Stepping into unfamiliar territory like a shooting range for the first time is an intense, and sometimes unpleasant experience. Besides trying to get the hang of handling a firearm, you have to contend with extremely loud and jarring noises, which contributes to your overall sense of unease.
You're not alone in feeling this way. Almost everyone gets anxious the first time they go to the range, and just the thought of heading to the range is enough to cause a lot of new shooters serious discomfort.
How can you tackle that anxiety so you can be more comfortable and confident on the range? Here are several things you can do to keep those fears in check so the range can become a place where you feel empowered and in control.
Get in Touch with the Source of Your Anxiety
A lot of the anxiety we hold about shooting and firearms is generalized - we’re not sure of the “why”, we just know it intimidates us. When you peel the onion back to figure out what's behind your anxiety, you put yourself in a better position to alleviate it. Once you can identify what’s causing your anxiety, you can start to address it, making your journey a whole lot smoother.
Arm Yourself with Knowledge
The more you know before you go to the range, the more comfortable you’ll be when you get there. Take time to learn by researching online, watching instructional videos, and reading books about firearm basics. Knowing the safety protocols (like the 4 rules of gun safety), understanding how your firearm operates before you go to the range, and getting a grasp on range etiquette (yep, that’s a thing) in advance will give you less to be anxious about once you get there.
Double Plug to Take the Edge off the Noise
Shooting ranges are undeniably loud. The crack of gunfire makes a lot of us jumpy, and that definitely impacts your ability to calm down and shoot accurately. One trick a lot of seasoned shooters use is to “double plug”, which means wearing both external electronic hearing protection and in-ear earplugs. This simple adjustment can make a big difference in your ability to relax and enjoy your range session.
While it is possible to double plug using passive (non-electronic) earmuffs, it will make it hard to hear range commands. Since being able to hear while on the range is a must for safety, we recommend only doing this with electronic muffs.
Pair up with a Seasoned Shooter
Bringing along an experienced shooter to the range can make a big difference. They can help you navigate range rules and guide you through the do's and don'ts, which can alleviate a lot of the first time jitters. Plus, with a knowledgeable person by your side, you can get instant feedback, helpful pointers, and share the excitement of your progress with someone else who loves shooting.
Consider Private Lessons
Private lessons can offer a personalized, calm, and focused environment, and you’ll have an experienced guide to show you the ropes. This means you can take the time you need to understand the range rules, ask as many questions as you like, and get more out of your range time without feeling rushed. Find a range that offers beginner instruction and make sure to let them know it’s your first time at a range.
Just Hang Out for a While
There’s no rule that says you have to run to your shooting bay and immediately start firing off rounds. Don’t stress about time limits - take your time setting things up, take some deep breaths, and spend some time just acclimating yourself to the noise and surroundings. You’ll find that it only takes a few minutes of settling in to feel more comfortable.
Go to the Range with a Goal
Every trip to the range should have a purpose. Coming up with a few simple goals before you get to the range will help you focus on why you’re there, instead of on your anxiety. For example, your first session might be dedicated solely to getting your grip right. By concentrating on just one aspect, you can dedicate your time and attention to mastering it. This allows you to build confidence and skill step-by-step, instead of feeling overwhelmed by trying to get everything right all at once.
Remember - every seasoned shooter has been where you are now and it’s ok to feel anxious about your first time at the range. Once you get some experience under your belt, your nervousness will fade before you know it.