There is a serious disconnect between hunters, shooters, and the industry that supports us.
Not only in the manufacturing and marketing side, there is a disconnect in the training and practice side as well, specifically ranges.
Ranges are set up so that hunters and shooters have a safe place to practice their craft in a safe and legal environment. In almost all cities in the US, it is illegal to discharge a firearm. In other areas, unless you own acreage over a certain size, it is also illegal to discharge a firearm. Ranges provide an area where it is both safe and legal to shoot.
The topic I want to address is range rules and safety, because the rules enacted by ranges, usually in the name of safety, range from common sense stuff to ensure that people and property are not at risk, to some truly inane politically correct rules.
All ranges have rules, and most are fairly common sense rules implemented to ensure a safe and enjoyable shooting experience for all involved. Simple things like “keep firearms pointed down range” and “Don’t approach the shooting line when the range is ‘cold'” are common sense things. Other rules such as those that prohibit firing steel core ammo, set limits on maximum muzzle energy and caliber, or prohibit firing full metal jacket in some cases, are put in place due to limitations of the backstop. And all of these things make sense.
Some ranges have rules that seem odd or inane at first, such as those requiring all firearms be kept unloaded in a case when going to or from the range. Unless you are not going to be firing your concealed handgun, that means you’ve either got to break the rules or else unload your concealed handgun in your car, case it, and then go onto the range. Still, when you consider that most people at a public range will have minimal actual firearm training, if they have any at all, it seems a bit more reasonable to remind them to keep their firearms unloaded when not actually on the rage.
Then we’ve got range rules that begin to run right across the line into “WTF” territory. Some of these rules were dreamed up by an actuary tasked with underwriting the range’s insurance policy. One range I was at required all shooters to wear hearing protection. Makes sense, no? Until I discovered that the hearing protection they required was only muff style protectors: my Peltor 97079 Combat Arms Earplugs were not enough, according to the Range Officer.
This range also has a “slow fire only” rule that aims to prevent shooters from performing mag dumps (and often hitting the target hangers) and prohibits drawing from a holster. While annoying, these rules still serve a purpose.
But a few weeks ago while taking a new shooter to this range, a range I’d been frequenting for more than a decade, I was confronted with a new rule. Upon presenting my pistols for inspection, the R.O. took one look inside the box and pushed it away back towards me as if it were a snake coiled to bite.
“You can’t bring those in here,” he said.
I glanced down at the box. “What?”
“You can’t bring a loaded magazine onto my range.” I let the emphasized “My Range” go without comment, but pressed the issue.
“The pistols are unloaded. There is no magazine in the pistols, and there is nothing unsafe about a loaded magazine.”
“I said you can’t bring a loaded magazine onto my range,” he repeated, obviously satisfied that his word would be enough to send me scurrying. His attitude was grating, but I persisted in trying to get an explanation.
“I have 4 pistols with me. Two of them use 15 round magazines, and I’ve got 4 each for those. One uses a 20 round magazine, which I have 3 of, and the other uses a 30 round magazine. That’s 240 rounds loaded up right now. What do you want me to do? Unload them all right here?”
“Yes.” was all the reply I got.
By this point, a line was beginning to form behind me. I gave the R.O. a quizzical look. He did not demur, so I picked up the first mag and started to strip rounds off of it onto the counter. 240 rounds of various calibers soon littered the countertop.
As I returned the now empty magazines to the pistol cases he finally relented and explained “We have to check all of the rounds brought onto the range to make sure none are steel core.”
I swept the rounds off the counter and into an empty pocket of my range bag. “I’ve got 150 rounds of steel core 7.62×39 in this bag. Are you saying I can’t bring that onto the range? I don’t have a rifle capable of firing it with me.”
“You’ll have to leave it here,” he insisted, and plunged a magnet into another pocket of my bag. It came out with some loose shotgun shells stuck to it. He looked at me quizzically.
“Steel birdshot,” I explained. “I don’t have a shotgun with me either. Are you saying I have to leave that here at the counter as well?”
He nodded in affirmation.
I was pretty pissed off at this point. However, I had a new shooter with me. He had silently watched this entire exchange, along with a line of about a half-dozen shooters waiting behind us. Not wanting to cause any more of a stink, I bit my tongue and stuffed the ammunition we brought into my cargo-pants pockets. The range bag I put behind the counter. The pistol cases, targets, and other gear we managed to carry between the two of us and headed out.
As this was a new shooter I was teaching, we started with the basics and worked on proper grip, stance, and sight alignment on the .22LR first. Soon we worked our way up to the 5.7mm and then eventually 9mm pistols. My new shooter was doing quite well for his first time to ever shoot a gun.
On the way out I stopped by the counter to pay our bill. I’m not quite sure what transpired while we’d been on the other side of the plexiglass, but the R.O. had quite a different attitude. I asked for the total and he shook his head and told me “You’re all taken care of sir.”
Confused, I reminded him that we hadn’t paid yet. The R.O. shook my hand firmly and said “Don’t worry about it, you’re good.”
Now I started to feel bad about my earlier behavior.
“Look,” I said “I think I might owe you an apology about earlier. My behavior might have been a bit out of line.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said again.
“Still, let me explain,” I went on, “You charge your range fees by the hour. If I have to spend half my time cramming magazines, that cuts significantly into my time spent on the range. What you are in effect doing is charging me to load my own magazines.”
I don’t know if he, or the management, felt that they owed me a comped range fee after our earlier exchange. Maybe they felt it was the best thing to do in terms of customer service. I certainly didn’t expect it. But looking back on it, I think it might have been something else.
A few minutes earlier while we were packing things up and my newbie was gleefully folding up his target, I glanced down the other lanes at the rest of the targets being used by the other shooters. Every single one of them had been peppered with bullets and looked for all the world like someone had been firing a cylinder bore shotgun loaded with 00 Buck at them. There were no groups, no consistency at all on any of them. My new shooter on the other hand had, on his first trip to fire a gun, put over 200 rounds into groups the size of a baseball. Sure, there was the odd dropped shot here and there that he’d fired early on, but most of the hits were so consistent that each group had had the center completely shot out of the paper.
I couldn’t be prouder.
Maybe the R.O. saw us out there, saw as I gently corrected his grip and stance, and saw his shots strike the 10 ring consistently. I can’t say for sure. Maybe we need a little card, or a secret handshake to signify “It’s OK, I really do know what I’m doing out here.”
On the drive home I felt some regret for how I’d acted and really thought about how much stupidity, downright life threatening and dangerous stupidity, that your average R.O. has to deal with on a daily basis. They get all sorts of people coming through the door of the range, and have no idea how competent or safe that person is. Range rules are there to keep those idiots who wander onto the range with their brand new pistol to fire a gun for the first time from injuring or killing themselves or others. I get that.
But somewhere we’ve got to draw the line and say enough.