Even if you’re new to shooting, you may have heard names like Julie Golob, Rob Leatham, Sara Ahrens, Iain Harrison, and Tori Nonaka. Whether you know them from the competitive circuit, see them on shows like Top Shot, or your obsessive shooting sports fan neighbor just can’t stop rattling off stats about them, one thing is clear. They have a reputation of being experienced, no make that expert, shooters.
But wait, you’re new to this whole thing. How do you make that first trip to the range, gun store, or even a friend’s house to check out a gun or two without looking like a total doofus? Admit it, we all want to be cool and look comfortable and confident when learning new shooting tips and gun handling skills. Like all new things, learning how to handle guns can be intimidating. But how do you take the first step and learn basic gun and shooting technique now that Miss Manners’ Sooper Dooper Guide to Shooting Etiquette is out of print?
Check out these shooting tips and you’ll be safe AND looking like an pro shooter, or at least a well-rounded intermediate, in no time flat.
1. Gun Safety Tip: Practice ‘Open sesame’
When someone hands you a gun, whether it’s in a store, at the range, in their house, or at an armory in Kandahar, Afghanistan, point it at something safe, like the floor, and immediately open the slide (or cylinder if it’s a revolver) to verify that it is in fact unloaded. Do remember to keep your finger off the trigger while doing this. That alone will get you 12 extra bonus points! But still remember, a gun is ALWAYS loaded. Even after you’ve opened it to verify that it’s empty. We know, it’s kind of confusing. Just trust us on this one. If you pretend that it’s always loaded, you’ll never do something silly like pointing it at someone or something you really don’t want to shoot.
2. Proper Handgun Grip: Don’t drink tea at the range
Friends don’t let friends enjoy tea while shooting. Save it for the post range outing ice cream social.
If you watch some of the faux shooting shows on TV, you might hear someone mention a teacup grip. Some call it a cup and saucer grip. Just to be clear, this is not a compliment or indicator of social refinement. It’s an observation of poor shooting form.
If you’re going to use two hands to shoot a handgun, you might as well get some benefit out of the support hand. Rather than cupping it under the base of the grip like a teacup saucer, how about snugging it right along side the grip so your support hand fingers can reach around the front? You’ll be amazed at how little your feisty little pistol or revolver jumps when you use a proper grip. Lack of recoil control is a malady that affects millions of Americans. Only you can help by using a proper grip.
3. Safe Shooting Tip: Know that eye and ear protection IS cool
OK confess. You don’t particularly like to wear helmets while riding a bike either. It looks kind of dorky. And you’re probably not going to fall on your head right?
When it comes to the need for hearing protection at the shooting range, there is no probably. There is only absolutely. As in positively. Every shot you fire without ear protection WILL permanently damage your hearing. And each additional shot after that WILL damage it more. You probably won’t know it for a while. Maybe years. But it WILL happen. Same thing with eye protection. If you shoot, stuff WILL bounce back at you and hit you in the face. Bullet fragments. Target fragments. Backstop fragments. Irritable forest critters. And who knows what else? While every shot without eye protection does not result in vision loss, it’s only a matter of time before something wrecks one or both of your eyes. They don’t react well to metal fragments and flaming powder gasses.
The easiest way to spot a new, and foolish, shooter is to look for those too cool to wear shooting glasses and ear protection. There are thousands of stylish eye and ear protection options out there so you can even look cool sporting your common sense safety gear.
4. Handgun Grip Technique: Don’t be all thumbs
I can share this new-shooter tip from a vantage point of, ummm, let’s call it personal experience.
Remember Ghostbusters? And how it’s really bad to cross the streams of the Proton Pack particle accelerators? Well there’s a similar rule of thumb (pun fully intended) for shooting semi-automatic pistols. Don’t cross your thumbs. See the picture in this article? Don’t do that! Sooner or later, that thing called a slide is going zoom backwards at Warp 17 and slice the dickens out of the webby, sensitive skin between your thumb and your index finger. If you want to splatter copious amounts of blood around the range, feel free, but once is enough for me.
