Most of us do not enjoy the luxury of stepping off our back porch and being able to shoot whenever we want. For most of us, we are limited to local (or not so local…) public ranges or private clubs. For me, the decision to go to the range involves an hour of travel each way and considerable expense in the form of an annual club membership, not to mention ammunition costs. I maintain my membership at a club primarily because it’s the only place I’ve found in my state where I can go and practice drawing from concealment and shooting while moving without participating in formal competitions.
Readers of this blog that do not have access to private land or similar range facilities may be limited to the typical urban indoor range with strict rules and expensive per visit fee structures. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with target practice or having fun with friends while shooting, all too often, trips to the range can devolve into unorganized shooting at a target with no clearly defined objective. Those of us that do enjoy easy access to relatively unrestricted range environments are especially prone to do this. With all of these potential challenges, how does one make the most of a trip to the range?
Here are some strategies I have found helpful in actually leaving the range with a feeling of accomplishment rather than feeling as though I have just wasted time and ammunition…
You may occasionally wish to go to the range either alone or with a friend that shares similar training goals. It can be hard to practice specific skills when your buddy is more interested in trying out a new gun or really doesn’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish.
You should also go to the range with specific drills in mind that are designed to test or hone specific skills. One of the best ways to learn about drills that are useful is to attend training classes where the instructor shares standards and drills designed to practice meeting those standards. You can also find a plethora of drills explained online or on forums. I would caution that actually shooting the drill is different than reading about it, but don’t let that stop you.
Plan your trips to the range with specific objectives in mind, whether it is working on accuracy at distance, zeroing a new sight, or with the goal of putting shots on target from concealment in a specific timeframe. Having a goal and a plan to accomplish it will put your time and ammunition to good use as well as give you a sense of accomplishment. Spend most of your time practicing the skills that you have trouble with instead of a drill that you are good at. Save that drill for last so you can end on a good note and leave the range confident.
If at all possible, find a range facility that allows drawing from concealment, movement while shooting, and a variety of targets. Some ranges have membership options that may allow special privileges. Further, while putting holes in paper will certainly reflect on your accuracy, shooting on steel yields immediate feedback and satisfaction. You can even buy portable steel targets to set up if your range allows.
If you can’t find a range that will allow you to practice how you would like to, then perhaps you can practice your draw from concealment with dry fire work at home. (You should be doing that anyway…) Another option is to attend regularly scheduled competitions that involve drawing from concealment under time pressure and/or shooting on steel. If you explore the competition option, I would advise you to avoid a gaming mentality and rather shoot with your normal everyday concealed carry gear and setup. Going to a competition in this context isn’t about being the best or fastest shooter, it’s about training to win a real gunfight with your everyday carry pistol.
Finally, pack appropriately for your trip to the range. Ensure that you have the correct ammunition and targets, extra magazines for all guns, cleaning supplies, and appropriate protective gear and any other accessories that you may need. Bring some individual first aid supplies. For a range bag, I would include both a simple first aid kit as well as a blowout kit intended to treat gunshots. A range trip checklist can be invaluable. Don’t forget rain gear or sunscreen as needed. And if possible, go to an outdoor range when it’s raining and cold. Depending on where you live, there is absolutely no guarantee that you will have the luxury of being attacked in perfect weather conditions!
Scuba divers are told to “plan your dive, and dive your plan.” The same concept applies to serious practice with your firearm. By all means, have fun at the range, but have a plan, even if it’s just to have fun with your friends!