Indoor shooting ranges are springing up across the country at impressive rates, and their popularity is attracting firearms owners across all walks of life. These indoor ranges are excellent places to practice your more basic shooting skills while avoiding the annoyances of an outdoor environment, and they’re normally staffed with knowledgeable and friendly staff.
There are pros and cons to any choice. While shooting outdoors allows for longer ranges, your enjoyment is based on the time of day, the weather, and possibly the drive out. Meanwhile, indoor ranges negate such conditions, but can be very loud on a busy Saturday afternoon.
Whether you’re thinking of visiting your local indoor shooting range for the first time or you’re planning to take a friend for his or her first time shooting a gun, there are things to consider before possibly overwhelming them with the experience. Here are ten things to know before you visit an indoor range. After all, your safety and the safety of others is your responsibility.
PERSONAL PROTECTION EQUIPMENT
Any time you’re shooting a firearm, you should - at a minimum - be wearing eye and ear protection. Just about every indoor shooting range mandates the use of safety glasses and ear muffs, and many of them will supply them to those who don’t possess such gear…often for a small fee of a couple of dollars. However, if you have a proper set of safety glasses of your own that you’d prefer to use, most ranges will allow them without question. A wrap-around style of clear safety glasses that fit like a typical pair of sunshades will usually do quite well at keeping dust and spent cases from injuring your eyes or obstructing your view, and the chunky woodworking goggles, though uncomfortable, also often provide an acceptable amount of protection. Now, although sunglasses often meet OSHA safety standards regarding impact protection, some ranges don’t allow them. If you’re not sure what your local indoor range allows, call them and ask. They’ll gladly tell you.
Along with your eye protection, you’ll need something to keep your hearing intact. Firing a gun indoors sounds much louder than one fired outside. The walls, floors, and ceiling deflect the sound waves around the room and can cause intense pain if you’re not wearing hearing protection. Most indoor ranges have very decent ear muffs that they rent out to visitors, and they usually clean them between each use. The small foam ear plugs that get inserted into your ear canal might not be enough to dampen the noise of shooting indoors, so consider a comfortable set of ear muffs with a noise reduction of 22 decibels (dB) or better. If you’re going to bring a friend along, you can also consider grabbing a set or two of electronic ear muffs to more easily communicate among the noise.
Indoor ranges are environmentally controlled. They have top-notch HVAC systems to keep visitors comfortable and to suck the gunsmoke out of the room. What indoor ranges also have are dividing walls to separate the “stalls” into different shooting lanes. Quite often, these are made of ½” AR500 steel plates and covered in ballistic rubber for safety concerns (read: so some dum-dum doesn’t send a negligent discharge into the person next to him). These walls often cause spent cases to bounce back at the shooter. While these spent cases are often hot enough to cause second-degree burns (blisters), a case that simply bounces off of your arm and hits the ground will only startle you at most. However, if you aren’t wearing appropriate clothing, you are welcoming safety risks that can lead to severe results.
Let’s start from the top and work our way down. If you have short hair, you’re probably going to be okay. If you have longer hair with some volume, your hair can actually catch hot brass and cause it to land on you, possibly causing burns. If you have long hair, consider putting it in a pony tail or honey bun. If you’re one to put it in a “man bun”, just stay home. Joking aside (I’m not joking…if you wear a man bun, knock it off), hot brass in your hair is a special kind of danger because you need to spend extra time digging through your hair to clear the hot metal off of your skin.
The shirt you wear to an indoor range should be chosen for function, not fashion. The most sensible shirt to wear is one with a collar that stays close to your neck without being uncomfortably tight, yet still doesn’t permit small objects to fall beneath it. The sleeves should also hold tight to your arms for the same reason. A hot case going down your shirt is quite painful, yet it’s easily avoidable. Also, don’t tuck your shirt into your pants. In the event a case does make its way down your shirt, you will want to be able to shake it out before it gets a chance to cause damage to your skin. As for long sleeve vs. short sleeve, that’s first up to the rules set by the indoor range, and then to you.
Wear long pants with a belt. And undies!
Wear closed-toed shoes that completely cover your feet. Most ranges, both indoor and outdoor, bar sandals, flip-flops, Crocs (what are thooooooose?), high heels and bare-footed hippies. Grab a pair of footwear that can be laced tight around the ankles, and wrap your pant legs around the top as though you were making a shield to keep the spent cases from burning holes in your socks.
These are the bare essentials for clothing. Be sure to check with the indoor range if you have any questions.
Every indoor range has different rules. Some don’t let you wear sunglasses inside, some don’t let you draw from the holster, and some of them think they need to concern themselves with the legality of your firearms. Your safety is your responsibility, so be sure to always remember the four cardinal rules of gun safety:
Let’s break these rules down where they apply to an indoor range.
