Friday, December 11, 2009

New shooter... first range day... gently it goes


Today I had the joy of guiding a new shooter through her first range experience. This is something most crusty old shooters enjoy doing, passing along a little knowledge and sharing the kindness most people in the sport have known from fellow enthusiasts.

We started with safety, as any new shooter should. In this case, an explanation of the 'Four Rules':
  1. Treat every weapon as if it's loaded at all times.
  2. Never point the weapon at anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger till you are ready to fire.
  4. Always be sure of your backstop.
In explaining the meaning of these rules, it went like this....

1) It's safest to treat every firearm as loaded, even when having just checked that it's clear. This builds handling habits that help prevent accidents. When a shooter instinctively keeps his muzzle pointed in a safe direction, the chances of someone being hurt in an accidental shooting drop dramatically.

2) Firearms are dangerous. It's that simple. Understanding this cuts the risk of harmful accidents tremendously. Dangerous does not mean harmful, if the risk is understood and planned for. A table saw is incredibly dangerous, but need never be harmful if used properly. Firearms are no different. Don't point a weapon at
something you would not destroy, and don't put something into a running saw one don't wish to cut off.

3) Firearms are designed to fire when the trigger is pulled. Most will never fire till this happens. So...... keep fingers off the trigger till one want it to go off! Obeying the other rules will help assure that a weapon firing due to a malfunction does not harm anyone, as rare as that possibility is.

4) When a weapon is fired, something comes out the barrel. Be it shot or single projectile, it can kill or damage someone. If the shooter is aware where that shot will go, from leaving the barrel till its final resting spot, then it's a safe shot. If the shooter is unaware where the projectile will come to rest, then the shot should not be taken. Ranges are designed with berms and backstops so shooters can be reasonably sure where the bullet will rest after being fired.

After the recitation of the four rules, and explanation... the shooter is quizzed to be sure there is understanding. Not grilled.... just quizzed to show they have taken root. I have found it helps to explain it like this: "If the rules are followed all the time, then shooting is safer than driving a car or riding a bicycle. If any two of the rules are broken at the same time, then someone could be hurt or killed. It's that simple." In every case, the new shooter can be seen running through the combination's of rule-breaking in their mind, checking this claim. This serves to drive the point home.

Once at the range, before anything else happens... I added only one more rule. Its a simple range command, and the only one I expect a new shooter to learn on their first range day with a one on one coach. Its the word 'Muzzle', which means immediately point the muzzle at the ground and take the finger from the trigger. If this is practiced, most any problem or bad situation can be recovered from once the muzzle is down and the trigger clear. It helps the new shooter feel confidence as well, that such a simple act can make the situation safe till any issues are resolved and new lessons learned.

With this young lady, we chose to begin with silhouette targets. They are big, instinctive, and fun for new shooters. Firing from the fifteen yard line, they loom large and are hard to miss. It's important for a shooters first range experience to be enjoyable, and for some success to be found. Nothing is more depressing for a beginner than to be given a short barreled pistol and instructed to plug away at small target way the heck down range, only to find it untouched during the all clear. Even an experienced shooter would be unhappy at this, but at least might understand what to do about it. A new shooter will likely just assume they can't shoot very well, and few people enjoy doing things
they perform poorly at.

Like generations before her, this shooter began with a .22 pistol. In this case a JC Higgens model of a High
Standard Duramatic. Reliable and easy to shoot well, it has no noticeable recoil and is easy to handle. It points instinctively, has a decent trigger, and clear target sights. This leaves the shooter with less technique to learn on the first day, giving room for an easy and fun filled experience on the all important first range day.

A few simple illustrations show sight picture, and firing at a silhouette target from the fifteen yard line gives instant feedback on impact points. Sight correction is almost instinctive with that, and most shooters will naturally experiment a bit moving the sights around and seeing what it does to the bullets impact.

Today, my young lady managed to land her first shot dead center of the target, and quickly planted groups at both heart and head levels of the silhouette. This was greeted with a smile nearly as big as the group.

Moving up in size, but only as she seemed to wish for something more exciting, we explored what a .38 snub nose can do. Having established sight picture and trigger squeeze with the .22 semiauto, the snubby allowed us to discuss grip techniques as well. Again, using a silhouette target at short range, she fired several cylinder loads. The results were encouraging, and showed her she could certainly shoot defensively at household ranges and expect to hit her target. That is an important step for a new shooter.

Pulling her target from the backstop, I took a few moments to make a notation on it . "First day at the range!, 12-11-09". Handed to the young lady with a smile and a nod of respect, it's likely to become a tangible reminder of the day an enjoyable new pastime began. Even if it was thirty degrees today, with a twenty mile an hour cross breeze.


After she handed over shooting pistols for shooting her camera, I took some time to practice with my carry pistol. Practicing draw fire with frozen fingers, the Glock 30 performed flawlessly, sending its big .45 slugs into center mass on the silhouette target

Today will be repeated as many times as this young lady wishes, with safe and enjoyable shooting as the goal. One day it might be more serious training, but for now we can count one more new shooter to the ranks, and that's something to be celebrated.