Fortunately there’s an easy way to avoid bleeding all over your range. Don’t cross the streams. Point both thumbs forward and keep them on the weak hand side of your handgun. Your hand, and your local drug store, will thank you.
The video linked in Step 2 above shows excellent thumb form.
5. Gun Safety Tip: Learn to be cold to your shooting range companions
Being cold at the shooting range isn’t rude. Or event anti-social. In fact, it’s not Cruel To Be Kind, it’s cool to be kind. Kind of cold that is.
How can you be cold at the range? When you hear “Range Cold!” that means it’s not hot. Which means there is no shooting. Or even pretending to shoot. Which means put your gun on the table. Which means don’t play with it or show your friends anything about it that involves touching your gun. The table and the gun become one. A hot item. And you’re suddenly the third wheel in that relationship. Keep it that way until you hear “Range Hot!” Then, and only then, you can try for a threesome with the gun / table love festival.
Bonus tip: If you want to look like a real pro, then don’t just put your gun(s) on the table when you hear “Range Cold!” Step away from the shooting table and stay there the whole time the range is cold. This is a sooper dooper move that let’s nearby shooters know that you are not messing with your gun(s) while the range is cold. It’s very considerate and they will love you for it. Who knows? You might develop your own new relationship while your gun and the table are focused on theirs.
6. Shooting Terminology Tip: Ban the word “Clip” from your vocabulary
You know how you can spot a high school prom couple at an exclusive restaurant? Like when the pimply mannish boy requests A-1 Steak Sauce with his Chateaubriand? Well, there’s a similar thing in shooting – when people carelessly throw around words like clip.
Clips and magazines are both legitimate shooting related objects. While sometimes subtle, there are differences.
A clip is a device used to hold cartridges for the purpose of storage, packing, and easy loading into a magazine. Clips were a big deal back when the world had anger issues expressed by frequent large-scale wars. Five or ten rounds of ammo might be attached to a clip, which would allow a soldier to slide the rounds into the magazine of his rifle or handgun quickly and easily. Clips are still used today. Some .223 or 5.56 ammunition comes on clips to make it easier to load lots of rounds into a magazine at once.
A magazine is the container that holds cartridges for the purpose of feeding them into the chamber of a firearm. Magazines can be built into the gun, as with many rifles, or they can be removable, as with most semi-automatic pistols and AR type rifles. That thing that falls out the bottom of a Glock? That’s a magazine.
Confused? No problem. We’ve got a near fail-safe tip for you. These days you’re pretty safe referring to most things that hold bullets as a magazine. More often than not, you’ll be correct referring to it that way.
Mixing the words ‘clip’ and ‘Glock’ in the same sentence is a sure-fire way to show you’ve still got a few things to learn.
7. Shooting Tip: Don’t do The Bernie
While the movie Weekend at Bernie’s qualifies a cult movie and spawned it’s own cool dance moves, it really doesn’t play well at the range. Dancing tends to throw off your aim.
Nor does leaning way, way, way backwards when you shoot have any practical value. You see, there is little chance that your gun will suddenly turn around and start chasing you, so the backwards lean position really provides no tactical advantage.
if you want to look awesome and skilled like the pro shooters, lean forward into the gun, and towards your target when you shoot. If your shoulders are just a tad in front of your belt buckle you’re in great position. Not only do you look tough, all that aggressive body position really helps to control recoil and keep your shots on target.
After all, you never see Chuck Norris leaning away from those nameless henchmen do you?
8. Last but not least: Don’t be shy about asking questions!
The best way to look like a pro shooter? Even if you’re new to the whole thing? Ask questions! If you’re not sure about something, just ask. You can even ask a pro. We’ve found them to be nice and helpful folks. It’s OK. One of the most pleasant surprises from getting involved in the shooting community has been the overwhelming friendliness of the people. You just might be surprised how far people will go to help a new shooter.
Have fun, be safe, and ask a question if you’re not sure!