or simply drawn out in the sand or agreed upon by everyone standing next to each other.



The general rule for the firing line is that no one is to be ahead of the line while weapons are being handled, and especially not while shooting is taking place.

However as the skill of the shooters on the line increases this rule can be adapted to the shooters skill levels.

Let us see how this applies to Rule 2: Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.

We discussed this topic in some detail in our article on: Manipulations as a part of safety.

With an inexperienced shooter their manipulation skills might inadvertently cause them to turn or swing their muzzle in a wide arc.

Lets use the photo below as an example. We are going to pretend that the individual on the left in the photo is inexperienced, and the RED zone is where the majority of the time the shooters muzzle is during his exercises, and the YELLOW zone is where his muzzle points during some of his manipulations.


Now this would be acceptable, even preferred gun handling compared to what is often witnessed on some ranges. The muzzle always remains in a safe direction, never pointing it at his neighbor or behind the firing line.

Now by contrast lets take a look at the shooter on the right and assume he is a highly disciplined shooter and where his muzzle spends the majority of the time as he moves throughout his exercises. Both his RED and YELLOW zones are much, much smaller. The muzzle does not remain waving around after shooting, and even manipulations can be done with the muzzle pointing downward.


With a highly developed skill set, trust in your fellow shooter, and an understanding of how the need to evolve your training beyond a conventional square range you can begin to break away from the set firing line and begin working slowly and safely into more complex exercises such as shooting on the move, positions, communication, and team tactics.

Manipulations and Malfunctions


Most safety violations happen of course when the weapons are being handled. You must maintain control or your weapon, it's muzzle direction, and your trigger finger discipline. Weapons require respect and constant vigilance. 

Know the operations of the weapons you will be handling

Malfunctions and stoppages:

If at any point in time the weapon stops firing keep the muzzle pointed downrange. If you do not know what a hangfire is, how to clear a malfunction, or repair a jam then contact someone who does (or attend a class where you can learn how to)

Mistakes and Mishaps:

On rare occasions mistakes and mishaps can occur. We desperately try to avoid these things but we want you to be aware of some of the things we have seen that are safety issues and can result in injuries or damage to property:

  • Dropping and attempting to catch a falling weapon. If it falls, let it fall. Once it can be safely retrieved, inspect it for damages and obstructions in the barrel. (Gravity is a cruel mistress)
  • Using the wrong ammunition for the firearm. Make sure the caliber matches the magazine, which matches the weapon, and so on. (Most mistakes happen when shooters are sharing weapons of different calibers)(The devil is in the details)

Clean up after yourself!

Pick up your ammo boxes, tear down your targets, police your brass, hulls, and anything else you brought in with you.

Thank you for being a responsible shooter. Stay safe. Train hard. ADAPT. <


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