TREAT EVERY GUN AS IF IT IS LOADED! If you have the discipline to remember this, the employees at the indoor range will come to like you. If you break this rule, they’ll ask you in a firm and professional manner to leave the range and not come back. You might know for a fact that the gun isn’t loaded, but you have to keep in mind that range employees may have to keep their attention among upwards of fifty people. They don’t know if you’re gun is loaded, and if you’re carrying it around like a dumbass, they WILL assume that it’s loaded and take proper action to keep everyone safe. The best general guideline we can give you is to A, set your gun case on the tabletop in the stall, B, open the case in a way that the firearm is always pointing down range, C, load the weapon while keeping it pointed down range, D, have fun while keeping the gun pointed down range, E, make sure it’s unloaded before putting it back in the case, and F, return it to its case while keeping it pointed down range.
Now, all of this takes very little planning, and you may already do something like this at home. If you’re the type of individual who puts the TV remote on the coffee table pointed at the TV, then you already have a bit of muscle memory with the idea. Whether you’re of this mindset or not, there’s no harm in reminding yourself “Treat every gun as if it’s loaded, and always keep it pointed down range” over and over until you’re confident that you won’t mess up. Safety is your responsibility, so do your part.
NEVER AIM A WEAPON AT ANYTHING YOU AREN’T WILLING TO DESTROY! Careless shooters can cause abhorrent and irreparable damage. If you don’t have proper trigger discipline, you can negligently discharge your weapon and quite possibly kill someone. Accidents are what toddlers and geriatrics have, and that can be cleaned up with a bath and a clean pair of undies. Every “accident” with a weapon is due to negligence, and there’s no excuse. If you don’t have the discipline nor the confidence to safely handle a weapon, take some classes. This cannot be stressed enough…take some classes. Ignorance is no excuse for a sucking chest wound.
BE AWARE OF YOUR TARGET AND WHAT LIES BEYOND IT! Most indoor ranges have automated target holders that move forward and backwards. These holders sit on a track that runs along the length of the range, usually with a 25 yard maximum distance, and they’re usually controlled by a switch or some panel with buttons. Down-range, past the end-of-travel of the target holders, there’s what is known as a “bullet trap” which is designed to catch the rounds when they enter. Some of these are contraptions of steel plates or giant piles of rubber, but they can also be made of anything a competent engineer decides is good enough to stop bullets. Now, these bullet traps are all the way down what is basically a long hallway. To your left and right, as well as above and below you, is not the bullet trap. Many ranges will get upset with you if you send rounds into their ceiling because you don’t know how to hit a target, and many ranges will charge you a fee to repair unintended damage…that is if they don’t just kick you out. You need to be sure that the portion of the target you’re aiming at allows the bullet’s flight path to end within the bullet trap instead of an unsafe direction.
KEEP YOUR BOOGER HOOK OFF THE BANG SWITCH UNTIL YOU’RE READY TO BRING THE HEAT! Do NOT trust the safety selector on your weapon. DO NOT assume a gun isn’t loaded. DO NOT point the gun in an unsafe direction. If you want to know where the safety on every weapon is, it can be found by taking an open hand, creating a fist, extending your index finger, and placing your index finger about an inch in front of the top of your ear. YOU ARE THE SAFETY SELECTOR! Mechanical systems can and do fail, so it is all up to you to be safe.
Getting back to range rules, every range is different. Most ranges have websites, and most of those sites have the rules published. If you can’t find the rules, don’t hesitate to call the range and ask what they are or how to find them. If you can’t get a hold of them, then head to the range and ask someone who works there. Just about every range has the rules written down either on a wall in the showroom or displayed in each shooting lane, if not both.
Ranges typically have no problem getting a phone call from someone asking how they prefer customers to arrive. They would prefer people to be safe instead of make assumptions. Typical indoor ranges suggest carrying your weapons unloaded and encased, to have them uncased only when you’re on the firing line. Check your range’s website or give them a call and ask.
Indoor shooting ranges are LOUD. Often built of steel and concrete, the construction and geometry of an indoor range isn’t conducive to preventing hearing loss. The perceived noise level is much higher than what you would find while firing a weapon outdoors. A .22 caliber rifle might be slightly unpleasant to the unprotected ear outdoors, but the same weapon fired inside can instantly cause permanent hearing damage. On top of that, the amount of absolute noise can be very overwhelming to a new shooter. If you’re apprehensive about the noise, some ranges will let you simply stand in the range behind the firing line if you explain your concerns. If this idea seems beneficial, go ahead and call your local indoor range and ask.
“Hi, I’m (your name) and I have plans to visit your range with one of my friends, and I’m worried the noise might be overwhelming. Is there any chance we could sign a liability waiver, rent some ear and eye pro, and stand in the back behind the firing line to get comfortable with the noise?”
This phrase will let the range employees know that you’re taking a proactive approach. Just keep in mind that you will likely be paying a few bucks. Nevertheless, it’s an option you should consider if noise gives you sensory overload, especially if you’re going to be learning how to shoot for the first time.
