The experience of purchasing a firearm and going to the range to practice with it can be very intimidating for most beginners. I salute anyone that takes the big step to purchase a firearm, for many people even entering a gun store can be kind of scary, let alone a shooting range where people are actively sending live rounds down range.
However, After spending more than a full decade as a full-time instructor at a gun store and range, I have witnessed daily the huge variety of errors new shooters make. Folks that would be able to pick up marksmanship fundamentals relatively quickly, consign themselves to bad habits and poor technique for life by simply not knowing a few proven tips that can help ensure they not only excel at shooting, but enjoy it much more as well. I’ve compiled five tips to assist beginners and help them avoid the common pitfalls.
1. Excellent eye and ear protection
Crucial and very underlooked. Many people that go to the range don’t give much consideration to their eye and ear protection. New people especially, typically end up just wearing whatever is made available to them. The biggest detriment as far as scaring a new shooter, is the effect that the extreme noise of the report of a firearm has on them. I cannot stress this enough. Choosing proper hearing protection will make all the difference between a very uncomfortable, scary experience, versus a productive and educational one. I always snap my fingers or clap my hands near my ears after I’ve put on my hearing protection and am getting ready to go out on the range. This helps to make sure you’ve put them on correctly and that they have sealed or expanded properly.
2. The PROPER GUN
How to shop for a firearm is something that I will cover in detail in a future post. But that isn’t what this tip is about. There is nothing more frustrating for a gun range employee than when a well intentioned spouse, parent, friend or colleague brings their significant other to the range to “teach” them to shoot and proceeds to load up a snappy recoil subcompact .40 caliber pistol for them to “learn” with, on their first minute on a shooting range. It usually looks something like this: A somewhat nervous but willing beginner enters the range not really sure what to expect. And not long after, that same first time shooter leaves the range, frazzled, and anxious…to never come to a shooting range again. Choose a low recoil, full size firearm in a smaller caliber (.22 LR or even 9mm) something with very simple mechanics and good ergonomics. But before you start shooting.
3. DRY FIRE, DRY FIRE, DRY FIRE!
It amazes me every time I see it. Someone with little to no shooting experience with a brand new gun, heads out to an open stall on the range, loads up and starts shooting, right away. Take your time and learn your tool. Before you start your live fire, take five to ten minutes and DRY FIRE. Dry Firing your gun is when you rack the slide without any ammo, essentially shooting with a completely unloaded firearm. It’s also arguably the best and most commonly used method of training by beginner shooters all the way to advanced competition marksman. A common response to advising gun owners to dry fire is an inquiry as to whether or not it will damage the firearm. Unless you have a blowback design chambered in .22LR or a pre 90’s revolver, the short answer is no. The vast majority of firearms designed in the last thirty plus years will not be damaged by engaging the trigger without being loaded(dry-fired).
4. Off the range training, before going to the range.
A simple ten minute briefing on technique and safety can change the entire experience for a beginner. Before the noise and the smoke and stress, take a few minutes to learn about and discuss exactly what you are going to do on the range. It’s much easier to communicate some important things like safety and good range etiquette in a quiet comfortable environment instead of waiting until you are in an area full of people shooting very loud guns.
5. GO SLOW!
A great instructor of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu once said “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” Another great instructor I had the honor of training with told me “you gotta go slow in order to go fast.” Sounds confusing, but what they are saying is take your time when you are learning new techniques. Solid fundamental shooting technique is very much about poise and finesse and even when a student starts to learn defensive shooting, composure and not panicking are critical. Rapid fire, fast movements, etc…should not be a part of a brand new shooters training regiment. Focus on mechanical repetitions and consistency, not trying to imitate what you see in action movies.
Learning how to use a loud, powerful tool like a firearm can be intimidating for many people. However, starting out with good technique and fundamentals can help build confidence which will help the process to be fun and exciting. Using these 5 proven and practical tips that I have picked up over many years of training in the firearms industry can expedite the journey of becoming a confident and competent gun owner and marksman. It’s crucial for beginner shooters to learn fundamentals as a “clean slate” and not pick up bad habits which can be counterproductive to the process. By patiently applying these pointers, new shooters will be able to scale and mark their improvements and ramp up to learning more advanced techniques.