Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Taking A New Shooter To The Range...

So, last Sunday at the range Brad_in_MA had a great question for me. He's offered to take a couple new shooters to the range, and was wondering if I had any suggestions. He's certainly competent enough to go over the safety basics and the general operation, so I figured I'd offer a few suggestions from my own experiences bringing folks to the range. None of this is meant to be inclusive or "this way is best", nothing like that; it's all "this has worked for me, feel free to adapt as you'd like/as will befit your situation".

First off, if you can arrange it, take a half hour or so somewhere not on the firing line and run your new shooter through the basic operation of any firearm they will be shooting. Using snap caps (NO LIVE AMMO), have them load the firearm, fire, and eject the round. Run through how to handle jams, etc. - have them hand the firearm to you. Run through the basics of grip and stance; but don't get too wonky - just show basic Weaver/Isoceles and let them decide which is better suited for them.

Also, something that I've had good luck with - but had to use very rarely - is arranging a signal ahead of time. A tap on the shoulder, a rap on the bench, something to alert them to stop. Obviously if they're doing something that could cause harm to themselves or others stop them immediately, but if it's something more procedural, like they are holding something the wrong way or just could be doing better. Basically, you tell them that if you do [X], they should stop immediately and place the firearm on the bench/table.

There's a few things to consider when taking a new person shooting. First and foremost is to allow plenty of time - this is a pretty intimidating thing they're getting into, and rushing them into it is NOT going to go over well. Another thing to remember is that this is about them - when you take a new person shooting, plan on shooting very little yourself. Start early or stay late if you want to do your own shooting. Lastly, a trick I've found that helps a lot is to forget a bullseye target and use a white 10" paper dinner plate. New shooters often focus on the X ring and get frustrated if they can't hit it, so I'll start new shooters off with the simpler task of keeping all shots on the plate.

I've found it works well to run through the operation yourself, first. Load, aim, and fire the firearm they are about to shoot so that they can see how it works. Ideally, only take a few shots just to give them the general idea; don't stop after a certain number, but ask if they'd like to take over. If they do, put the safety on (if applicable), put the firearm down on the bench/table, and let them at it. If they're only shooting a half-dozen rounds or less, take a moment to gauge their interest/mood, and ask if they'd like to shoot some more. Don't assume that they love it and want to keep going.

Now, for hardware... Here's where it gets tetchy. I'm a huge fan of the .22LR cartridge for new shooters. Low recoil, low noise, inexpensive (well, for the most part); there's a lot to like about the rimfire round. I like to bring a .22LR revolver and an autoloader, and for each, I prefer to customize it to the new shooter I'm bringing. I try to avoid using "vintage" pieces or guns with optics; there's an awful lot to learn without worrying about the finish on that classic S&W or the fancy Burris red dot on a Mark III.

Personal preference here, but I like to give a general overview, so I'll bring a rimfire revolver and semi-automatic as well as a centerfire for each. A 4" barrel .38 Special is a good place to start someone for centerfire handguns; a steel semi-auto like a Beretta 92 or a Sig 226 is pretty decent as well. For centerfire semi-autos, you might want to consider only loading 2 or 3 rounds for the first go-round just to be on the safe side.

Again, every new shooter is different, and every person bringing a new shooter to the range will be different. I understand not everyone has an armory that contains different firearms of the same caliber; however I urge anyone bringing a new shooter to the range to stick to lower-power, larger-framed firearms if at all possible. Please, for the love of John Moses Browning (PBUH), leave the Ruger Alaskan or the AMT Backup 45 home.

So, what other advice can you offer someone bringing their first new shooter to the range?

That is all.


libertyman said...

Jay, have you got your instructor's card yet from the NRA? I took the course years ago and have had mine ever since. Your advice is sound, and you will make a great teacher.

Wally said...

Few tips- You as the instructor shoot as little as posbile. One or two to demonstrated noise and apparent recoil.

Paper plates are a great starter. I like to progress from a blank paper plate to a paper plate with a spot of black spraypaint. It's an aiming zone, sorta. Typically fuzzy edges and all - gives enough of a point to focus on for aiming.

I was honored with a new shooter last weekend. And yes, I did leave the AMT backup home.

Adam said...

Every time I take a new shooter out, male or female, they love shooting my Henry lever action .22LR. Low noise, barrel heavy (18" octagonal), easy to point, very accurate. It's also single shot which adds some safety margin. I have had a 14 year old girl make 3" groups at 25 yards with this rifle her first time out. I think people like it because when you maintain your cheek weld and work the action, you can feel the mechanical parts move and it connects you to the firearm. For handguns I use a Ruger Mark 3 and a Smith and Wesson 686 4" with .38. I don't even bother with pistol stances the first time out. Unless they want to try it, all their shots will be fired from bench rest. I also bring my 9mm FN Pro 9mm, if they want to try and shoot something like a police sidearm. I also want to echo the advice of shooting each firearm before you hand it over, so they can perceive felt recoil.

Bubblehead Les. said...

Depending on the Range, I like to bring a Shotgun and/or a Carbine along with the .22s. This way the New Person can get a sense of what's out there for them to use. Keep in mind, they don't need to use Zercool's Shoulder Buster Loads ( ; )), but in some places, they may not be "Allowed" to have a Handgun, so this gives them a Heads Up on what to look for. Naturally, you have to take their Size, Age, "Fear Factor" into account, and if they say "No", then don't force them.

And Cram the Four Rules over and Over, of course.

Bob said...

A blowout kit, just in case Mr. Murphy makes a visit and something horrible happens.

Bob S. said...

Use Large targets so a.) people can see where they are actually hitting and b.) feel a sense of accomplishment at hitting a target.

Smaller targets can always be added on top or or in place later...but start with something people are guaranteed to hit.

Second, reassure them that they can stop shooting at any time with no pressure. I ask "Are you sure?" but it reduces worry if they aren't pushed to shoot every gun.

Double up on hearing protection for those who may be sensitive.

Oddball said...

I usually bring a lot of stuff with me when taking a new shooter out. I always start them with the .22s, and when they seem comfortable with that, I ask them if they'd like to step up in power or stay where they are. Always showing them the round, the controls, and firing off a few "demonstration" shots.

It seems like the sweet spot for new shooters tends to be my Beretta Cx4 .40cal carbine. Although, I did have one girl (oddly enough, an ex-girlfriend) really like the WASR and was up for trying the Mosin Nagant.

Ian Argent said...

Don't forget: a good set of safety gear. Clean and unscratched eye protection, and a set of decent electric ears for you and the student are important. Not having to shout through the ears is very nice.

Brad_in_MA said...


Thank you for the suggestions. They all make a LOT of sense. If the two good people I invited decide to take me up on my offer, I might just have an all .22lr day (ruger pistol and marlin rifle) and call it good.


Daniel in Brookline said...

If I'm confident I can do so safely, I try to get photos of the new shooters in action - they nearly always enjoy having those. (On a few occasions, I took cell-phone *video* of a round or two, and later used freeze-frame to capture the instant of a flame burst emerging from the muzzle. My 13-year-old stepdaughter Z. still refers to my Beretta 92 as "the flamethrower".)

And, of course, taking photos of the new shooter *afterwards* is pretty safe, so I generally do that, especially with a nice-looking target and the handgun in hand (locked open, pointed in a safe direction, finger on the frame). This gives them pics to admire proudly later. Added bonus - every time they look at it, they'll see *themselves* holding a handgun correctly, which reinforces the message for next time.