HOW TO USE YOUR FIREARMS
The internet is a wonderful source of information, even though most use it to watch cat videos and cyber-bully strangers. Just about every gun manufacturer has user manuals for their firearms available in PDF format online. The chances of finding a video tutorial on YouTube is extremely high, and you’ll probably also learn how to clean your weapon afterwards. If a friend is taking you to the range, reach out and ask what weapons you’ll be firing, and then do some research. Learn where all of the controls are, learn how to safely load, use, and unload it, and maybe go down a YouTube rabbit-hole where you end up watching Brandon Herrera’s “Gun Meme Review” videos for some amusing insight to the culture of proper gun owners.
IT’S ALSO A GUN STORE
Most indoor ranges also have a Federal Firearms License (FFL). This is the license required to run a gun store, and the combination of store and range go together like greedy politicians and tax increases. Ranges typically have “rental guns” that you can use for a small fee. They’ll probably make you buy their ammo to use in the rentals, but the opportunity to rent different guns is an excellent way to find out what you like before settling on one that works for you and fits within your budget. “Buy once, cry once” speaks volumes with today’s inflation. Gun shop owners understand that people aren't made of money, and if they're not getting kickbacks from manufacturers, they can be trusted to help you find the best gun that fits your needs.
BRASS GOBLINS AND OTHER COMMON RANGE CUSTOMERS
This rule goes for people who visit both indoor and outdoor ranges. If you go to a range and there are more than four people, you’re almost certain to meet certain character types.
-The Brass Goblin: Often a reclusive, calm, and intelligent individual, the brass goblin will approach your shooting bench to, hopefully asking first, sweep up the spent brass cases to reload with his reloading press. It won’t matter what caliber you’re shooting, this guy wants your brass, and will pester you ad nauseum until you tell him “Nah, imma reload it.” Reloading empty cases is a very common hobby among gun owners, and brass goblins love bragging about how much money they save, and free brass is a good way to go.
-The Gun Oogler: Those of us who enjoy shooting guns for funsies love seeing new guns. It’s not uncommon for someone to walk up behind you to check out what you’re shooting. They’re likely not staring at your hind-quarters, they’re probably just checking out that blaster in your hands. If they ask to shoot your weapon, it’s completely acceptable to say no. If they protest, wave the range safety officer over and say what’s going on. It’s your weapon; you don’t need to let everyone shoot it if you’d prefer not.
-The Fudd: There’s always that one old guy with a .44 Magnum revolver drilling holes at 25 yards. Everything he says is probably bunk if not completely outdated. Take everything with a grain of salt. If you make eye contact, he’ll go on some rant about how your polymer-framed pistol is a “jam-o-matic” even though guns typically don’t jam with routine maintenance. You might as well down the entire salt shaker if he starts saying “ReVoLvErS dOn’T jAm” because they can and sometimes do, and they’re not quickly un-jammed by the end-user.
-The Purist: Somewhere, possibly at your local range right now, there’s some guy poking holes in paper with some surplus pistol screaming out “TwO wOrLd WaRs!!!” as he fails to hold a tight group on a target 10 yards away. The Purist is the type of guy who wants every firearm to be kept as-is from the factory, and he’ll spout contrived platitudes over the cons of everything he doesn’t like.
-Mister High-Speed: Dressed in a mixture of surplus boots, designer apparel, velcro patches and airsoft gear, Mr. High-speed shows up to an indoor range to poke some holes in a close-range paper target with a three thousand dollar rifle decked out with every wish-dot-com attachment under the sun as he struggles to pull a full magazine out of his plate carrier. It’s best to avoid eye contact as he does an “ammo dump” to impress his friends watching him through the glass.
-The Couple: She can shoot. She can pick up a gun, focus on hitting the target, properly squeeze the trigger, and hit the target well enough to qualify as an 11B with an adorable giggle. He, on the other hand, has a further forward center of gravity than normal, and is compensating with awkward choreography akin to Freddie Mercury in his earlier days on stage.
-The Good Samaritan: This individual will walk up, compliment you on your beginner-level skills, and offer to give pointers. Take the advice with a grain of salt, but listen. You may learn a lot.
SPECIAL OFFERS AND CLASSES
Before you leave the range, talk to an employee at the counter. Ask if they offer any classes, or if they have recommendations for instructors. It is generally unwise to learn from only one source. Most ranges have on-site instructors who will gladly spend some one-on-one time to help you improve your skills, or they might have relationships with freelance instructors who will meet you at the range at your convenience.
If your gun breaks while on the firing line, or if you want an accessory properly affixed to your weapon, there’s either an on-site gunsmith or a mechanically-inclined employee at the range. In fact, another customer might be able to give you some valuable insight. Whether it’s mounting a light or laser to your weapon, replacing broken parts, or sighting in an optic (scope, red dot, etc.), you can almost always find a helping hand. Just about every current-production firearm on the market has some variety of upgrade available, and if your indoor range is also an FFL, they probably have a few racks full of accessories and upgrades.
Whether you’re taking a friend to the range for their first time or you’re headed to the range on your own, you need to take ownership and have the discipline to be safe and informed. Indoor ranges are fantastic places to sling some lead, so take this knowledge with you while you move forward in your life of gun ownership.