April 20, 2022 5 min read

Now that the weather is warming up, public outdoor shooting ranges are great places to shoot, practice your skills, and enjoy the great outdoors. But, if you're new to shooting, outdoor ranges can be very intimidating.

This guide will help you understand more about outdoor ranges and give you some tips on how to make your first trip to an outdoor range more fun.

What is an Outdoor Shooting Range like?

Many public outdoor shooting ranges have the same basic setup. First, you'll probably see a table, counter, or booth where you can pay for your time on the range and sign in. It’s common to have to sign a waiver and sometimes you’ll need to show ID. This is where you’ll get assigned a shooting bench or line position, or get put on a waiting list if the range is busy that day (which can be a common occurrence on weekends).

Next, there are usually signs at the entrance explaining the rules for that range. Read them carefully. If there aren't any signs posted, be sure to ask about range policies as soon as possible. There are rules that are very common, but don't assume a shooting range rule is universal — every facility has its own to ensure the safety and proper use of its facilities. For example, most ranges require your firearms to be unloaded when entering, and some ranges don’t allow “rapid fire” (multiple shots within a few seconds of each other). It's important to know these kinds of policies in advance so that you can plan accordingly or change your preparations if necessary.

On the Range

When you get inside the range, you’ll head to your bench/position and place your gear in your immediate area. There will be a firing “line” for you to shoot from — oftentimes, there’s an actual line painted on the ground to mark it. Do not cross the line for any reason when the range is hot, it’s there for everyone’s safety. Even stepping on the line is considered an infraction at some ranges, so it’s better to remember to keep all your body parts behind it when shooting.

Out on the range, there will be a variety of places to put target stands at different distances. You will likely need to grab a target stand (which looks like a basic wood frame) when you arrive and wait until the range is cold to place it out on the range. You’ll tape or staple your target to the stand (bring your own staples or tape), then walk the stand out to the range and place it at your preferred distance.

Depending on the range, there may be a store inside that sells everything from ammunition to guns and clothing. Some ranges will also have a gunsmith on staff who can answer questions or help make repairs.

Outdoor Shooting Range Commands

Range commands are important when you go to the range because they are based on maintaining your safety at all times. They are usually called out by a Range Safety Officer (RSO) or Range Master, and it’s important to follow them at all times. It is likely you will be closely monitored while you're there and if you get too lax with the rules, you will be asked to leave.

There are several range commands you’ll be expected to know at a public outdoor shooting range. The common ones that you will hear include:

Cease fire: stop shooting immediately and wait for further instructions. There are a lot of reasons a cease fire may be called and anyone on the range can call for a stop to shooting if they see something unsafe. Once you’ve stopped shooting, you’ll likely need to unload your firearm, lock it open, and set it down on your shooting bench in a way where anyone can see it’s unloaded when walking by.

Unload and show clear or “make safe”: remove all the ammunition from your gun (magazine and chamber), lock open the actions of all the firearms on your bench, make sure your firearms are pointed downrange, then step back from the bench.

Range is cold: this command is usually called after a cease fire is called and the range officers have confirmed that all guns on the line are safe and unloaded. When the range is cold, it’s ok to go out to the range to check, put up or take down a target. You are not allowed to handle your guns or ammunition for ANY while the range is cold. This is a very strict rule and you may be asked to stand behind a line behind the shooting benches if you are not actively walking to or from your target.

Range is hot: when a range goes hot, it simply means that the range officers have verified there is no one left downrange and it's safe for everyone to handle their firearm and prepare to shoot again. All of the standard gun safety precautions are still in place when the range is hot.

Commence fire: you can begin firing as soon you’ve visually verified it’s safe to do so.

Outdoor Range Etiquette

Aside from range safety, there are some etiquette tips you should follow whenever you're on an outdoor range. Regardless of whether the range is cold or hot, you’ll need to wear your eye protection at all times. It may be ok for you to remove your ear protection when the range is cold — check your range’s rules to make sure.

Make sure to leave your range space as neat and tidy as it was when you arrived. This includes throwing away any trash and making sure you “police your brass”, which means sweeping or picking up all of your casings and taking them with you or donating them to the range by placing them in a bucket or bin. Most outdoor ranges will have brooms to make this task easier and faster. If you don’t want to take your brass home with you, you can even ask the people around you if they’d like your brass. And don’t forget about your targets out on the range.

Make sure you pull your target stand down and put it away where you found it. If your target is really shot up and in bad shape, remove it from the stand. If the range allows and your target is in good shape, leave it on the stand for the next shooter to use. This small gesture is often appreciated by the next person and can come in handy if you get to the range and realize you’ve left your targets at home.