SHOOTING SAFELY IN A HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT
Every Sunday morning, almost without fail, my close shooting companions and me convene at a local Waffle House to begin what is now known as our weekly B&S session; whereas, B&S simply means “Breakfast and Shooting.”
After breakfast we change venues and head to our local indoor gun club and range, of which we are all members. While waiting for the range to open we; solve most of the world’s foibles and ills, discuss firearm politics, plan courses for future human development, talk about what we are shooting that day, and generally save the planet from imminent destruction from dwarfs riding unicorns.
Once the range opens; however, things take a more serious turn.
While all of us prefer an outdoor range, our gun club serves the purpose of allowing us to crawl into our individual shooting endeavors of the day regardless of the season or the weather. The range has two sides with 6 lanes per side. Booths “organize” the range by separating individual shooters and allowing us each to shoot our own exercises, irrespective of what other shooters are doing. There is also a table conveniently in front of each shooter, upon which the shooter can place boxes of ammunition, extra firearms, support equipment, etc.
One side of the range is for rifle and shotgun use while the other side is dedicated to handgun-only. While the handgun can also be shot on the rifle side, a rifle/carbine cannot be shot on the handgun side, except for small caliber (.22, .17, etc.) rifles/carbines and PCC’s.
Formal range rules are posted and any new shooter to the range are familiarized with those rules. Eye and hearing protection is mandatory for all and each new shooter is instructed not to open a range-side door and the main range-door at the same time. Sometimes, even old timers need a refresher.
One of the drawbacks of many indoor ranges is the lack of fresh air. Fortunately, this range is all about safety. The range has adequate air flow and conditioning to handle the bulk of harmful materials, but it is still quite easy to overload the system when a full complement of shooters are on hand.
I was once at an indoor range where a piece of debris from the “trap” was kicked back and struck me on the left side of my cheek. There was no injury, but I never returned to the range, as they did not clean the trap on a regular basis; therefore, the range was a more dangerous environment than it should have been. Let’s face it, shooting ranges are dangerous places to be and any formal range that places money over patron safety needs to be more closely regulated by those patrons. Of course, I let the person in charge know about it, left, and never returned.
I have seen shooters come into the range like they were spending a day at the beach where the only thing missing is an ice chest full of refreshments and a grill for cooking. And, they are dressed to match a day at the beach; shorts, T-shirt (no shirt – no service), and sneakers. The big thing left behind was common sense.
Some are, in their own mind however, serious shooters. You can tell that because their roll-around range bag indicates so. Undoubtedly, multiple handguns are stored in the recesses of the bag(s) along with ammunition, cleaning supplies and rags, several copies of American Handgunner, and lunch for two. This may be in addition to one or more long guns carried in separate “tactical” cases.
My close shooting companion always kids me about my “lunch bucket” that is, essentially, an expandable soft lunch pack. In the top are spare magazines, an UpLula Loader, a set of light shooting gloves, and a gun lubricant of some sort. In the bottom is enough ammunition for the range session, a small towel, and hearing protetion. In a side pouch is a multi-tool, a small screwdriver for sight adjustments, and a “Bore Snake” of suitable bore size for before- and after-fire cleaning. I am either shooting what I am carrying, a range-rental if I feel lazy about cleaning my own firearm, or a long gun. I come as ‘range-ready’ as possible.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is my Sunday morning ‘safe space.’
I wear a baseball hat, over which is a set of hearing protection. The former prevents errant spent casings from getting behind my glasses and the latter is for obvious reasons. I always wear a crew-neck T-shirt covered by a long sleeve shirt, which may also be covered by something (depending on the season). Wearing the long sleeve shirt, I have had hot, expended shell casings fall on my arms without ill effect. After all, with expended cases bouncing off booth walls and going all willy-nilly in the air there is no telling where they might land – until they do – and you get your ‘burn notice.’ In most cases, I am protected from them.
My close shooting companion goes one step further. Because he shoots as often as I do, and perhaps more, he had his lead levels checked. I never know that such a thing existed. Anyway, in addition to the usual protective clothing, he also wear neoprene gloves and a medical mask. The former prevents GSR from getting on the hands and the latter helps to keep all that fired gun stuff from getting into the lungs. I can’t say that I blame him, as I have had to step away from the shooting lane at times when the range became too smoky for me. There are obvious advantages to outdoor ranges, but they too have their disadvantages.
But, before I move forward too much, let’s return to the “hot brass” issue.
Hot brass cases, ejected from autoloading pistols, often strike the divider and then bounce back in the direction of the shooter (When shooting “in the open,” this happens far less frequently.).
For untrained people, there are usually two safe options to exercise:
- Ignore it, and finish shooting as if nothing had happened.
- Holster the pistol (or safely place it on the table in front of them) and then step back off the line and out of the booth.
For trained people, who are properly dressed for the occasion, there is only one options to exercise:
- Ignore it, and finish shooting as if nothing had happened. I don’t know how many times I have looked down after firing a string of shots to see a .45 ACP case hung up in a fold of my shirt or in a pocket (Note: wear shirt with pocket flaps to prevent the latter from happening).
The real danger is when a naive range customer immediately reaches down (forward or backward) to get that hot case away from the skin, using the hand that still has the pistol in it! In so doing, the pistol will invariably be pointed in multiple unsafe directions, which could be the booth next door and the one that you or I may be shooting from! I am sure that “range accidents” have happened as a result of that.
When a professional athlete dresses for play, they are doing whatever possible to protect themselves. We should be doing no less each time we go to the range or attend a training session. The proper shooting support gear, and the proper protective gear and clothing should always be worn. I do have to admit that I have not yet considered neoprene gloves and a medical mask, but I am certainly not going to discount doing so.
Whether your range is indoors or outdoors, it is still up to us to determine our own safety and still enjoy the moment. I think that we have all, at one time, been to a range (business or otherwise) where the whole thing was just unsafe, but we continued anyway.
Be smart, shoot safe!