Each year, thousands of hunters and shooters head to unmanned ranges to sight in rifles and handguns, pattern shotguns and improve their marksmanship. While the golden rule at supervised shooting ranges is to follow the range master’s instructions, shooters at unmanned ranges need to take extra measures to stay safe. Rick Flint, a hunter education coordinator who retired from the Missouri Department of Conservation after 28 years of service, is committed to making sure shooters enjoy a safe range experience. He encourages those who use unmanned ranges to abide by the following rules.
- Always file a target shooting plan with a trusted neighbor, friend or spouse. The plan should outline where you’re going, what you’ll be doing, when you expect to return and your cell phone number.
- When you arrive at an unmanned range, take time to observe the other shooters before you join them. Make sure they are behaving safely and that nothing about the situation seems threatening. “At an unmanned range, taking care of yourself is your number one priority. That’s why it’s important to be aware of your surroundings,” said Flint. “I recall a situation about 20 years ago when a safety officer and a professor from the University of Missouri were traveling together to Columbia when they decided to stop and check out an unmanned range. There was another vehicle at the range when the two traveling companions got out of their car and proceeded to the firing line. Their timing could not have been worse. The individual at the range had just murdered someone, and he ended up killing the safety officer and professor as well.” That’s an extreme story, but it illustrates why you should be on your guard at all times.
- Be the one who sets the example for range safety by reading and following posted rules, even if you are the only one at the range.
- Wear eye and ear protection when you or others are shooting.
- Load and unload your gun at the firing line, at your designated station. NEVER load your firearm when someone is down range. Also, uncase and case your gun at the firing line, NOT behind it.
- While most shooters respect the rules, visit a few online forums and you’ll find complaints about shooters who don’t use good judgment at unmanned ranges. Flint said you have a couple of options if someone isn’t handling their firearm safely. “Depending on what you observe, your first option is to remove yourself from harm’s way and visit the range later,” Flint said. “Or you can test the water to see if the person who is being unsafe is open to suggestion. Approach them with courtesy and say something such as ‘You probably didn’t realize your muzzle wasn’t pointed down range.’ You’ll know right away if you’re dealing with a know-it-all or someone who appreciates getting a friendly piece of advice.” If you witness unsafe or threatening behavior at an unmanned range, don’t try to handle the situation yourself. Instead, back off and notify the proper authorities.
- If you’re the one on the receiving end of safety advice, apologize and immediately correct your mistake. It’s hard to admit being wrong, but in this case excuses won’t cut it. Only safe behavior will.
- Good communication is critical at unmanned ranges. Be aware that any shooter can call a cease fire, and the reason for that is anything can happen. A gun could malfunction. A shooter could require medical attention. Or somebody could accidentally cross the firing line. If a cease fire is called, you should immediately unload your firearm, make sure the action is open and the muzzle is pointed down range.
- When it’s time to check or change targets, make sure there’s a break in the action if other shooters are present. Politely let other shooters know you need to head down range, and ask them to take the necessary steps to ensure the range is safe. When others are down range, be patient. No fiddling with your equipment until everyone is back at the firing line.
- For more safety advice or to take a hunter safety course, visit www.hunter-ed.com, which offers training that is approved by the state agencies responsible for hunter education.
The vast majority of shooters at unmanned ranges are cooperative and concerned about safety. By following this safety advice, you’ll be feeling at home on the range in no time.
Kalkomey, parent company of hunter-ed.com, is the official provider of recreational safety education products for all 50 states. Our print and Internet courses have been providing official safety certification since 1995. We provide safety courses in boating, hunting, bowhunting, and off-road vehicle (ORV) and snowmobile operation. For more information, visit http://www.kalkomey.com/.
Photo: © National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc.