Once you’ve scheduled the trip, let the new shooter know what to expect. Discuss how to dress for the range, and why they should avoid low-cut tops and open-toed shoes. The “hot brass dance” is never amusing to the one getting burned, and trying to clear trapped brass with a ﬁrearm in hand can be dangerous.
Review the standard safety rules ahead of time so they can process them in a calm, quiet environment. You’ll reinforce the rules later at the range. I prefer the NRA’s “Three Rules of Gun Safety” but “Cooper’s Four Rules” also work.
Explain the importance of using eye and ear protection at the range, and make sure you have enough of both on hand for everyone. Have the new shooters “double up” hearing protection by wearing foam earplugs underneath ear muﬀs. This will reduce anxiety caused by the noise of shooting.
It’s not enough to recite the rules. You have to go over how they work in context by explaining what a “safe direction” is at the range, how keeping the ﬁnger oﬀ the trigger helps prevent accidental discharges, when the gun should be loaded or unloaded on the line, and why these rules still apply even to “unloaded” guns.
You should also explain that “Cease ﬁre” means “Stop shooting now!” and review other range commands if you’re using a supervised range.
Remember that the students will model their behavior oﬀ of the example you set, so make sure to follow the best safety practices yourself.
WHILE SHOOTING CAN BE a fun social activity, it’s easy to be overwhelmed if you are overseeing too many new shooters. If you are teaching by yourself, try to limit the trip to one or two newbies, if possible. Even then, work with them one-on-one and have the person not shooting observe so they can be better prepared for their turn.
If you have a friend assisting, you should be able to handle additional new shooters if you split them between you. Remember you are there for them, not for your own shooting practice, so focus on giving them the best possible range experience.
Also, whenever possible, split up relationship-paired couples among diﬀerent mentors so each half of the couple focuses on what they are doing instead of trying to “help” the other.
A ﬁrst trip to the range isn’t the same as a full NRA Basic Pistol class. Keep your instruction focused speciﬁcally on what they need to know to safely handle and shoot the ﬁrearm and hit the target. Leave the more technical stuﬀ for later. Draw them a diagram of a sight picture and make sure they understand how the drawing corresponds to the front and rear sights on the ﬁrearm.
HAVE THEM PRACTICE HOLDING and dry ﬁring the unloaded gun, and correct any problems with their grip or stance. Enforce the “trigger oﬀ the ﬁnger until the sights are on target” rule with dryﬁre so they’ll get in the habit. Avoid using the term “trigger squeeze” as it can cause new shooters to tighten their entire grip as they ﬁre. Instead, explain that their grip should be ﬁrm and consistent the whole time, and that the trigger should be pulled
straight to the rear in a deliberate, smooth motion.
Since you’ll likely need to recock the ﬁrearm to reset the trigger during dry-ﬁre, make sure they understand that once the gun is loaded it will automatically reload and recock itself when they shoot for real. (This is obviously not the case for manually operated ﬁrearms such as bolt- or lever-action riﬂes).
The best ﬁrearm for new shooters is a .22LR, bar none. Whether it’s a riﬂe or pistol, the low recoil and relatively quiet report of the rimﬁre make it ideal as a ﬁrst-time gun. If you don’t have a .22LR available, go for the lowest recoiling ﬁrearm you do have. For handguns, a full-size gun ﬁring standard-pressure 9mm or .38 Special loads should be easy enough to manage. For riﬂes, a pistolcaliber carbine or a .223 AR are good choices. This goes double for ARs with adjustable stocks that can be resized for smaller statured shooters.
For aerial shotgun shooting use loads appropriate for the sport. If you are shooting stationary targets, use light loads or reduced recoil “tactical” loads. Whatever you do,
avoid the temptation to have a laugh at someone’s expense by giving them “too much gun.” It’s not fair to the new shooter, can turn them oﬀ the sport, and is actually unsafe.
The best targets are those that react to the hits. Nothing is more fun for new shooters than watching their targets explode, fall down, or spin around. Plate racks or portable swinging or spinning targets are good choices. Just make sure to keep to minimum safe distances when shooting steel.
You can also improvise with cans, plastic cups ﬁlled with water, clay birds set up down range, or anything else that is safe and doesn’t violate range rules. Even if you are limited to paper targets, many ranges will still allow you to tape small balloons to the targets or use the brightly colored Shoot-N-C targets.
TEACHING KIDS TO SHOOT has its own challenges and rewards. Some kids learn best from their parents, while others pay better attention to unrelated adults. If nothing else, a parent should always be present whenever a child is shooting. Make sure the ﬁrearms are suitable for the physical size of the child. I prefer using bolt-action or lever-action riﬂes over semiautos when working with kids so the shooter has to manually work the action to load the next round. Pay particular attention to their energy level, as their attention and safety consciousness can start to slip as they get tired. While it’s important to stay positive with any new shooter, that goes double for kids. Start and end critiques with positive statements and focus on the fun.
Now that you’ve learned some tips on taking new shooters to the range there is no better time to do so than right now. The NRA Mentor Program oﬀers additional resources to help you promote the shooting sports by taking new shooters to the program. Whether you are a NRA member or not, you can help grow our sport by mentoring a new shooter.
For more information about the program, visit nrapublications.org/mentor. ASJ